Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Safety Rewarded, Risk Needed

Knowledge-able Sourcerer Guest blogger Candice DePrang

Safety is rewarded. Risk is not. That is the message conveyed in an article that examined the National Institutes of Health's way of funding research.

Current studies, particularly one “asking whether people who are especially responsive to good-tasting food have the most difficulty staying on a diet,” are "likely to only produce incremental progress at best," says Dr. Robert C. Young, chancellor at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and chairman of the Board of Scientific Advisors. “…[medical researchers] are timid about taking chances on ones that might not succeed. The problem, Dr. Young and others say, is that projects that could make a major difference in cancer prevention and treatment are all too often crowded out because they are too uncertain. In fact, it has become lore among cancer researchers that some game-changing discoveries involved projects deemed too unlikely to succeed and were therefore denied federal grants, forcing researchers to struggle mightily to continue.”

So, at a time when the Obama Administration seeks a significant increase in funding for education research, development, and innovation, the burden of proof is on the research community– to convince the federal government with a preponderance of evidence, that investing in educational research is worth the risk. And not just for this round of appropriations.

State and local schools systems must take advantage of this unique occasion and apply the ARRA dollars in a highly affective way. They cannot simply respond, “Thanks, but it should have been done a long time ago,” or “It’s still not enough.” This opportunity is a chance to research with risk, to go beyond that which would make only incremental advancements at best, and instead invest in issues relevant to schools – not perceived problems or safe studies, but innovative initiatives that could truly break ground and take significant steps towards closing the achievement gap.

This sounds like research institutions communicating directly with districts about prominent problems, and looks like those districts being open to interpreting that data, translating it into usable knowledge, and utilizing that knowledge to impact their schools.

Accepting these funds - $3B for school improvement, $650M for technology, $200M for teacher incentives, just to name a few – with a commitment to honest dialogue that spurs transformative research, makes it possible to catalyze actual change. This change could uncover practices that work, mandate matched or increased federal funding in the future, and shift the way education r&d is perceived…as a necessary practice, that, as in other fields, leads to more targeted and strategic work.

So long, red schoolhouse. Hello, Knowledge Garage

For those of you who hang around the US Depart of Education, you will see a change on the facade. That red schoolhouse outside of the ED's main entrances --- which served as the Bush Adminsistration's symbols for NCLB --- were torn down a couple of weeks ago. Read all about it here. The Obama administration has symbolically begun the process of putting its own brand on education reform. We think the new symbol should be a garage. Find out why here. here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mayo Clinic for Education

Last night we were watching Obama’s excellent town hall meeting at the White House (see transcript here) and was suddenly jolted by a very familiar statement that he used with regard to heath care reform “ What’s lacking is not knowledge … What’s lacking is political will”. Secretary Duncan uses that exact same line in reference to education. He probably gets it from a White House set of talking points. That’s understandable.

But the problem is that the knowledge base in education about what works is a drop of water in the ocean compared to the knowledge base in medicine. Just look at the annual federal investment of the two: about $28 billion for NIH and about $300 million for ED. Whew!

In the future perhaps Duncan might give some acknowledgment that our understanding about specific solutions in education is far from complete. In fact we need to be more like medicine in its ongoing, never ending search for remedies for persistent diseases like cancer. The Mayo Clinic to which the President alluded last night is not only an amazingly well run, data driven and cost effective operation. It is also a research institution. Education needs a bunch of Mayo Clinics!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

'Ay Mate

The Aussies came to DC a week ago to “gad” about and talk about Australia’s latest education reform plans. As Debbie V describes on her blog lots of stuff Down Under is happening just like in Up Over. But check out how they are moving forward with plans for a national curriculum. Very interesting. We might learn some good political lessons from Down Under when it comes to national standards and curriculum. I just wonder what Gillard meant when she said that "our posture is basically that this is an evidence-based process". What evidence is she referring to? Does Australia have a strong R&D sector in education that can truly inform policy and practice and stimulate innovation?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Towards a Knowledge Ecosystem

We greeted the recent news of the Harvard school of ed move to open source with great enthusiasm. Open access to its scholarly journals could help spur the development of a knowledge market in education and create new incentives for R&D and innovation in solving critical problems of practice. Bravo, Harvard!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Moving right along at the Institute of Education Sciences

In this recent blog entry about the Institute of Education Sciences research conference, Debbie Viadero rightly picks up on a new focus for federally supported education research. We say "Amen"! The comments by John Easton and Jon Baron about utilization and about the essential link fo researchers to practitioners were right on the mark. Single mindedly promoting rigor at the expense relevance and responsiveness was a significant flaw in the early years of IES. Now it is time to turn the page and get on with the research community's ultimate task: using knowledge to improve, if not transformation, education as we know it today.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A New Vision for R&D in Education

For the past two years Knowledge Alliance has been developing a vision for a new kind of R&D infrastructure in education that would serve as a leading edge catalyst for innovation and transformation. Much of our visioning has been greatly informed by the very fine work of Tony Bryk and Louis Gomez. Yesterday Bryk (now president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching) unvieled a new initiative for implementing a new kind of problem-based R&D. We think this effort (along with our own) could have transformative effects on the research enterprise and possibily on education as a whole. Kudos to Bryk, Gomez and the fine folks at Carnegie!