Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Easy there speed-readers….

by guest blogger, Candice DePrang

UVA professor and cognitive psychology researcher Daniel Willingham took on an occasional column in the Washington Post that fact-checks educational tools for scientific validity. He didn’t know fighting off speed-readers was a part of the job.

In his most recent post, Dr. Willingham challenged the science used to support eyeQ, a product that claims to double the rate of reading in one month! Whoa! He addresses the fact that eyeQ links brain activity to efficient thinking, and corrects the company’s dichotomy of thinking; eyeQ purports that tasks are linked to one side of the brain or the other, not both.

The comments posted at the end of the article are fierce against the author. Speed-readers everywhere defended eyeQ and wrote that the software improved their speed reading ability, going so far to let Willingham know exactly why that’s important and what exactly he’s missing.

A fight about science? How could that be? It tells the truth, right? Something is either scientifically proven to work or it’s not.

A heated debate via the WaPo online tells a larger story. It’s unfolding in Congress, throughout the policy arena, and it’s arguably education’s new buzz word: data. Decision makers and educators want to know – am I making a decision, supporting and idea, or implementing an innovation that works, that’s backed up by data, and proven by science to work? Teachers are held to this standard in districts across the nation because administrators are asking for numbers, spreadsheets, and want to know a student’s growth patterns quantitatively – not qualitatively.

Numbers must not be the final or only word. As eyeQ’s CEO and other users point out, any strong curriculum that’s misused will not bear the intended results, no matter how convincing. Moreover, companies and scientists alike bend results in preference of their desired outcome.

But the big – A Administration is looking for numbers as well. The i3 Fund, and to a lesser degree the Department of Education’s other initiatives, request numerical data as part of a state’s application process.

Cheers to Dr. Willingham, willing to look critically into programs trying to hop on an evidence bandwagon that we hope becomes a constant, rather than a fad. When scientists, policy makers, and practitioners can make decisions with confidence, our students will be better served because the adults around them are paying less attention to hype, and more attention to sustain alternatives that have worked with statistical success.

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