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Executive Summary

Scientific Research is mandated in No Child Left Behind

  • The term evidence-based is noted no less than 115 times in No Child Left Behind
  • Dollars to fund educational research has increased by approximately 24% since 2001
  • In 2002 the Educational Research Reform Act established the Institute of Educational Sciences with the mission of promoting effective education through rigorous scientifically based research.

Science achieves results

  • Science relies upon objective and measurable goals and outcomes
  • Science requires results be replicated
  • Science is self-regulating, promotes critical thinking, and encourages revision and improvements in understanding
  • Science is a systematic approach

Science guards against flaws in other approaches: People are susceptible to many influences that result in faulty decision-making. Most techniques that result in faulty decisions are well intentioned while other are employed deliberately.

  • Mechanical or autonomic decision-making: Under particular circumstances, people tend to respond in similar patterns as they have in the past. Unfortunately, in many instances the unreasoned response results lead to making poor choices.
  • Common Errors in Logical Thinking: Often arguments used in defense of an education intervention employ unsystematic and unintentional techniques that result in sloppy or unsound logical reasoning.
  • Commonly Used Techniques Employed in Propaganda: Propaganda is a systematic and intentional set of persuasion techniques designed to manipulate people into adopting a position, ideology, or value.
  • Identification of Pseudo-science: A pseudo-science is purported to be scientific or supported by science but fails to follow the scientific

Evidenced-based Policies and Practices Back to Top

Evidence-based policies and practices are essential to an effective educational system that is capable of meeting the many challenges facing our nation. Science is the best method for identifying crucial policies and practices that can reverse the trends of the past thirty years that have resulted in declining student performance. Additionally, science offers the best chance to produce changes in a timely manner to meet the needs of the next generation of students.

The following is a very short summary of why science is a fundamental tool for advancing improvements in education.

There are many ways of "knowing" something. The methods of science offer a way of knowing that is accessible, transparent, objective, replicable, self-correcting, and which minimizes errors in thinking.

1. Why is Science superior to the many alternative approaches that have dominated the field of education?

Scientific Research is Mandated in No Child Left Behind Back to Top

Science is mandated in current federal education policy.
No Child Left Behind specifically endorses science as a critical ingredient in building an effective education model for the nation.

  • Scientific research is mentioned no fewer than 115 times in No Child Left Behind.
  • No Child Left Behind requires that federal funding go only to programs that are backed by evidence.

Federal Funding of Educational Research

Before the creation of No Child Left Behind in 2002, expenditures for educational research amounted to approximately .2% of the total amount that is spent on public elementary and secondary education. For 30 years the amount of money spent on research through the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) continually shrank. In 1973 the budget was $525,000,000 and by 2001 it was reduced to $130,000,000 (adjusted for inflation).

On November 5, 2002, President Bush signed into law the Education Sciences Reform Act, which produced a new organization, the Institute of Education Sciences. This new organization was intended to replace OERI. The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is now the research arm of the Department of Education. Its mission is to expand knowledge and provide information on the condition of education, practices that improve academic achievement, and the effectiveness of Federal and other education programs. The goal of IES is the transformation of the American education system from one based on fad and professional opinion to a scientifically based field. With the reinvigorated commitment has come a significant infusion of resources, $681,585,000 for IES in 2003, which will be critical in transforming the culture of education.

Scientific Research in Education
• National Academy Press 2101 Constitution Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20418 Copyright 2002

Committee on Scientific Principles for Education Research, Richard J. Shavelson and Lisa Towne, Editors, National Research Council

• The Department of Education Web Site, EDU. GOV:

• The Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) Web Site:

Science Achieves Results Back to Top

Science has been responsible for virtually all of the modern day advances.

One can only marvel at the advances that are directly attributable to science and technology. Over the course of the past two hundred years, the benefits derived from science include:

Reduced suffering

  • Increased agriculture production
  • International distribution of food
  • World-wide response to disasters
  • Labor savings devises (washing machine, forklift, farm tractor, computer, etc.)

Improved health

  • Improved public health (sanitation and clean water)
  • Development of life saving drugs (antibiotics, painkillers, etc.)
  • Elimination of diseases (small pox, polio, measles, etc.)
  • Organ transplants

Increased leisure time

  • Creation of new forms of entertainment (cinema, TV, radio, the Internet, etc.)
  • Advancements in telecommunications, (satellites, telephone, Internet, etc.)
  • Invention of cheap and safe transportation systems (automobile, planes, trains, etc.)

Expanded knowledge of the universe

  • Visits to all of the planets (Apollo, Viking, Explorer, Mariner, Spirit)
  • Energy (nuclear power, solar power, geo-thermal)
  • Plate tectonics
  • Birth of the universe (galaxies, neutron stars, comets, black holes)

The $64,000 question begs to be asked: What is it about science and the resulting technologies that make for such a powerful tool for change?

2. Why is science successful in achieving results?

  • Science relies upon objective and measurable goals and outcomes
    It is essential that the goals of education interventions are objective enough to be judged to have succeeded or failed by a systematic process, more than one person.

An outcome addressing the percent of students graduating from high school with a school district authorized diploma is objective, observable, and can be counted.

An outcome that addresses the self-esteem of students who graduate from high school is not objective, not observable, and not measurable.

  • Science requires results be replicated
    If a practice cannot be replicated across settings and over time, the practice cannot be considered as valid.

Example: The announcement by Pons and Fleischmann's in 1989 that they had achieved cold fusion. This holy grail of safe, cheap energy was later determined to be invalid when no one else was able to reproduce the results.

  • Science is self-regulating, promotes critical thinking, and encourages revision and improvements in understanding
    The results of science are always subject to challenge and revision. If a new practice is identified and proves successful, current theory may be required to be revised or even abandoned

Example: Newtonian physics was very effective at explaining the way the solar system worked until it was supplanted in the 20th century by Einstein’s theory of relativity.

  • Science is a systematic approach
    • The methods are universally known,
    • Hypothesis may be tested and results verified,
    • The scientific process is predictable resulting in an efficient method of problem solving,
    • Results and knowledge are shared through publications and conferences.

Science is a methodical and organized discipline that requires that the scientist follows a systematic approach aimed at verification of results. On the other hand, education’s current eclectic approach can best be described as being chaotic. The most notable deficiency has been the lack of any policies that require practices to demonstrate they produce results. The consequence is laissez-faire education when it comes to the selection of practices. This hit and miss approach in the selection of what works and what does not in educating children will only result in continued failure to meet the need for affordable quality education.

Example: “Whole Language”, a method for teaching reading, and oral and written language, was adopted across the State of California during the 1980’s. The practice of “Whole Language” abandoned phonics, a widely used method for teaching young children to read. The practice of “Whole Language” became the policy of the state even though it was not supported by rigorous scientific research or testing before being employed throughout the state’s schools. According to articles published in 1995 by the American Federation of Teachers, as of that time, no meaningful research has ever verified the claims of those advocating “Whole Language”.

Unfortunately, for the students of California, the studies conducted during the preceding 20 years support the need to teach children to decode and sound out letters and words. The result of the adoption of an unproven method was a decrease in reading skills for all but the most gifted children.

Sciences Guards Against Flaws in Other Approaches Back to Top

Science guards against errors in decision making

Evolution has equipped humans with a fabulous array of tools for survival. These adaptations include: an opposable thumb for manipulating the world; a large brain for processing information; language for communicating among our fellow humans; and two legs to walk up-right and free our hands for many uses. However, despite the magnificence of the human brain, people are not infallible and are susceptible to making poor choices. Below are examples of phenomena which can adversely influence decision making (Influence: Science and Practice, Robert Cialdini, Allyn & Bacon, 2001, and Social Influence Theories -

People are susceptible to many influences which can result in poor decision making. Most of these influences are the result of human nature, best intentions, and wishful thinking. Others can be used to deliberately manipulate decision-making by those who have specific agendas. They all must be guarded against in order to achieve decisions that are objective and evidence based.

  • Mechanical or autonomic decision-making: Under particular circumstances, people tend to respond in similar patterns as they have in the past. Regardless of whether this is an artifact of hereditary or learned behavior, these patterns influence the way people make choices. Unfortunately, in many instances the unreasoned response results in a faulty decision.

    For example: Sales people frequently exploit these patterns in an effort to sell you something. Many purchases would never be made if consumers took the time to deliberate on the decision.

    Example: Rule of Contrast

    A principle of perception, the contrast principle, affects our ability to accurately perceive the difference between two items when one is presented after the other. If the second item is significantly different from the first, we tend to see the difference as being greater than it actually is.

    Sales Tool – Sales go up when salespeople present an item of greater cost first and then follow by offering additional items of a lower price. This is a tried and true selling technique used in retail. Clothiers will present the expensive suit first, followed by accessories: belts, ties, and socks. When this technique is used, the sales of accessories increase. If you have purchased a car, you are certain to have experienced this technique. The sales person pushes the car and then presents you with an array of accessories such as radio, GPS, wheels, or floor covers.

  • Errors in Reasoning: Often arguments used in defense of an education intervention employ unsystematic and unintentional techniques that result in sloppy or unsound logical reasoning. The outcomes achieved from these problem-solving strategies are likely to be ineffective. (See Common Errors in Logical Thinking.)

  • Propaganda: Individuals with an agenda (e.g. ideology, sales, etc.) will often use propaganda to influence a decision. Propaganda is a systematic and intentional set of persuasion techniques designed to manipulate people into adopting a position, ideology, or value. (See Propaganda Techniques.)

  • Pseudo-Science and quackery: A pseudo-science is purported to be scientific or supported by science but fails to follow the scientific method. These pseudo-sciences gain credence by superficially appearing to be scientific while ignoring the substance of the discipline of science. Practitioners of pseudo-science vary from those who are acting out of ignorance to those who are deliberately attempting to deceive the public. (See Identification of Pseudo-Science.)

    Example: Astronomy = Science; Astrology = pseudo-science

There are many techniques designed to influence people. Many of these including our own predisposition to make autonomic choices under certain circumstances often lead away from good science and sound decision making. In the modern world we are constantly bombarded with conditions that require a choice be made. In order to avoid making common errors in assessing a situation, the late Carl Sagan developed a tool for testing propositions and detecting fallacious or fraudulent arguments; he referred to it as “The Baloney Detection Kit” (see The Baloney Detection Kit). This simple tool embodies many of the topics listed in this article. With practice, “The Baloney Detection Kit” can be a valuable addition to everyone’s personal tool kit to use in evaluating positions and making informed choices.

Despite the impressive gains achieved by science and technology, there exists a strong undercurrent of cynicism and distrust of science. A certain degree of this distrust can be attributed to the misuse of technology: weapons of mass destruction, air and water pollution, violent crime, a failing education system, and overcrowding

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