Evidence Based Education

Executive Summary

This article defines evidence-based education; describes its key components; and advocates its use by presenting the successful evidence-based healthcare model and illuminating the failures in school reform in absence of evidence-based education. 

Overview of Evidence-Based Education

Evidence-based education is a paradigm by which education stakeholders use empirical evidence to make informed decisions about education interventions (policies, practices, and programs). "Evidence-based" decision making is emphasized over "opinion-based" decision making.

Key Components of Evidence-Based Education

Evidence-based education has four key components:

  1. Promoting best-practices research and development
  2. Facilitating review and evaluation of scientific research
  3. Disseminating scientific research
  4. Developing and supporting "evidence-based culture"

Success of Evidence-Based Healthcare

Evidence-based healthcare has led to remarkable advances in the treatment and prevention of disease.

Failure of School Reform Models

There has been little, if any, improvement in student achievement over the past two decades despite countless school reform interventions. Very few of these interventions have had a basis in rigorous scientific evidence, resulting in a culture of ideology, faddishness, and opinion -- coupled with cynicism about research -- that dominates education decision-making.

While there have been significant advances in the science of education over the past ten years, many of these advances do not make it into everyday education practices, and often those that do, fail.

Legal Mandate for Evidence-Based Education

Evidence-based education has become an increasing priority in recent federal education legislation and Department of Education practices.


Overview of Evidence-Based Education

Evidence-based education is a paradigm by which education stakeholders use empirical evidence to make informed decisions about education interventions (policies, practices, and programs). “Evidence-based” decision making is emphasized over “opinion-based” decision making.

The concept behind evidence-based approaches is that education interventions should be evaluated to prove whether they work, and the results should be fed back to influence practice. Research is connected to day-to-day practice, and individualistic and personal approaches give way to testing and scientific rigor.


Key Components of Evidence-Based Education

Evidence-based education has four components:

  1. Promoting best-practices research and development
  2. Facilitating review and evaluation of scientific research
  3. Disseminating scientific research
  4. Developing and supporting “evidence-based culture”

 
1. Promoting Best-Practices Research and Development

Evidence-based education requires ongoing, systematic support of scientific research and development of education interventions. The support needs to be financial, institutional, political, and cultural.

  • Scientific research should focus on both the efficacy issues (validity of the intervention) and the effectiveness issues (factors that affect successful implementation of a valid intervention to achieve desired outcomes -- e.g., social contingencies, resource requirements, etc.).
  • Scientific research should be rigorous (meet the highest standards of proof), transparent (provide all of the data, issues, and research design), and current (include the most recent research).
  • Evidence-based education should accommodate a continuum of research designs that facilitate the timely, cost effective, and efficient completion of research. While randomized trials have been identified as the “gold standard”, randomized trials alone cannot meet the need for immediate feedback.

2. Facilitating Review and Evaluation of Scientific Research

Evidence-based education requires stringent protocols for evaluating the validity of all education research, in terms of design, standards of proof, and coherence with existing knowledge.

  • Tools, strategies, and information should be available to assist in informed decision-making at all levels of stakeholders (policy makers, administrators, teachers, parents, etc.).

3. Disseminating Scientific Research

Research results must reach the practice level so that education stakeholders can use empirical evidence to make informed decisions.

  • Research results should be made available through “independent” organizations with no competing contingencies / vested interests, or biases.
  • Research results should be made accessible to stakeholders in the most convenient manner possible, reinforcing frequent use of the conclusions in everyday practice.

4. Developing and Supporting Evidence-Based Culture

  • Research should be conducted into the opportunities and challenges of infusing evidence-based education in all aspects of education practice.
  • An analysis of social contingencies should be a standard part of all evidence-based education initiatives.

Success of Evidence-Based Healthcare 

Evidence-based healthcare offers a model where remarkable advances have been made in the treatment and prevention of disease. This achievement has been attributed to the requirements of the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) to implement effective, evidence-based research. Clinical guidelines and protocols are based on the results of controlled experiments following rigorous standards of science. Organizations such as the Cochrane Collaboration focus on reviewing studies in different health care areas and developing reliable reports, archived in accessible databases.


Failure of School Reform Models

There has been little, if any, sustained improvement in student achievement since the federally commissioned report—A Nation at Risk—identified a crisis in education performance in 1983.

During this same period of time, the field of education has seen countless interventions (curricula, strategies, practices, etc.) go in and out of fashion. Very few have had a basis in rigorous scientific evidence.

This lack of evidence has resulted in a culture of ideology, faddishness, and opinion—coupled with cynicism about research—that dominates education decision making. Decision makers are often overwhelmed with demands, options, and information with no systematic framework to evaluate and implement effective solutions.

“Educational practice and policy has long ignored research for three reasons: First, there has been too little high quality research to serve as a basis for action. Second, research has been ignored by educators on the basis that it is hard to know whose research is credible. Third, there is not an evidence-based practice ’culture’ that reinforces use of scientific research in education decision-making.”

While there have been tremendous advances in the science of education over the past ten years, many of these advances do not make it into everyday education practices, and often those that do, fail.


Legal mandate for Evidence Based Education

Evidence-based education has become a priority in recent federal education legislation and Department of Education practices:

  • The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) contains over 100 references to using evidence from “scientifically-based research” contains over 100 references to using evidence from “scientifically-based research”
  • The Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) of 2002 was enacted "to provide for improvement of Federal education research, statistics, evaluation, information, and dissemination..." ESRA established the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) within the Department of Education
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires schools to use “effective research-based” programs.

Education decision-making often occurs in the context of three variables: evidence, values, and resources. The majority of education decisions have been based on values and resources. As education challenges grow and resources fail to keep pace, decisions must be based on a systematic appraisal of the best evidence available in the context of prevailing values and available resources. More than ever, decisions must be informed and smart.