This op-ed piece by Daniel Willingham examines recent research conducted by Roland Fryer. The study, Injecting Charter School Best Practices into Traditional Public Schools: Evidence from Field Experiments, reviews attempts to implement in public schools the lessons that Fryer learned about what makes effective charter schools (Dobbie & Fryer, 2011). The study concluded that the interventions did not produce significant improvement in student performance.
Willingham’s article makes several very critical observations. The first is the importance of disseminating results of studies that fail to produce the projected effects. This is fundamental to a vibrant evidence-based model of education: understanding what works and, equally important, what does not work. Unfortunately, educators and universities do not place the same value on negative results as on positive results. Willingham makes this point when he asks the critical questions, what went wrong and why did the study fail to arrive at the hypothesized results? Too often, educators reject a practice out of hand as a consequence of a particular study when the important lesson might lie elsewhere, perhaps in a poorly designed practice or a failure to implement the practice as designed.