Finally! There is a movement to make education research more relevant to people working in school districts who are asking, “Is this product likely to work in a school like mine?”
At various conferences that feature innovations in education and technology, we’ve been hearing about a rebellion against the way the federal Education Department wants research to be conducted. The department’s approach has anointed the randomized control trial as the gold standard for demonstrating that a product, program, or policy caused an outcome.
The problem is, that approach is concerned with the purity of the research design, not whether it is relevant to a school, given its population, resources, etc. For example, in an 80-school randomized control trial the Empirical team conducted under a federal contract on a statewide STEM program, we were required to report the average effect, which showed a small but significant improvement in math scores. If you refer to a table on page 104 of the report, you’ll find that while the program improved math scores on average, it didn’t improve math scores for minority students.