Research Left Behind

We know how egregiously wrong-headed progressive policies on lower education have been, but do conservative policies sometimes miss the mark as well? In this article, Richard R. Phelps, an expert on education research, suggests that No Child Left Behind aimed at making teachers and schools punitively accountable for their students’ performance on standardized tests. But the legislation said nothing about making students accountable. This seems to reflect the conservative belief that the schools and the teachers (and teachers’ unions) are most at fault in the poor performance of many youngsters, and the conservative tendency to ignore the readiness, willingness, diligence, discipline, motivation, and abilities of the students themselves.

The overall thesis of the article, “Dismissive Reviews: Academe’s Memory Hole,” is that scholars are failing to consult previous research when they undertake to study a certain topic. Thus a great deal of research already done on the need for student accountability was overlooked by the architects of NCLB.  In fact, writes Phelps, “With the single exception of the federal mandate, there was no aspect of the NCLB accountability initiative that had not been tried and studied before. Every one of the NCLB Act’s failings was perfectly predictable, based on decades of prior experience and research. Moreover, there were better alternatives for every characteristic of the program that had also been tried and studied thoroughly by researchers in psychology, education, and program evaluation. Yet, policy makers were made aware of none of them.”

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