dam“Education is vitally important. It is essential to progress. And, it is being held hostage by intellectual gangs.” – Richard Phelps Nonpartisan Education

Search the internet for stories about the latest from education research and you no doubt will find numerous headlines claiming some discovery about teaching children that will fix whatever ails our system of education.

Patrick Groff wrote in his piece in the Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society

“The history of education is strewn with the wreckage of numerous innovations that were never empirically verified before being put into operation. These were educational fads or crazes that burst upon the educational scene with what later turned out to be superficial brilliance, since they inevitably flared out – not with a bang of elation, but instead with a whimper of humiliation and regret.”

One of those innovations is what we today call constructivist learning. It isn’t really new. It’s been around for several decades, but is cyclically relabeled every time its failure to produce results is discovered. In the ’60s they called it “discovery learning,” which then became “experiential learning,”  “problem-based learning” and then “inquiry learning.” This theory of teaching, where children are encouraged to explore their own solutions to problems is very evident in the Common Core Standards.  This is touted as a means to help students develop a passion for learning.

Unfortunately there is research that refutes the claims of the constructivist enthusiasts. Malkin Dare of the Society for Quality Education wrote in Experiential Learning Advocates Have Had It Wrong For Decades

“Fifty years ago cognitive scientists knew much less than they do now about the human brain and how it learns. Since then, however, the architecture of the human brain has been carefully mapped, using advanced scanning techniques, and the new understanding of human cognition leaves no doubt that minimal guidance teaching is inappropriate for classrooms, especially in the early years and for disadvantaged students.

The advances in cognitive science centre mainly on an appreciation of the importance of long-term memory. No longer seen as a peripheral and passive repository of isolated bits of information and skills, long-term memory is now viewed as the central component of human cognition. In fact, long-term memory is regarded as so important that cognitive scientists consider any instruction that doesn’t alter long-term memory useless.”

So if there is research to refute the claims of its effectiveness, why do so many still tout the superiority of discovery learning?

Richard Phelps of the International Consortium for Researchers and Specialists in Education and Evaluation opined in his piece “Think Tanks, Celebrity Research, and the Dissolution of Education Knowledge” that the field of education research is controlled by two camps, BOTH of whom practice blockage of research that refutes their intended policy or self sponsored research. Gone is the Age of Scholarship.

“In the Age of Scholarship, all education researchers operated independently, and all education researchers could speak, write, and were listened to. But, alas, the Age of Scholarship was long ago. Education research has since been taken over by gangs, otherwise known as think tanks or government-funded research centers. In other words, celebrity researchers.

He provides an example of this blockage technique with a quote from Robert Linn,  longtime co-director of enter for Research on Education Standards and Student Testing (CRESST) who said,

“Although much has been written on achievement motivation per se, there has been surprisingly little empirical research on the effects of different motivation conditions on test performance.[emphasis added] Before examining the paucity of research on the relationship of motivation and test performance….”

The public, through a media disinterested in finding the truth in such statements, would conclude that there has been no research into the effect of motivation on learning. Phelps, with little effort, proves this assumption wrong.

A while ago, I spent some time computer searching and strolling library aisles for signs of the research literature on the relationship between motivation and test performance that Linn and his CRESST colleagues have repeatedly declared either nonexistent or close to it. Lo and behold, I discovered a few hundred studies. My search was tedious, but it was not difficult. Given the height of the pile of books, articles, and bibliographies I have yet to comb through, it would appear that I will soon discover a few hundred more.

What to do when intellectual elite are deceptively framing the arguments for particular education policy,methodology or reform? Enter the Nonpartisan Education Review. From their website:

Though much high quality and trustworthy education research and information exists, much does not find its way into education policy discussions. Its path is blocked by a wall of interest groups, think tanks, federally-funded research centers, and well-funded advocacy groups that dismiss information they dislike and promote information they like. These organized groups have the resources to push their agenda, saturating the media and the Web with their own particular version of reality.

In a manner of speaking, these groups own all the microphones, at least in the United States. Any more, research and information from nonaligned individuals seldom makes it past the wall. And, few U.S. education journalists seem willing to climb over the wall to retrieve a story.

It is our conviction that some of the organizations allied with the two education establishments do our country more harm than good, primarily through their censorship of education research and information. Indeed, it has become rather commonplace for the education groups aligned with the “two sides” to openly declare that vast regions of the education research literature do not exist. –
The danger of blockage is that policies can be and are made based on the narrowly selected supportive literature, and also that  new research is funded which is only duplicative of earlier completed research that proved the ineffectiveness of the proposed policy.
Once whole language was proven, inadvertently by the state of California, to be disastrous at teaching reading, there should have been no need for further research to reconfirm this finding. The problem is that, as Groff stated, “educators historically have been notorious for their inability to resist the lures of educational innovations, regardless of whether or not they have been empirically validated…  The fact that none of the original principles nor novel practices of Whole Language is supported consistently by experimental research thus does not discourage numerous educators from holding positive views about it.” The practice of blocking unsupportive research makes it easier for these clingers to site supposedly reputable sources like CRESST and Harvard which only publish affirming research results as proof that their preferences are correct.

The two gangs that NER identifies are the two parties in the United States. ”

“U.S. Democratic politicians are dependent on vested education groups for a large portion of their financial and organizational support and can be reluctant to confront them.

As for the U.S. Republicans, a single small group of related individuals has assumed control of the education policy function for virtually all GOP-aligned research and policy groups. National, state, and local GOP faithful are instructed to support whatever those in this tiny group say or do, and to ignore the vast majority of information that would be useful and relevant to them.”

The following individuals have come forth to try to get the research that has been hidden back into the sunlight.

NER Board of Advisors

NER Editorial Board
Lastly, from the NER website:
“The Nonpartisan Education Review may be the first research and policy group paying more than lip service to representing and informing the non-aligned and non-partisan–the majority–on education issues. At some point, the dam could break, and all the accurate and straightforward education information that the two U.S. education establishments have strained to hold back will burst forth. For the sake of the world, that is our hope.”
Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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