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SCIENTIFICALLY BASED RESEARCH: WHAT’S IN A NAME?

The term “scientifically based research” is used 117 times in the No Child Left Behind Act and is featured as the foundation for many programs and initiatives. The term’s prevalence throughout the new law signals a change from funding programs that seem to be working in the classroom and toward programs that have proven results based on scientific research. The law mandates the use of scientifically based research in everything from professional development and technical assistance to reading curriculum design. It also requires activities performed in the classroom to be proven scientifically effective for the children served.

On February 6, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Susan Neuman hosted a seminar that brought together education and science experts to discuss the meaning of scientifically based research.

The seminar featured a paper on “The Logic and the Basic Principles of Scientific Based Research,” by Michael Feuer and Lisa Towne of the National Research Council (NRC). The NRC was organized to associate the broad community of science and technology with the National Academy of Science’s purposes of further knowledge and advising the federal government. During his presentation at the seminar, Feuer spoke of the need to bring scientific reasoning and the culture of science to bear on the important decisions we make about kids and schools. However, he noted that there are very few studies in education that use scientifically based research.

Stephen Raudenbush of the University of Michigan compared the movement in education toward more scientifically-based research to a similar path that the field of medicine traveled. He noted that one of the few scientifically based studies was a Tennessee class size study, which he described as an “amazing state-wide randomized experiment to evaluate the impact of large versus small classes.”

A complete transcript of the seminar and links to the papers presented can be found on the Department of Education’s Web site.

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No Child Left Behind

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