Base education policies on evidence, not politics, AFT leader says

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AFT executive vice president Francine Lawrence addressed the American Educational Research Association conference and challenged AERA members to help the AFT gather more education research designed to develop best practices.

Francene LawrenceFrancine Lawrence

The annual conference, held in Vancouver, British Columbia, and attended by thousands of education researchers, was a perfect place to draw attention to what Lawrence called an “evidence-free zone” of education policymaking, where “ideologues and profiteers” push so-called reforms despite a lack of proof they will help improve education.

But Lawrence said the blame does not lie entirely on the purveyors of these policies. The flawed practices gain ground because of a dearth of reliable research, she said. “I would like to extend a respectful challenge to you and your colleagues today. Help us continue to build the evidence base for more-effective policies, practices and programs.” In particular, Lawrence called for research on multiple measures of student learning (as opposed to test-only measures), teacher development and evaluation systems, community schools and wraparound services, and the impact of teacher turnover on student learning.

In keeping with the conference theme, “To Know Is Not Enough”—a call for researchers to communicate their findings to a broader audience, thereby improving education and serving the public good—Lawrence also noted the need to reach beyond the research community with research findings. “Right now, most of the people with the high-powered bullhorns don’t have high-quality research to back up their ideologically motivated policy prescriptions,” she said. “But they are the ones in the public space–spurred by substantial private funding—advocating in op-eds, speeches and interviews.”

Lawrence’s message resonated with many of the conference participants, several of whom have already responded to her challenge by expressing an interest in working with the AFT to conduct the real research necessary for positive and effective education reform. [Virginia Myers]

April 25, 2012