Right time for randomized trials?

Science magazine reports that researchers worry that the Department of Education's focus on medical-style randomized controlled trials in education research is premature, since the groundwork hasn't yet been laid for applying those techniques to education. "Rushing to do RCTs is wrongheaded and bad science," Alan Schoenfeld, a math education professor at Berkeley, told the magazine. "There's a whole body of research that must be done before that." Just three months ago in Gadfly, Rick Hess editorialized that randomized studies in education should be confined to issues for which they are suited - pedagogical and curricular interventions - and not applied to structural changes such as regulatory reforms or school board overhauls (see here). We definitely agree. Still, we tend to believe that those who bemoan the inappropriateness of randomized studies in education are blowing smoke. No, the science isn't perfect, the prerequisites aren't completely in place, and we lack a broad body of knowledge upon which to build carefully controlled studies. So let's start perfecting and building these things as we work to increase the education sector's capacity to evaluate itself in a manner that passes the laugh test.

"Can randomized trials answer the question of what works?" by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, Science, March 25, 2005