What the Feds should and shouldn't do

Just when academic excellence ?seemed to be making a comeback with our educators and policymakers we face the challenge of another wave of education tool and die makers whose products are confused with, er, knowledge.? Yesterday, I was happy to report that differentiated instruction guru Carol Tomlinson recognized that DI [differentiated instruction] was just a tool and that the nation had better get its content house in order before DI could do much good.

Today we are treated to a long, front-page story in the New York Times featuring cracks in another idol of modern education: technology; in this case, the ?software? that hides in said magic box.

What the Times says is already a $2.2 billion industry may just be producing more educational snake oil. The paper cites the federal Education Department's What Works Clearinghouse, which conducts rigorous studies of the research that many of the software developers allude to in their promotional materials, and concludes,

Some firms misrepresent research by cherry-picking results and promote surveys or limited case studies that lack the scientific rigor required by the clearnhouse and other authorities.

An interesting irony here is that the Times has a story in the same edition of the paper about a growing chorus of Republicans calling for the abolition of the federal Education Department. ?It would seem that some members of the GOP have gone back to a rather narrow states-rights parochialism, forgetting their party's individual rights roots and the core values that its most famous president (hint: author of the Emancipation Proclamation) espoused in defying those states when they asserted the authority to subvert individual rights. As Checker told the Times:

People want government money, they want greater accountability?. None of those things in most places comes from local control.

There are plenty of things that the federal education department should probably not be doing.? But I suspect that helping ensure equal access to educational opportunities is not one of them.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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