The problem with education is now evidence-based practice? Hmmm…

I may have heard it all, folks! In this new blog post by Harry Boyte (The Problem With Technocrats In Charge), Harry Boyte essentially makes the case that the problem with education is…best practice. I do take a bit of liberty when I reduce his argument down to that, but that’s what I’m reading essentially. A bit more fleshed out, he’s arguing that when technocrats are in charge, they push an agenda that squeezes out local decision-makers in favor of data-based policy that may not be the best solution, even if it does have empirical support for its efficacy.

My response – I can see where he’s coming from, and any systems approach that only considers one angle when making decisions is probably limited. As much of a data-driven person as I am, I realize the limitations of trying to make complex decisions solely based on research. Most research doesn’t completely generalize to the situation we apply it to, and even strongly supported approaches don’t always work. Moreover, I do believe there is some room for philosophy or value within educational decision-making on a very broad level – I think we have an obligation, or at least right, to decide what we want our schools, and instruction, to look like.

That being said, I find Boyte’s argument a bit too all-encompassing. There is a good response from “Deb,” for example, that highlights the good point that even “technocratic” mandates may be driven by latent corporate (or other) interests. Moreover, I’ve developed a particularly bad taste in my mouth for when folks argue against something really good because it may not be done perfectly, or may be somehow misapplied. The simple truth is that evidence and research are not the enemy of public education – nor are evidence gathers, evidence promoters, etc. We might need to include¬†more than just research in policy, but let’s not get “necessary & sufficient” confused.

Finally, and I say this with some hesitation as my own thoughts are developing on this topic, but I’m not a big fan of the “all things local” argument. I just don’t think small school districts (or, often times, even large ones) have the same capacity for educational programming than the DOE or other national organizations that have the time, money, & human resources to be able to think things through a bit more. I do think there should be some local involvement in educational matters as buy-in is key, but I think our “hyper-local” infatuation has gotten a bit out of control. That may be another blog post, but I think we educators come at educational issues with our own set of values that we impose on those decisions. Those values aren’t always applicable or beneficial to those decisions. For example, where did our value of “everything local” come from? Why is local inherently better than larger scale educational initiatives? Not saying there aren’t problems with the federalization of education, but is that philosophically bad? Or do we just value local for whatever reason, then superimpose that value on who should be making educational decisions?

Reigning things back in, evidence is not bad. Data is not bad. Misguided or over-extended use of data may be a problem, but it doesn’t disprove the concept. I would love for educators with a national voice to stop misleading national conversation by attacking the roots of things that really are good things (we need MORE research in education, not less), and either pull out the scalpel or take aim at more pressing problems.