Today I am leaving the comfortable ground of solid calculation (2 + 4 = 6) and venturing onto the dangerous, thin ice of opinion (Honey, do these slacks make my bottom look big?)
I want to tackle the current trend of promoting evidence-based decision-making, particularly when it comes to curriculum like ours.
A reasonable desire for repeatable, reliable, rational results seems sensible. Evidence-based materials give us teaching methods and curriculum that really deliver what we want.
But wait! Do they?
The decision to use evidence-based decision-making is NOT necessarily based on evidence.
Evidence is always picked and parsed by our personal prejudices, pre-conceptions and pre-suppositions. Not all evidence is equal. Just watch any detective show on television, you'll see.
For example, here are some steps in evidence-based decision-making.
- Formulate a well-stated question
- Apply rigorous data analysis to test the statement of the hypothesis and justify its conclusion
- Identify an adequate set of observation- and experiment-based resources that answer the question
- Critically appraise the various solutions, assessing their validity, comprehensiveness, etc.
- Verify that your findings are supported by a "critical mass" of scientific research; find valid and consistent data across evaluators, observers, multiple trials and cultures
- Confirm that your choice has been accepted in a peer-reviewed journal or a panel of independent experts through rigorous, objective and scientific review
- Apply your chosen evidence-based solution in your own trials in your own context
- Apply your own professional wisdom and personal experience, while ensuring they are subject to the consensus view of your co-workers
- Re-evaluate the application of the solution (if necessary, identify areas for customization and improvement)
- Decide, purchase and implement
So to sum it up, a product or program may be considered evidence-based if
- repeatable research shows that the program produces positive results as expected
- results are proven to be due to the program, not accidental or due to extraneous factors
- the evaluation itself has been peer-reviewed by experts in the field
- the program is endorsed and listed by a federal agency and/or respected research group
I will close with an example - each variation in the "well formulated question" mentioned in Step 1 may demand an entirely different curriculum:
How do I teach fractions to a group of 4th graders?
How do I most effectively teach fractions to a 4th grader?
How do I most effectively teach fractions to a small group of 4th graders who are native English speakers?
How do I most effectively teach fractions to a small group of 4th graders who are native English speakers, while they are living in Germany?
How do I teach fractions to a group of six 4th graders, none of whom are native English speakers?
How do I facilitate the interactions of a group of sixteen 4th graders so they can discover the concept of fractions by themselves and master this concept for their lifetimes?