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I M P L E M E N T I N G RANDOMIZED FIELD TRIALS I N E D U C AT I O N Report of a Workshop Committee on Research in Education Lisa Towne and Margaret Hilton, Editors Center for Education Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20001 NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance. This study was supported by Contract No. ED-00-CO-0088 between the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Department of Education, Grant No. 2002-7860 from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Grant No. 200200225 from the Spencer Foundation. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations ex- pressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Education, the William and Flora Hewlett Founda- tion or the Spencer Foundation. International Standard Book Number 0-309-09192-6 (Book) International Standard Book Number 0-309-53155-1 (PDF) Additional copies of this report are available from National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, N.W., Lockbox 285, Washington, DC 20055; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334- 3313 (in the Washington metropolitan area); Internet, http://www.nap.edu Printed in the United States of America Copyright 2004 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved. Suggested citation: National Research Council. (2004). Implementing Randomized Field Trials in Education: Report of a Workshop. Committee on Research in Education. L. Towne and M. Hilton, Eds. Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
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COMMITTEE ON RESEARCH IN EDUCATION 2004 Lauress L. Wise (Chair), Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO), Arlington, VA Linda Chinnia, Baltimore City Public School System Kay Dickersin, Department of Community Health, Brown University Margaret Eisenhart, School of Education, University of Colorado Karen Falkenberg, Division of Educational Studies, Emory University Jack McFarlin Fletcher, University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center and Center for Academic and Reading Skills Robert E. Floden, College of Education, Michigan State University Ernest M. Henley (emeritus), Department of Physics, University of Washington Vinetta C. Jones, School of Education, Howard University Brian W. Junker, Department of Statistics, Carnegie Mellon University David Klahr, Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, Harvard Graduate School of Education Barbara Schneider, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago Joseph Tobin, College of Education, Arizona State University Lisa Towne, Study Director Margaret Hilton, Senior Program Officer Tina Winters, Research Associate v
Preface T he central idea of evidence-based education--that education policy and practice ought to be fashioned based on what is known from rigorous research--offers a compelling way to approach reform efforts. Recent federal trends reflect a growing enthusiasm for such change. Most visibly, the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act requires that "scientifi- cally based [education] research" drive the use of federal education funds at the state and local levels. This emphasis is also reflected in a number of government and nongovernment initiatives across the country. As consen- sus builds around the goals of evidence-based education, consideration of what it will take to make it a reality becomes the crucial next step. In this context, the Center for Education of the National Research Council (NRC) has undertaken a series of activities to address issues related to the quality of scientific education research.1 In 2002, the NRC released Scientific Research in Education (National Research Council, 2002), a re- port designed to articulate the nature of scientific education research and to guide efforts aimed at improving its quality. Building on this work, the Committee on Research in Education was convened to advance an im- proved understanding of a scientific approach to addressing education prob- 1Other NRC efforts--especially the line of work that culminated in the recent report Strategic Education Research Partnership (National Research Council, 2003)--offer insights and advice about ways to advance research utilization more broadly. vii
viii PREFACE lems; to engage the field of education research in action-oriented dialogue about how to further the accumulation of scientific knowledge; and to coordinate, support, and promote cross-fertilization among NRC efforts in education research. The main locus of activity undertaken to meet these objectives was a year-long series of workshops designed to engage a range of education stake- holders in discussions about five key topics: · Peer Review in Federal Education Research Programs. This workshop focused on the purposes and practices of peer review in federal agencies that fund education research. Federal officials and researchers considered a range of models used across the federal government to involve peers in the review of proposals for funding and discussed ways to foster high-quality scientific research through peer review. · Understanding and Promoting Knowledge Accumulation in Education: Tools and Strategies for Education Research. With a focus on how to build a coherent knowledge base in education research, researchers and federal of- ficials analyzed several elements of the research infrastructure, including tools, practices, models, and standards. Fundamental questions about what such a knowledge base might look like were also considered in this context. · Random Assignment Experimentation in Education: Implementation and Implications. The evidence-based education trend has brought to the fore decades of debate about the appropriateness of randomized field trials in education. Far less consideration has been devoted to the practical as- pects of conducting such studies in educational settings; this workshop featured detailed descriptions of studies using randomized field trials in education and reflections on how the current trend to fund more of these studies is influencing states, districts, and students. · Journal Practices in Publishing Education Research. Following the more general discussion of how to build a coherent knowledge base in education in a previous workshop, this event took up the specific case of journals that publish education research. Editors, publication committee members, and others involved in the production and use of journal articles considered ways to promote high-quality education research and to con- tribute to the larger body of knowledge about important areas of policy and practice. · Education Doctoral Programs for Future Leaders in Education Re- search. A final workshop focused on the professional development of edu-
PREFACE ix cation researchers, with a specific emphasis on doctoral programs in schools of education. Deans, graduate study coordinators, foundation officials, and policy makers came together to share observations and chart potential paths for progress. Additional information on each of these events, including transcripts of presentations and discussions, can be found at http://www7. nationalacademies.org/core/. This report is a summary of the third workshop in the series, on the implementation and implications of randomized field trials in education. Educators and researchers have debated the usefulness of these methods for conducting research in education for decades. As many more of them are being funded in education than ever before, our objective in convening this workshop was to provide a venue for researchers and practitioners who have been involved in this kind of study in educational settings to share their experiences. The event took place on September 24, 2003, at the National Academies' Keck Center in Washington, DC. This report summarizes common issues and ideas that emerged from the presentations and discussion during the workshop (see Appendix A for the workshop agenda and Appendix B for biographical sketches of the com- mittee members and speakers). These issues included why researchers use randomized field trials, when such a design is appropriate for answering questions about education, and how to implement this kind of research in an educational setting. In discussing these issues, workshop speakers identi- fied challenges to successfully carrying out randomized field trials in schools and described strategies for addressing those challenges. Although investi- gators conducting any type of research in schools would encounter many of these challenges, some are unique to this research design. While this report represents our synopsis of the key issues aired at the workshop, it does not contain conclusions or recommendations. We will issue a final report with recommendations for improving scientific research in education based on the series of five workshops. In addition, because the one-day workshop that is the subject of this report necessarily included only a small number of practitioners and researchers, this summary cannot be construed as representative of all experiences and views of those who have been involved in randomized field trials in educational settings. We did take care to invite individuals who were experienced and knowledge- able about implementing this kind of research in social settings and believe
x PREFACE that the insights they shared are useful. Our aim is to help investigators, funders, and educators involved in the next generation of randomized field trials in education to avoid common pitfalls and to carry out best practices. This workshop report would not have been possible without the stellar group of speakers who shared their expertise with the committee. We would like to thank each of them for their contributions: Robert F. Boruch, pro- fessor, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania; Wesley Bruce, assistant superintendent, Indiana Department of Education; Linda Chinnia, Area Academic Officer (Area 1), Baltimore City Public School System; Donna Durno, executive director, Allegheny Intermediate Unit; Olatokunbo S. Fashola, research scientist, Johns Hopkins University Cen- ter for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk; Judith Gueron, president, MDRC; Vinetta C. Jones, dean, Howard University School of Education; Sheppard Kellam, public health psychiatrist, Ameri- can Institutes for Research; Anthony (Eamonn) Kelly, professor of instruc- tional technology, Graduate School of Education, George Mason Univer- sity; Sharon Lewis, director of research, Council of the Great City Schools; Loretta McClairn, family, schools, and communities coordinator, Dr. Ber- nard Harris Elementary School, Baltimore City Public School System; David Myers, vice president, Mathematica Policy Research; and Richard J. Shavelson, professor, School of Education, Stanford University. Of course, without the generous support of our sponsors, neither the workshop nor this report would be possible. We extend our gratitude to the former National Educational Research Policy and Priorities Board and the Institute of Education Sciences, the William and Flora Hewlett Founda- tion, and the Spencer Foundation. Finally, we thank each of the members of the Committee on Research in Education. We especially appreciate the efforts of the workshop plan- ning group, led by Kay Dickersin, who designed an outstanding event that has made a unique contribution to an important debate. Finally, we wish to acknowledge the contributions of Richard Nelson of Columbia University, who participated in early planning for the event but later resigned from the committee. This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with proce- dures approved by the NRC's Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as pos- sible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objec-
PREFACE xi tivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review com- ments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Mark Dynarski, Education Research Depart- ment, Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., Princeton, New Jersey; Susan Fuhrman, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania; Julia Lara, Division of State Services and Technical Assistance, Council of Chief State School Officers, Washington, DC; Patricia Lauer, Principal Re- searcher, Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, Aurora, Colorado; and Jean Williams, Center for Research in Education, RTI In- ternational, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations, nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Milton Hakel, Depart- ment of Psychology, Bowling Green State University. Appointed by the National Research Council, he was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully con- sidered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution. Lauress L. Wise, Chair Lisa Towne, Study Director Committee on Research in Education
Contents 1 WHAT IS A RANDOMIZED FIELD TRIAL? 1 2 WHY ARE RANDOMIZED FIELD TRIALS USED? 7 3 WHEN ARE RANDOMIZED FIELD TRIALS FEASIBLE? 12 4 HOW CAN RANDOMIZED FIELD TRIALS BE CONDUCTED IN AN EDUCATIONAL SETTING? 27 REFERENCES 34 APPENDIXES A Workshop Agenda 37 B Biographical Sketches of Committee Members and Workshop Speakers 40 xiii