Improving the Performance of the Education Sector: The Valuable, Challenging, and Limited Role of Random Assignment Evaluations

36 Pages Posted: 22 Dec 2005

See all articles by Richard J. Murnane

Richard J. Murnane

Harvard University - Harvard Graduate School of Education; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Richard R. Nelson

Columbia University - School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA)

Date Written: December 2005

Abstract

In an attempt to improve the quality of educational research, the U.S. Department of Education%u2019s Institute of Education Sciences has provided funding for 65 randomized controlled trials of educational interventions. We argue that this research methodology is more effective in providing guidance to extremely troubled schools about how to make some progress than guidance to schools trying to move from making some progress to becoming high performance organizations. We also argue that the conventional view of medical research -- discoveries made in specialized laboratories that are then tested using randomized control trials -- is an inaccurate description of the sources of advances in medical practice. Moreover, this conventional view of the sources of advances in medical practice leads to incorrect inferences about how to improve educational research. We illustrate this argument using evidence from the history of medical research on the treatment of cystic fibrosis.

Suggested Citation

Murnane, Richard J. and Nelson, Richard R., Improving the Performance of the Education Sector: The Valuable, Challenging, and Limited Role of Random Assignment Evaluations (December 2005). NBER Working Paper No. w11846, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=870606

Richard J. Murnane (Contact Author)

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) ( email )

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Richard R. Nelson

Columbia University - School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA) ( email )

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