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

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  • Richard J. Murnane
  • Richard R. Nelson

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

  • Richard J. Murnane & Richard R. Nelson, 2005. "Improving the Performance of the Education Sector: The Valuable, Challenging, and Limited Role of Random Assignment Evaluations," NBER Working Papers 11846, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11846
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Eric A. Hanushek, 2004. "What if there are no 'best practices'?," Scottish Journal of Political Economy, Scottish Economic Society, vol. 51(2), pages 156-172, May.
    2. Jerik Hanushek & Dennis Kimko, 2006. "Schooling, Labor-force Quality, and the Growth of Nations," Educational Studies, Higher School of Economics, issue 1, pages 154-193.
    3. Ladd, Helen F. & Walsh, Randall P., 2002. "Implementing value-added measures of school effectiveness: getting the incentives right," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 1-17, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Nelson, Richard R., 2016. "The sciences are different and the differences matter," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(9), pages 1692-1701.
    2. Philip J. Cook & Jens Ludwig, 2006. "Aiming for evidence-based gun policy," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 25(3), pages 691-735.
    3. Nelson, Richard R. & Buterbaugh, Kristin & Perl, Marcel & Gelijns, Annetine, 2011. "How medical know-how progresses," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 40(10), pages 1339-1344.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education

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