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

  • Richard J. Murnane
  • Richard R. Nelson

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.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11846.

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Date of creation: Dec 2005
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Richard J. Murnane & Richard R. Nelson, 2007. "Improving the Performance of the Education Sector: The Valuable, Challenging, and Limited Role of Random Assignment Evaluations," Economics of Innovation and New Technology, Taylor and Francis Journals, vol. 16(5), pages 307-322.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11846
Note: ED
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  1. 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.
  2. Dennis D. Kimko & Eric A. Hanushek, 2000. "Schooling, Labor-Force Quality, and the Growth of Nations," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(5), pages 1184-1208, December.
  3. 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, 05.
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