To the Editor:
In his Oct. 18, 2006, Commentary “Research and Effectiveness,” Robert E. Slavin proposes an initiative whereby districts not meeting standards could, when requesting discretionary federal funding, be awarded “a bonus of up to 10 points, on a scale of 100, if the applicant commits to the use of programs with strong evidence of effectiveness.”
On the surface, this seems like a reasonable proposal. But what he does not say here, but has said many times elsewhere, is that his program, Success for All, is the most scientifically validated to have strong evidence of effectiveness. So the question is: Should the government provide a bonus for schools to adopt this program? The answer is a resounding no.
In a series of published articles, I have shown that much of the research supporting Success for All was done by the developer and his associates and was of questionable methodological validity. The original research, conducted by the developer in Baltimore, showed that the program was highly effective. Why, then, did the district decide to drop the program? Was it due to mismanagement or politics? No, the program was dropped because students entered the 6th grade, after five years in the program, three to four years below grade level.
More recently, the Atlanta public schools relied on Success for All to raise the performance of the system’s predominantly African-American schools. The result, on the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, was that Atlanta had a black-white achievement gap in reading of approximately four years at the 4th grade level. (This is not a misprint.)
The special problems with SFA aside, programs generally are not tested on a sufficiently large scale to warrant their being promoted, and few could afford to conduct such research.
At this point, I do not know of any large-scale programs that have been shown to consistently enable students to be successful to the point where it makes sense to promote their use. Educators are not stupid. If there were in fact an unusually, universally effective program out there, schools would be voluntarily adopting it en masse, and would not need incentives.
So, when all is said and done, this version of the “10 percent solution” is merely the latest ploy by an influential, well-funded vendor to get his program promoted by the government. My own version of the “10 percent solution” would be for the U.S. Department of Education to invest 10 percent of its budget in the development of truly breakthrough programs.
Professor of Educational Leadership
San Francisco State University
San Francisco, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the November 29, 2006 edition of Education Week as A 10 Percent Solution?