Education Letter to the Editor

What’s Needed to Make Education Like Medicine

June 11, 2007 1 min read

To the Editor:

In his Commentary “Making Policy Work: The Lesson From Medicine” (May 23, 2007), Jon Baron is right in identifying a profession against which our standards in education could be measured, whether they be “evidence-based” practices or other features. Education has lusted after the image of medicine for many years, often adopting labels such as “clinical teaching” and “internships” to be more like the doctors.

There are, however, far more basic adjustments that need to be adopted for education to achieve what medicine has accomplished. Consider the following:

• Medicine has not lowered standards for professional preparation to meet shortages in its workforce.

• In medicine, significant public funding has been invested over many years in research training, basic research, and clinical research. The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide a foundation for evidence-based practice that is almost completely absent in education.

• Leadership positions in medicine and health care are not limited to physicians.

• There is no Food and Drug Administration in the business of education to protect educators, schools, or children from misguided or sham curricula, testing, or other “treatment” procedures.

• Medicine sees continuing professional development and training as essential to the effectiveness of its practitioners.

• Education has many research and advocacy centers, but few basic research and evaluation organizations.

Perhaps most discouraging is the separation of the education profession from its basic academic disciplines: psychology, sociology, and other social sciences. Medicine has continued to maintain and foster its links to its basic academic disciplines: chemistry, biology, physics, and technology.

When these fundamental differences are remedied, education can begin to claim stature and effectiveness, as well as some real evidence on which to base its policy and practice.

Donald J. Stedman

Dean Emeritus of Education

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, N.C.

A version of this article appeared in the June 13, 2007 edition of Education Week