Plans are just getting under way in this country for a new national clearinghouse on what research has to say about what works in education. But on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, British researchers have already beaten the United States to the punch.
In July, EPPI-Centre, a government-assisted effort housed at the University of London, published its first four reports reviewing and summarizing what researchers in the English-speaking world have discovered about key educational topics.
“Hitherto, nobody in the U.K. has invested money like this into the preparation of reviews,” said Michael Bassey, the academic secretary for the British Educational Research Association.
The first reviews by EPPI-Centre, which is the official acronym for Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Coordinating Centre, focus on:
- Identifying ways schools can become more inclusive in responding to students from diverse cultures and communities;
- Reducing the stereotypical ideas students have about gender;
- Assessing the impact of technology on students’ language arts learning; and
- Gauging what’s known about the effect of high-stakes tests on students’ motivation for learning.
If there is a lesson for researchers “across the pond” in the United Kingdom’s effort, however, it is that the process of gathering up studies, systematically reviewing them, and distilling some usable knowledge from them is difficult.
In an unpublished paper looking back at the center’s first foray into education reviews, Ann Oakley, the director of its social science research unit, notes that studies meeting the group’s criteria were hard to find—as were reviewers with the knowledge and skills to analyze them.
Moreover, the $30,000 or so in seed money that the British government provides for each review falls far short of the need. Most such reviews the center conducts cost $120,000 or more.
In the end, all four papers found that “more research was needed” in their topic areas.
The hardest-edged findings came from the assessment report. It concludes that high-stakes testing tends to reinforce the poor self-images of low-achieving students and leads teachers to resort to feeding facts to students, rather than undertaking the kind of hands-on learning that some students respond to best.
“Government asks, ‘Tell us what works,’” Mr. Bassey said. “Well, this substantial, comprehensive, and rigorous document tells what doesn’t work. It is now up to government to act on it.”