Sir, — “Research shows” has been a facile assertion of education industry hucksters peddling the latest fads for primary and secondary schooling. Rarely, when claiming research studies validate their program, do they list actual studies or elaborate on the methods used to produce them or any ambiguities in the data. The new federal education law, No Child Left Behind (nclb), shows a clear and commendable intent of its bipartisan framers to reform that kind of sloppiness in identifying what works in the classrooms.
The phrase “scientifically based research” appears throughout nclb more than 100 times. This is intended as the new commandment for school programs that receive federal aid: Thou shalt not put into practice any school programs that are not supported by sound science. But what does that mean? What should it mean? E.D. Hirsch Jr.’s thoughtful article (“Classroom Research and Cargo Cults,” October/November 2002) could not be more timely. The progenitor of the Core Knowledge movement proposes a rigorous standard for education research. But is it a higher standard than nclb recipients or enforcers will be willing to take to heart?
Recent discussion in Washington policy circles has focused on using the so-called “gold standard” of education research — random assignment of students into experimental and control groups — as the nclb ideal. That would be a major improvement over the pedagogical correctness asserted in anecdotal studies favored by many schools of education. However, according to Hirsch, randomness is not enough. Results should be counter-checked against the insights that cognitive science can provide as to the root cause of the short-term effects that are observed. Hirsch gives the example of a small study of 32 first-graders that sought to determine whether it is better to teach high-frequency vocabulary words in isolation or in context. It found a slight edge for teaching such words in isolation. However, Hirsch points out that had the work of cognitive scientists been consulted, researchers would have found a clear consensus that both isolated and contextual methods ought to be used.
On a hopeful note, the National Institutes of Health has recently done a good job of reconciling laboratory and classroom research to identify what works best in teaching early reading (in a word, phonics; in two words, phonemic awareness).
Realism compels an observation that widespread application of Hirsch’s exacting standard will be difficult to implement in the political milieu in which public education operates. Even incontrovertible reading research will continue to come under attack from those with a vested interest in the failed fad known as Whole Language. The proper role of the federal government in umpiring disputes over conflicting education research is a huge question in itself. Nevertheless, Hirsch sets out clearly what ought to be done if achieving the highest degree of academic productivity is really the paramount concern of the education industry.
Senior Fellow, Lexington Institute
Sir, — Peter Berkowitz’s glowing review of Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry was blind to the real issues raised by human cloning for the purpose of having children (“The Pathos of the Kass Report,” October/November 2002). His biased embrace of the commission’s recommendations and the shackling of American medicine and science through the banning of cloning for biomedical research was an equal affront to freedom.
The overwhelming majority of pundits and critical thinkers will trash the proposed moratorium on research cloning. However, few will note the total lack of any serious consideration of reproductive cloning and the absence of even one reproductive cloning advocate on the President’s Council on Bioethics.
Banning reproductive cloning for individuals or couples who wish to use it to reproduce is a total violation of their reproductive freedom. It is equivalent to forcible sterilization by the state. Likewise, telling someone that he “must die completely” violates the religious freedom of those for whom it is important that their genotype live on into another lifetime. While such concepts might be beyond the comprehension of many contemporary theologians, they are at the center of a growing number of organized religions and belief systems evolving today.
Randolfe H. Wicker
Reproductive Cloning Network
New York, New York