"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Medical Models and Human Guinea Pigs at Upward Bound

The geniuses on the Spellings Team have come up with another inspiration, this time to collect "scientifically-based" data on whether or not Upward Bound is working. Always willing to take bold action to apply cost-benefit formulae to programs intended to help poor kids get a leg up on going to college, the hard research goons (hard to believe, anyway) at ED are proposing that twice as many kids be recruited for Upward Bound, make all of them research guinea pigs, provide services to only half, and then measure the differences, thus arriving at a "scientific" conclusion on the worthiness of the program.

Wonder whose IRB would sign off on this kind of human subjects abuse. From Diverse Issues in Higher Ed:
. . . the department would require grantees to recruit double the number of students they need for their programs.

From this larger pool of students, only half actually would receive services. The remainder would form control groups to evaluate the usefulness of Upward Bound.

Organizations such as the Council for Opportunity in Education already have criticized the control groups, citing ethical objections. The council says the other changes would undermine local grantee flexibility, a view the senators echoed as well.

“The requirements create a one-size-fits-all approach that removes individual projects’ flexibility in a way that runs counter to Upward Bound’s mission of helping all needy students get into college,” Kennedy and his colleagues say.

The senators are seeking action by the Senate Appropriations Committee, which still is debating an education funding bill for fiscal year 2007. They have asked the committee to include language in its bill preventing the department from acting unilaterally on Upward Bound “without specific approval” from the House and Senate education committees.

The proposed changes — particularly recruiting students who receive no services — are also drawing opposition from scholars familiar with education challenges facing low-income students and students of color.

“This research design is wholly inappropriate for Upward Bound and other programs that serve disadvantaged students,” says Dr. Blenda J. Wilson, president of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, in a letter to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. Others signing the letter include Dr. Alberto F. Cabrera, a University of Maryland professor, and Dr. William Trent, an education professor at the University of Illinois.

By using control groups, the department is adopting a medical model for education research, they said. Yet most medical studies do not entirely deny service to control group participants with a need for assistance. In Upward Bound’s case, however, students who want help may not receive any at all.

“Disadvantaged students recruited to participate in the program but not ‘selected’ to receive the services would most certainly be harmed in terms of their college aspirations and pre-college preparation,” the scholars wrote.

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