You are seeing this message because your web browser does not support basic web standards. Find out more about why this message is appearing and what you can do to make your experience on this site better.

The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

Terms of Use ▼

Heather Weiss

Twenty years ago the release of A Nation at Risk¹ created a sense of urgency to address the mediocrity of the U.S. education system. It set off a wave of reforms that have become part of the educational landscape today—notably the drive toward high academic standards, the improvement of the teaching profession, and the extension of learning opportunities beyond traditional institutions. While there is disagreement about the strategies to reform a decentralized educational system, few would contest the need for long-term research and ongoing evaluation to determine which reforms are successful, for whom, and under what conditions.

In this issue of The Evaluation Exchange we consider multiple perspectives on current education reform efforts and their evaluation. The implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act drives many of the current themes in the practice and evaluation of education reform. The emphasis on scientifically based research (SBR) and experimental research as the gold standard of education scholarship is a watershed for evaluation. In the Special Report in this issue, expert researchers and evaluators comment on the opportunities and challenges that SBR presents.

The increased emphasis on using evidence to inform education practice also carries implications for schools of education to prepare future educators, researchers, and evaluators with solid research skills and a broad conception of what constitutes good educational scholarship. As several authors in this issue note, this conception includes training in and use of multiple and mixed methods because of the richer understanding that they yield.

Yet education reform proceeds at different levels, and its complex demands call not just for the participation of universities and federal- and state-level education administrations. This issue highlights the role of youth, families, communities, and the broader public in education reform as they too have a vested interest in high-performing schools.

Parents, for example, are participating in new ways in school reform, networking with other parents, and developing leadership skills that allow them to influence critical education issues. Yet in order to effect change and hold schools accountable, parents and the broader public must be educated about the standards-based movement and other education reforms. Otherwise, the public actually may be part of the philosophical resistance to efforts such as standards, as Wendy Puriefoy of Public Education Network points out in Questions and Answers.

The placement of multiple stakeholders and research rigor in the center of conversations on education reform requires a rethinking of methods for evaluating such reform. This issue provides information about several evaluations in key areas of education reform, such as technology in education, comprehensive school-based reform, and reducing the achievement gap. Evaluators share insights on their experiences of participatory action research, formative evaluation, quasi-experimental designs, and large-scale impact studies.

The world of education reform is complex and evolving and certainly not possible to cover comprehensively in one issue. As always we welcome your thoughts and contributions.

¹ The National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983). A nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform. Washington, DC: US Department of Education.

Heather B. Weiss, Ed.D.
Founder & Director
Harvard Family Research Project

Next Article ›

© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project