It is the side effects that will kill you.

Several years ago after discussing research practices with a colleague in nursing, I was intrigued with associating the processes of medical research into that of education and viewing technology as an intervention and measuring the impact.

Yang Zhoa brilliantly takes associating medical research methodology even further, in a recent article in the Journal of Education Change, by considering that pedagogy can have unintended side effects. Examining direct instruction, performance versus confidence, and test-based accountability Zhoa offers:

“These examples suggest that educational programs, approaches, and policies are not unlike medical products: when they cure, they can hurt. They also suggest that considering both main and side effects can help resolve artificially divisive issues in education and help advance the field.”

Many offer that over-valuing standardized tests have produced many of the problems within our current education system. Zhoa points out that opposing sides unwilling to properly acknowledge these side effects lead to no real improvement.

“…when side effects in education are occasionally reported, they often come from opponents and critics of certain products. But the opponents and critics often do not consider impartially the effects of the product or policy, nor do they have access to or resources to conduct original studies concerning the product or policy. As a result, the reported side effects are often brushed aside as lacking objectivity or scientific rigor, or motivated by ideology. This is one of the reasons behind the long lasting ‘‘wars’’ in education—with two bodies of opposing literature co-existing in parallel places without much genuine interactions.”

High school math teachers have also argued short-term gains with programs like Saxon come back to haunt students in later grades. I often wonder if Accelerated Reader programs with external rewards really might lead to students, later in life, less likely to pick up a book on their own than if they had never been exposed to the program.

You can preview the article for a short time on Zhoa’s site here.

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