Parental Choice RevisitedFebruary 17, 2010
Not so long ago I posted about the Tory plans for “freeing up” the education system. I do think that the Tories have been saying some fairly sensible things about what is wrong with our education system when it comes to dumbing down or discipline so it is deeply concerning that their actual policies seem to be based on ideological dogma about markets rather than the more obvious option of, well, actually doing something to solve the problems. My objection was that no amount of talk of Sweden as an example will actually make it plausible that schools will improve drastically simply by trying to encourage more competition and diversity in a system which is far more competitive and diverse than so many other countries.
Anyway, debate has moved on. Firstly, questions are being asked about whether Sweden is a model worth copying:
For balance, here is Gove’s response:
More importantly, we are beginning to see who the Tories think will come and do their job for them if they were to be elected. The answer appears to be “any idiot with a pet theory”. One in particular stands out. The actress Goldie Hawn runs what appears to be an educational charity with some crank ideas. So mad are they that even the Daily Mail are happy to criticise the Tories for this. More detail is available from Kelvin Throop in a blog post that I wish I’d written, which I’ll represent here:
I have been somewhat critical of education policy under the current Government but compared with what the opposition have planned, Labour are sane and clear thinkers.
That’s right. The Tories are planning on taking education advice from a Hollywood actress who has a scheme for controlling aggression by breathing excercises and meditation dreamt up while she was on holiday. I wondered what research backed up her system. Google found me this:
In 2005, leading researcher Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, Associate Professor of Education at University of British Columbia, received a grant from the The Hawn Foundation to conduct a pilot research study on MindUP (TM), developed by the The Hawn Foundation and author Nancy Fischer…The studies used rigorous scientific design, including a randomized control trial, to test the program’s effectiveness. One study also explored the program’s implementation, helping to refine the curriculum design. Ongoing longitudinal studies will evaluate the impact of MindUPTM over time.
The studies found that children who participated in MindUPTM, compared to children who did not, showed significant improvements on all four dimensions of teacher-rated school behaviors, including:
Decrease in aggression
Decrease in behavioral dysregulation
Increase in self-esteem
Increase in pro-social behavior such as sharing
Increase in social-emotional competence
Program effects were also found for self-reported optimism, self concept, reflection, and mindful awareness attention. The positive emotional benefits were strongest for girls and/or younger children.
“Rigorous scientific design” sounds good, as do the claimed results. Although the “self-reported” optimism etc. sounds a bit subjective.
The actual research is summarised here.
The research design is described as:
Quasi-experimental, pretest, posttest, control group design
The first study consisted of 246 4th to 7th grade children in 12 classes, 6 classes received the Mindfulness Education (ME) program and 6 control classes did not. The classes were matched for age, ethnicity, gender and social background. The participants filled in questionaires before and after so that changes in social and emotional understading etc. could be assessed.
There is no mention of randomisation, so it would be perfectly possible for the worst performing kids to be assigned to the control groups. Likewise, there is no blinding, so this could influence the researchers interpretation of results.
A series of papers that resulted from this research are listed. All but one are conference presentations ie not peer-reviewed. The remaining one, Promoting optimism and well-being in school-aged children: Initial findings from the “Mindfulness Education” program by K.A. Schonert-Reichl and M.S. Lawler was, as of December 2008, being prepared for publication in Psychology in the Schools.
I had a look on that journal’s website and inputted “Schonert-Reichl” into the author field of the search function. Precisely 0 papers were found.
The second study involved 99 4th and fifth graders assigned to 4 classes, 2 ME and 2 control. This one is a randomised control trial ie the researchers should have no influence over whether a particular student is assigned to an ME or control class. However, we are not told what randomisation technique is used so we do not know whether it was adequate. Furthermore, once more no mention of blinding is made, so when the researchers are assessing the results they will know whether a kid was in the conrol or ME group. The results of this study are still being written up for publication.
There is thus no peer-reviewed evidence and indeed no sound science at all supporting this program.
Now if only the alternative to all this was someone more credible than Ed Balls…