My colleague, Anthony Bryk, and I, both members of the Friends of Evidence at the Center for the Study of Social Policy, submitted the following Letter to the Editor, the New York Times, in response to a January 1, 2015 op-ed by Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution. The Times didn’t publish our letter, so we are posting it here.
To the Editor:
We fully agree with Ron Haskins’ January 1, 2015 op-ed that rigorous evidence should inform social spending, and that the new Congress should resist cutting effective evidence-based programs. We worry, however, about relying on only one form of evidence — results from randomized control trials — to dictate our allocation of resources. These studies tell us that a program can work because, on average, those exposed to it, typically in some small number of sites, did somewhat better. They tell us little, however about whether the intervention will work when attempted with different populations and in different contexts. To achieve the more ambitious results we now target — sharply higher rates of school readiness and school success, healthy transitions to adulthood, and thriving and supportive neighborhoods — we need a more inclusive orientation toward evidence. This means learning not just from carefully controlled research on past program accomplishments, but engaging all who design and work in these ventures in learning — from each other and from daily experience — to assure continuous improvement in the quality and effectiveness of both programs and systems.
Anthony Bryk, President, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
Lisbeth B. Schorr, Senior Fellow, Center for the Study of Social Policy