Applying Science to Education
- Michele Kule-Korgood, Esq.
In another bold step toward ensuring quality in education, Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The seeds of expecting the same standards that we, as a nation, demand in medical treatment, are sown for education. Until recently, teachers and schools enjoyed unfettered discretion in the methods by which they teach our young. Is it possible that, after a quarter century of stagnation, we will finally bring the promise of the scientific method to bear on teaching methodologies?
Interestingly enough, our country has become more and more focused on science, elevating it almost to the status of the three revered “Rs”, reading, writing, and arithmetic. In our science courses, from biology to chemistry to physics, we teach our youth that the only way to discern truth from conjecture is through the rigorous application of the scientific method. And yet, when it comes to deciding how to teach reading to the masses or how to teach children with autism the basic building blocks of learning, the scientific method plays no part in the choices of most school districts. But that may change soon.
The No Child Left Behind Act focuses federal funding on programs and strategies that are backed by scientifically based research. However, this is not the first time that Congress has stressed the importance of science in choosing teaching methodology. For that, we must go back to look at the history of the federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
In 1975, Congress passed historic legislation in response to the widespread exclusion of children with disabilities from education. Debacles such as Willowbrook and the class action lawsuits across the country spurred the passage of the Education for all Handicapped Children Act. The main issue in this legislation was access to the schoolhouse door.
Now, twenty-five years later, Congress’ goal of access to education for children with disabilities has largely been achieved. Every one of the fifty states guarantees a free and appropriate public education for every child with a disability in exchange for federal funding. In 1997, the House of Representatives and Senate passed the amended Reauthorization of the newly named Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) by near unanimous votes.
The focus of the amended IDEA has shifted from access to quality. Congress made specific findings, in passing the amended IDEA, that the implementation of the law had “been impeded by low expectations, and an insufficient focus on applying replicable research on proven methods of teaching and learning for children with disabilities.” 20 U.S.C. Sec 1400(c) Although students with disabilities were no longer excluded from education, they were not necessarily being educated effectively.
Now, twice in the last decade, Congress has focused a keen eye on using empirically validated research to improve our educational system. First, in the amended IDEA of 1997, Congress found that a greater emphasis on using empirically proven methods of teaching and learning is critical to improving outcomes for children with disabilities. More recently, in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Congress emphasizes the same concept to improve educational outcomes for all of our nation’s young. We have always demanded these stringent standards to improve human health. Now this promise can benefit the future of our nation - our children.
For more information:
Pennsylvania Association of Retarded Children (P.A.R.C.) v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 334 F. Supp. 1257 (E.D.Pa. 1971); 343 F. Supp. 279 (E.D.Pa. 1972).
Mills v. Board of Education, 348 F.Supp. 866 (D.D.C. 1972).
This article originally appeared in an issue of “Science in Autism Treatment”, the newsletter of the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT). It may not be republished or reprinted without advance permission from ASAT. For reprint permission please contact firstname.lastname@example.org