Nonpartisan Education Review (2012-12-01)

A Close Examination of Jo Boaler's Railside Report

  • Paul Clopton,
  • Wayne Bishop,
  • R. James Milgram

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 8, no. 1
pp. 1 – 20


Read online

Jo Boaler, an Associate Professor at the Stanford School of Education has just published an already well known study of three high schools that she called Hillside, Greendale, and Railside. This study makes extremely strong claims for discovery style instruction in mathematics, and consequently has the potential to affect instruction and curriculum throughout the country.As is the case with much education research of this nature, Prof. Boaler has refused to divulge the identities of the schools to qualified researchers. Consequently, it would normally be impossible to independently check her work. However, in this case, the names of the schools were determined and a close examination of the actual outcomes in these schools shows that Prof. Boaler’s claims are grossly exaggerated and do not translate into success for her treatment students. We give the details in the following article.Other papers where the researchers have refused to divulge such details as the names of the schools to qualified researchers have affected and continue to affect education policy decisions at the school, state and even national levels. Among these papers are Standards, Assessments – and What Else? The Essential Elements of Standards-Based School Improvement, D. Briars - L. Resnick, CRESST Technical Report 528, (2000) which has been cited repeatedly as justification for the adoption of Everyday Mathematics in school districts throughout the country, and The impact of two standards-based mathematics curricula on student achievement in Massachusetts. D. Perda, P. Noyce, J. Riordan, J. for Research in Mathematics Education, 32(2001), p. 368-398. which has been used to justify the adoption of the mathematics program “Investigations,” developed by TERC. It is worth noting that currently about 19% of U.S. elementary students use Everyday Mathematics and between 6% and 9% use Investigations, including many of our inner city schools.If we are to reverse the woeful performance of our students it seems crucial that K-12 education research be subject to the same high standards as are the norm in medicine and the sciences. As a key step we believe that the analysis here shows the dangers of accepting the legitimacy of articles such as those mentioned above as long as the results cannot be independently studied and verified.