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Radical Eyes for Equity: Mainstream Media Fails Educational Research (Still)

From CNN:


This sounds really compelling; it fits into a cultural narrative that breast feeding is superior to using baby formula.

This sounds really compelling until about ten paragraphs in and then:

“Though the results are certainly interesting, you have to bear in mind the limitations that inevitably arise in research using observational data from major cohort studies,” McConway added….

The fact that the study was observational means it followed people’s behavior rather than randomly assigning the behavior in question, McConway noted.

Consequently, the results only show a correlation between breastfeeding and test scores — not causation.

“It’s not possible to be certain about what’s causing what,” he said.

How long you breastfeed may impact your child’s test scores later, study shows

Few people will read that far, and even most who do will likely take away a careless claim that the research doesn’t justify.

Therefore, this article should never have been written—similar to many articles about educational research.

One enduring example of media repeating a misunderstanding of educational research is the word gap myth. Media repeat that number of words in children’s vocabulary is connected to economic status (again, this sounds right to most people).

Yet, the Hart and Risley study this myth is based on has been debunked often, and the word gap myth itself is based on flawed logic about literacy [1].

Media has ben shown, in fact, to cover education quite badly, typically overemphasizing think tank research versus university-based research (the former far less credible than the latter) and featuring the voices of non-educators (reformers and innovators) over educators:

Currently, the misinformation campaign, ironically, related to education is the “science of reading” (SOR) movement that repeatedly misrepresents NAEP data, makes claims that have no scientific evidence (relying on anecdote [2]), and repeatedly relies on think tank “reports” (NCTQ, for example) that are also not scientific [3].

A subset of the SOR movement is also grade retention. High-profile coverage of Mississippi has made the exact breast feeding mistake from above: “’It’s not possible to be certain about what’s causing what,’ he said.”

Recently in the NYT, a think-tank funded report on MS grade retention is cited; however, the report itself notes that outcomes cannot be linked to grade retention itself [3].

In short, the report proves nothing about retention—just as the study on breast feeding proves nothing about student achievement.

The breast feeding story, the word gap myth, and the SOR story are all compelling because they sound true, but they are all false narratives that fails educational research—and public education.

[1] The “Word Gap”: A Reader

[2] Hoffman, J.V., Hikida, M., & Sailors, M. (2020). Contesting science that silences: Amplifying equity, agency, and design research in literacy teacher preparation. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S255–S266. Retrieved July 26, 2022, from

[3] See:

[3] Scroll to end HERE.

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P.L. Thomas

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education (Furman University, Greenville SC), taught high school English in rural South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He...