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Summers Calls For Educational Evaluations

By Jenifer L. Steinhardt, Crimson Staff Writer

University President Lawrence H. Summers advocated more rigorous evaluation of school reforms Friday at the opening of a two-day conference at the Graduate School of Education (GSE).

“The battle for America’s future will be won or lost in the next century in America’s urban public schools,” Summers said as he launched the second annual “Learning With Excitement” conference with Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino.

Over 100 researchers, policy-makers and program administrators attended the event, which was organized by Associate Professor of Education and Psychology Gil G. Noam.

In his opening remarks, Summers called for greater attention to student life beyond the six-hour school day and for quantitative analysis to determine which educational methods actually work.

“If we had the same commitment, or lack of commitment, to evaluation in medicine that we have traditionally had in many spheres of education, we would still be leeching people to make them better,” Summers said.

He said education could make use of the controlled experiment as the medical field has for the past 100 years.

“It is madness to spend tens of billions of dollars in literally hundreds if not thousands of different school districts in different ways without devising methodologies that rigorously evaluate what works and what does not work.”

Summers did not explicitly weigh in on the controversial debate over mandatory school testing.

Noam, who is also affiliated with Belmont’s McLean’s hospital, said Summers’ unconventional remarks were well-received.

“People at the conference were totally amazed by the comments he made,” Noam said.

In his speech, Menino outlined the progress of after-school programs in recent years and called for more community and university collaboration to support these programs.

In January of 2002, Harvard and Boston partnered to create the Harvard After School Initiative (HASI), which focuses on revamping after-school programs in Boston neighborhoods.

“This [event] has given the After-School Initiative a new focus,” Noam said. “Now it’s really about shifting the focus of education both in scholarship and in research.”

Last month, HASI awarded over $250,000 in grants to nine Boston after-school programs.

HASI is affiliated with the Program in After-school Education and Research, founded by Noam in 1999 to study the effectiveness of after-school programs.

At the conference on Friday, participants shared recommendations for the success of after-school programs.

On Saturday, program teachers, staff and volunteers—including Harvard students—participated in workshops to support their after-school efforts.

A survey released by the After-school For All Partnership last week indicated that 48,000 of Boston’s 97,000 public school students are enrolled in after-school programs and that Boston has doubled the number of students participating in these programs over the past five years.

—Staff writer Jenifer L. Steinhardt can be reached at steinhar@fas.harvard.edu.

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