Bizarre Tory School Plan

[BPSDB]I have been somewhat critical of education policy under the current Government but compared with what the opposition have planned, Labour are sane and clear thinkers.

That’s right. The Tories are planning on taking education advice from a Hollywood actress who has a scheme for controlling aggression by breathing excercises and meditation dreamt up while she was on holiday. I wondered what research backed up her system. Google found me this:

In 2005, leading researcher Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, Associate Professor of Education at University of British Columbia, received a grant from the The Hawn Foundation to conduct a pilot research study on MindUP (TM), developed by the The Hawn Foundation and author Nancy Fischer…The studies used rigorous scientific design, including a randomized control trial, to test the program’s effectiveness. One study also explored the program’s implementation, helping to refine the curriculum design. Ongoing longitudinal studies will evaluate the impact of MindUPTM over time.

Study Results
The studies found that children who participated in MindUPTM, compared to children who did not, showed significant improvements on all four dimensions of teacher-rated school behaviors, including:

Attentional control
Decrease in aggression
Decrease in behavioral dysregulation
Increase in self-esteem
Increase in pro-social behavior such as sharing
Increase in social-emotional competence
Program effects were also found for self-reported optimism, self concept, reflection, and mindful awareness attention. The positive emotional benefits were strongest for girls and/or younger children.

“Rigorous scientific design” sounds good, as do the claimed results. Although the “self-reported” optimism etc. sounds a bit subjective.

The actual research is summarised here.

The research design is described as:

Quasi-experimental, pretest, posttest, control group design

The first study consisted of 246 4th to 7th grade children in 12 classes, 6 classes received the Mindfulness Education (ME) program and 6 control classes did not. The classes were matched for age, ethnicity, gender and social background. The participants filled in questionaires before and after so that changes in social and emotional understading etc. could be assessed.

There is no mention of randomisation, so it would be perfectly possible for the worst performing kids to be assigned to the control groups. Likewise, there is no blinding, so this could influence the researchers interpretation of results.

A series of papers that resulted from this research are listed. All but one are conference presentations ie not peer-reviewed. The remaining one, Promoting optimism and well-being in school-aged children: Initial findings from the “Mindfulness Education” program by K.A. Schonert-Reichl and M.S. Lawler was, as of December 2008, being prepared for publication in Psychology in the Schools.

I had a look on that journal’s website and inputted “Schonert-Reichl” into the author field of the search function. Precisely 0 papers were found.

The second study involved 99 4th and fifth graders assigned to 4 classes, 2 ME and 2 control. This one is a randomised control trial ie the researchers should have no influence over whether a particular student is assigned to an ME or control class. However, we are not told what randomisation technique is used so we do not know whether it was adequate. Furthermore, once more no mention of blinding is made, so when the researchers are assessing the results they will know whether a kid was in the conrol or ME group. The results of this study are still being written up for publication.

There is thus no peer-reviewed evidence and indeed no sound science at all supporting this program.


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8 Responses to “Bizarre Tory School Plan”

  1. retiredrambler Says:

    in other words complete shite!

  2. uberVU - social comments Says:

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by bengoldacre: The new Tory Brain Gym?: ooh and a film star

  3. domnorrish Says:

    …and that’s before we even get into the aquiescence effect and the myriad problems around adult concepts vs. children’s ability to comprehend them…

    Even if this idea was backed up by double-blind RCTs and regardless of the methodological validity of all this, the most scary thing for me is that even amongst that insane microcosm of Western society called Hollywood, Hawn is considered a bit of a kook!

  4. Twitted by matbeal Says:

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  5. Parental Choice Revisited « Scenes From The Battleground Says:

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  7. irvjones Says:

    The results of such trials are always skewed because the teachers need to be trained in the new methods and are generally enthusiastic about a new approach, this enthusiasm is communicated to the pupils. The teachers’ enthusiasm is caused not by the approach but by its ‘newness’. As a teacher it is easy to become somewhat jaded teaching the same subject in the same way for several years. This explains the failure of the multitude of new teaching methods that initially proved effective but later failed when expanded to general use.
    This problem seems to have been overcome of late by introducing new methods without any pre-testing or even post-testing!

  8. Tory/Lib Dem schools aren’t free, they’re free market « St. George's Labour Says:

    […] Goldie Hawn’s Foundation might be in line for taking over the education of our children. Some cursory research shows that serious questions need to be asked about the educational evidence for her programme which […]

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