The Promise of Educational Neuroscience: Comment on Bowers (2016)

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Bowers (2016) argues that there are practical and principled problems with how educational neuroscience may contribute to education, including lack of direct influences on teaching in the classroom. Some of the arguments made are convincing, including the critique of unsubstantiated claims about the impact of educational neuroscience and the reminder that the primary outcomes of education are behavioral, such as skill in reading or mathematics. Bowers’ analysis falls short in 3 major respects. First, educational neuroscience is a basic science that has made unique contributions to basic education research; it is not part of applied classroom instruction. Second, educational neuroscience contributes to ideas about education practices and policies beyond classroom curriculum that are important for helping vulnerable students. Third, educational neuroscience studies using neuroimaging have not only revealed for the first time the brain basis of neurodevelopmental differences that have profound influences on educational outcomes, but have also identified individual brain differences that predict which students learn more or learn less from various curricula. In several cases, the brain measures significantly improved or vastly outperformed conventional behavioral measures in predicting what works for individual children. These findings indicate that educational neuroscience, at a minimum, has provided novel insights into the possibilities of individualized education for students, rather than the current practice of learning through failure that a curriculum did not support a student. In the best approach to improving education, educational neuroscience ought to contribute to basic research addressing the needs of students and teachers.

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