In this recent Teachers College Record piece, Annette Lareau and Pamels Barnhouse Walters reiterate one of the most important questions in education today: What, exactly, should count as good educational research? Pointing to the Obama administration’s efforts to “restore science to its rightful place” in educational policy making (Obama, 2009), the authors pull no punches in arguing that the randomized, controlled trials heretofore heralded as the “gold standard” in such endeavors offer – at best – only narrow answers to the very complex questions that warrant the careful attention of educators and policymakers.
Grounding their call for broader, synergistic understandings of ed research in three key points – namely, that (a) different research questions call for different methods, (b) schools are not laboratories but complex social settings, and (c) there exist only dubious connections between ed research and policy anyway – Lareau and Barnhouse make a convincing argument that greater understanding requires more than the “relatively narrow forms of knowledge” gained by statistical trials. While there is inarguably an important and necessary place for this type of research, its isolated use may inevitably and ironically limit the scope of school reform initiatives – a point echoed recently in another compelling TCR piece, “What’s Wrong with Accountability?” (Fenstermacher & Richards, 2010).
Moreover, the scholarship of educational historian (and former TCR editor), Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, makes clear the very interesting point that the heretofore mentioned “gold standard” derived in large part from the emergence of educational research as a distinct discipline at the turn of the twentieth century (and that discipline’s fight for legitimacy in an era of positivism and empirical science) – rather than any intrinsic worth or applicability of the method. Food for thought, undoubtedly.
As we consider, together,“Efficiencies in Educational Research,” might we not wonder which types of research (known or unknown) could best help us answer some of the Lab’s burning questions? Are there ways (I’m thinking here of design thinking and research) that we might continue to push the boundaries of all things educational?