- Paperback: 188 pages
- Publisher: National Academies Press; 1st edition (April 28, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0309082919
- ISBN-13: 978-0309082914
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.5 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,027,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Scientific Research in Education 1st Edition
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About the Author
Committee on Scientific Principles for Education Research, Richard J. Shavelson and Lisa Towne, Editors, National Research Council
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"No one would think of getting to the Moon or of wiping out a disease without research. Likewise, one cannot expect reform efforts in education to have significant effects without research-based knowledge to guide them." (p. 1)
The matter is then dropped as if this was a truism. But of course it is not a truism; for example it is clearly nonsense if we replace education by poetry or music. How can we be so sure that education cannot make progress in the manner that these fields do? Indeed, the scientific paradigm has reigned for decades and yet the field has an "awful reputation" (p. 20) and the prevailing view is that "education research is broken" (p. 28), but apparently this does still not suggest to the "scientific" education research community that they need more self-justification than the trifle above.
The shackles of science places very severe restrictions on what education researchers can do. For example:
"Research questions must be posed in ways that potentially allow for empirical investigation. ... Questions such as: 'Should all students be required to say the pledge of allegiance?' cannot be submitted to empirical investigation and thus cannot be examined scientifically." (pp. 58-59)
It is easy to make fun of the pledge of allegiance, but in doing so the authors are belittling the fact that they are excluding from scholarly debate such questions as: Should all students be required to find complex roots of quadratic equations? The result is predictable: education researchers ask a million "empirically measurable" questions about complex numbers---is student achievement improved if you use group work, computer software, etc., etc.---but their efforts are wasted since the shackles of "science" means that they will be forever blind to the fact that this topic is stupid in the first place and should not be taught at all.
Thus a typical recommendation for "scientific" research goes like this: "In estimating the effects of programs, we urge the expanded use of random assignment" (p. 125). But what should these "programs" be? That is, what teaching reforms should we implement and investigate the effects of? That is not for "scientific research" to answer.
We may illustrate the absurdity of this state of affairs by imagining two scenarios:
In the "scientific research" scenario, the creation of teaching materials---and thus, in effect, teaching itself---is outsourced to for-profit publishers and perhaps the occasional idealistic retiree. Researchers refuse to get their hands dirty with this pesky business. Instead they ask important "scientific" questions susceptible to "empirical investigation" such as whether this or that $150 textbook leads to higher scores on some standardised test.
In the "unscientific" scenario, scholars ask themselves "unscientific" questions such as what should be taught and why and how. They develop free, open-source teaching materials which are continually improved through scrutiny and discussion in the community.
I ask: why is it that "one cannot expect reform efforts in education to have significant effects" in the latter case but that they will in the former? If anything, it seems more plausible that the opposite is true.