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Sponsored by the National Academy of Education's Commission on theImprovement of Education Research

It has been a decade since the National Academy of Education lastissued a review of education research. This new volume arrives at acritical time for our nation's schools. More than twenty prominentscholars provide an overview of the tensions, dilemmas, issues, andpossibilities that currently characterize education research. Theyexamine the state of education research, discuss how it is changingand where it needs to go, and reveal how the results ofresearch—whether good or bad—have become key drivers ofeducational policy and practice. This revelation raises importantquestions about standards for sound research and training forfuture researchers. Issues in Education Research is a valuablereference for the more than 40,000 college faculty members whostudy schooling and prepare tomorrow's teachers.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This volume constitutes a milestone and a directional marker onthe path to improving the training of educational researchers aswell as enhancing the quality and the impact of educationalresearch. It is comprehensive, scholarly, and readable, and itpresents a challenge to schools of education and to the society asa whole to do whatever is necessary for us to upgrade the questionswe ask and the answers we provide." (Catherine Snow, Henry LeeShattuck Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School ofEducation)

"This important project of the National Academy of Education willhelp researchers and policymakers understand the complexity ofconducting high-quality research in the context of real classroomsand schools." (Lorrie A. Shepard, president, American EducationalResearch Association, and professor, University of Colorado atBoulder)

"Issues in Education Research's greatest contribution is to providethe reader with a set of well-written chapters that present in onevolume much of the lay of the land—or disputed territory—thatcharacterizes current-day education research.... This book preparesus for the tough task of going beyond particularistic views."(Richard J. Shavelson, dean, School of Education, StanfordUniversity)

Providing a meta-assessment of the status of public school reform policy- and classroom practice-impacting educational research, 16 papers address the perennial themes of: education research as a problem in the history and sociology of education; changing configurations in education and social research; education research as a vocation; and the organization and communication of education research. Concludes with a postscript by Jerome Bruner on goal- setting. Sponsored by the National Academy of Education. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787948108
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 6/29/1999
  • Series: Jossey-Bass Education Series
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 7.36 (w) x 9.65 (h) x 1.34 (d)

Meet the Author

ELLEN CONDLIFFE LAGEMANN is professor of history and education and director of the Center for the Study of American Culture and Education at New York University. She is also president of the National Academy of Education. LEE S. SHULMAN is president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and professor of education at Stanford University. He is a past president of the National Academy of Education.

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Read an Excerpt


Members of the commission are Charles L. Bidwell, Ann L. Brown, Jerome S. Bruner, Allan Collins, Ellen Condliffe Lagemann [cochair], and Lee S. Shulman [cochair].

What is "good" education research? What is "less good" or even "bad" education research? Should there be universal standards in this very broad and diverse domain of scholarly inquiry? If so, who should create them? By what means? And if standards should and could be formulated and agreed on, how should they be disseminated and enforced, and by whom? Not surprisingly, these questions provoked heated debate when they were raised at a meeting of the National Academy of Education (NAE) in the fall of 1991. The result, almost a decade later, is this collection, commissioned and reviewed by an NAE study group, the Commission on the Improvement of Education Research (CIER).1 NAE formed the commission in 1992 to review the current state of education research and to make recommendations for improvement. This book, Issues in Education Research: Problems and Possibilities, represents the first half of our assignment. A companion publication, intended to deal with the second half, will be available in the near future. Together they address what has always been, and will remain, central to the academy's purpose: improving education through the improvement of education research.

The questions that led to this book were provoked by three matters of concern to the academy--concerns that are no less significant for the health of the field today than they were ten years ago. The first was how to safeguard the quality of the research being carried out. As a society of scholars and education leaders dedicated to the promotion of scholarship that can improve practice, policy, and public understanding of education in all its forms, NAE has frequently reviewed and commented on the state of education research. This was done thirty years ago in a volume that Lee J. Cronbach and Patrick Suppes edited, Research for Tomorrow's Schools: Disciplined Inquiry for Education (Cronbach and Suppes, 1969). And with many studies in between, it was done most recently in a report of an NAE study group on funding priorities for education research, entitled Research and the Renewal of Education, led by Michael W. Kirst and Diane Ravitch and administered by Thomas James, Jr. (NAE, 1991). The second report called attention to some of the domains of practice and policy that have been significantly changed as a result of research carried out over the past ten or fifteen years. Among other things, it observed that progress in research-based knowledge was now jeopardized by serious declines in public and private support for research in education. While primarily calling for increased funding, the report recommended that efforts be made to ensure the continued high quality of education research (NAE 1991, p. 42).

A second concern had to do with the state of American education. Following publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983, school reform became a top priority for policymakers nationwide. Beginning with a somewhat monolithic push for "excellence in education," which usually meant a more streamlined curriculum, more homework, and higher achievement as measured by standardized tests, reform efforts diversified during the 1990s. Some groups emphasized systemic reform, others school-based innovations built around general principles. In some instances improved pedagogy was seen as essential, in others enriched curricula, and in still others more "professional" teachers. If ever there was a time when evaluation and longitudinal studies of school change were needed, it is now. Historically school reform in the United States has been intermittent and cyclical. Too often eras of high expectations and significant change have ended in disillusionment. To prevent that occurring at the end of the twentieth century and to help ensure that this cycle of reform would be sustained, research seemed essential--"real" research, that is, to be distinguished from reports based merely on opinion, ideology, or personal experience.

Finally there was recognition that the field was undergoing significant change. Studies in education are always defined by some combination of five attributes: purposes, problems, settings, investigators, and methods. Studies in education vary in the ways in which different scholars frame different problems to be investigated in different settings, relying on a variety of methods that are intended to advance different particular purposes. Some studies are theoretical, some practical. Some are conducted by social scientists, others by mathematicians, and still others by teachers or administrators. Education research is sometimes undertaken in a university laboratory, sometimes in a school classroom, and sometimes in a library or archive. The methods used can be experimental, anthropological, or philosophical. The purposes of the research can involve school improvement, theoretical advance, or both.

Important changes have been occurring, and are continuing to occur, in all the attributes of educational study. The problems, topics, or issues deemed most important to pursue have shifted recently. For a long time many of the core problems or topics for education research were defined by the fundamental psychological processes of learning, such as memory, transfer, and problem solving. The research problems were expected to be general--How does learning occur?--rather than focused on the subjects of the school curriculum--How do students' prior conceptions of conservation affect their learning of physics? Even those who opted to study basic general processes looked almost exclusively at the nature of learning, not considering teaching as a proper topic of investigation. Today that has changed. Now scholars are more inclined to analyze particular interactions and general phenomena interpreted within a particular context. What the anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1973) called "thick description" is now evident in education research as well as in many of the social sciences. General questions that artificially separate teaching from learning, and teaching and learning from the school subjects around which they take place, have given way to more narrow-gauged, nuanced, and multifaceted inquiries.

Education research has also changed in the settings in which the research is conducted. For many years the settings for education research tended to be psychological laboratories that could be carefully controlled or classrooms that had been made over to resemble laboratories as closely as possible. Other studies were conducted with carefully designed questionnaires, inventories, or interviews susceptible to the same strategies for achieving control that operate in laboratory settings. Education researchers often argued that if the setting for an investigation were not a laboratory but rather the buzzing, booming confusion of a real classroom, it would be impossible to generalize from its characteristics to those of classrooms in general. As part of a shift to more particular and even microlevel studies of the complex phenomena involved in education, the settings for education research have also changed. Scholars today are much less likely to restrict their work to laboratories or to rely entirely on methods that could offer the controlled reliability of a laboratory. Now they are increasingly inclined to study, and even participate in, actual schools and classrooms.

The shift in the focus of research to education settings has been accompanied by changes in the training and background of different researchers--an equally important force in defining investigations in education and in reorienting the field. Education has always been studied by scholars from a wide range of disciplines with a wide range of scholarly affiliations. If psychologists predominated among the first generation of researchers in education, they could usually count historians, philosophers, and sociologists among their colleagues. Increasingly scholars trained in disciplines were joined by ones trained in education itself, if not in educational measurement, then in some other special field of education, like curriculum, school administration, counseling, and the like. Today the universe of discipline-trained and often discipline-based scholars has increased to include, among others, anthropologists, linguists, and economists, and the educationist camp has been increased by the addition of more and more practitioners, especially principals and teachers. The changing backgrounds of those who do education research encouraged the trend toward more field-based research and, in some instances, has encouraged collaborations between and among researchers of different primary affiliation and perspective and opened up new sets of problems for inquiry.

Of course, as the disciplinary backgrounds and professional affiliations of researchers have changed along with the settings and problems for education research, so have the methods used. For many decades the methods of psychology predominated in education research. Early in the twentieth century, they largely (but not entirely) eclipsed older methods, notably those associated with history and philosophy. Recently, however, psychological methods have been increasingly supplemented by the ethnographic methods of anthropology, the discourse procedures of linguistics and sociolinguistics, and the "think-aloud" and other forms of protocol analysis of cognitive science. If those methods derive from the changing backgrounds of scholars involved in education research, the move away from laboratory research has also fostered the use of more field-appropriate techniques for observation, reflection, and sense making. The keeping of journals in written or video formats, the writing of autobiographies, and the presentation of research in other narrative forms is now more and more commonplace. In addition new developments in related social and behavioral sciences, especially statistics, have also been used by education researchers.

Last but far from least important, education research has always been undertaken for a myriad of different purposes, and those different and changing purposes continue to stimulate change. Some research is intended to discover or invent new theoretical understandings of particular educational processes or phenomena. Some is intended to develop new methods, techniques, or strategies for solving specific problems. Some educational inquiries are designed to gather more complete data about particular schools, students, neighborhoods, or content areas. Others are undertaken to apply previously acquired understandings in the amelioration or improvement of current educational conditions, whether of practice or policy. Still others begin from a wish to connect or integrate previously distinct areas of theory, practice, or policy. In some cases research is pursued to improve particular forms of practice or inform specific policies. In others the research seeks to test or extend a theoretical formulation in a related discipline such as psychology or sociolinguistics. Sometimes research is undertaken to evaluate or understand the impact of practice in a particular school or classroom. Other times it is directed at the formulation of generalizations or principles. And often research is undertaken in the interest of a particular ideology or value system to which the investigators are committed. Whatever the purposes are, they have a driving influence on the research that results.

Combining the Best of New and Old Styles of Research

By and large the changes evident in education research are positive and in need of encouragement. That said, there is an inescapable yin and yang to change: positive changes or beneficial reforms seem always to be associated with at least some unintended, less positive consequences. It is interesting, for example, to contemplate an extraordinarily perceptive summation of the changes already occurring in education research by Philip Jackson of the University of Chicago in a 1990 American Educational Research Association (AERA) presidential address. As Jackson explained, there has been a "decline of interest on the part of many of us in what used to be looked upon as our main business, which was the discovery of rules and principles of teaching and of running schools that would prove to be universal or nearly so in application and invariant or nearly so over time. That dream of finding out once and for all how teaching works or how schools ought to be administered no longer animates nearly as many of us as it once did" (Jackson, 1990, p. 7). While one can applaud the retreat from research befitting the long-held belief in what historian David Tyack (1974) so aptly termed the "one best system" approach to schooling, one must also ponder the downside to the more local, small-scale, case-focused styles of research that have become more popular recently. Will we lose all bases for generalization? Does that matter? If so, how might the benefits of a local orientation be preserved without giving up entirely on the search for universals--or, more likely, near universals?

If that possibility warrants thought, so does a problem that has emerged as a result of a trend toward more anthropological, field-based, narrative styles of research. When well done, studies in this mode can yield valuable, richly nuanced analyses of all sorts of educational phenomena and contexts. But the operative phrase is "when well done," and many studies have not been well conceived and have not been carried out by people with appropriate training in what is often called (imprecisely) "ethnography." At a time when one could almost say that the new slogan in education research is "everyone his or her own ethnographer," thought needs to be given to finding ways to support the development of observational studies without losing all the discipline and rigor of formal ethnographies. More generally the question is, Can the best of new developments be combined with what is worth preserving from older styles, orientations, and perspectives?

The Work of this Book

NAE empaneled the Commission on the Improvement of Education Research to survey and evaluate changes in education research so that work of high quality might continue to foster improvements in educational policy and practice. Here, then, is a set of commissioned essays that presents the current ferment in this field. The essays differ strikingly in position and point of view. Two of those included in the book's first part, for example, contemplate the historic situation of education research and reach very different conclusions. Theodore R. Mitchell and Analee Haro believe that there are inherent, inescapable tensions in education scholarship that will always make it a somewhat troubled enterprise. David K. Cohen and Carol A. Barnes, by contrast, are much more optimistic. Arguing that one can identify quite a few instances of influential education research, Cohen and Barnes believe that scholarship in education has become more powerful of late and that it has had considerable effect on both public perceptions and discourse and policymaking.

Another important issue illuminated by the different positions represented in this book has to do with the role of disciplines and even disciplined thinking. Some authors--notably Elisabeth S. Clemens and Kathleen Hall--believe changes in the disciplines drive changes in education research. Clemens implies this and suggests the importance of social studies of science and organizational analysis for education research. Hall also implies the importance of the disciplines, in her case with an analysis of the thought of European scholars such as Pierre Bourdieu.

Other contributors are essentially unconcerned with the disciplines, focusing entirely on the relevance of research to practice. Speaking from long experience as a school leader, Deborah Meier takes this position and pleads for new, less quantitative and mechanistic approaches to educational assessment. Still others believe that seeking relevance too directly has been harmful to education research. Shirley Brice Heath makes this point, for example, and argues passionately the importance of centering the education of education researchers in the social disciplines.

Many chapters deal with questions concerning the education of education researchers. This is the central concern of Anna Neumann, Aaron M. Pallas, and Penelope L. Peterson, who maintain that the insights into practice that researchers in training who have been teachers bring to their studies need to be more fully respected and embraced. It is also the central concern of Alan H. Schoenfeld, who insists that in the education of education researchers "there is no canon, there are no core methods, this is not a time of normal science, and there are myriad models of mentoring." Despite that, Schoenfeld suggests that there are ways to ensure that students learn to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of different perspectives and methods and become skillful in deploying them. Concerned that education research accurately report the experience of minority members, Vanessa Siddle Walker argues that graduate training should be reformed to help researchers become more sensitive to questions of culture--the culture a researcher brings to research, as well as the culture of those under investigation--and to the articulation of a researcher's commitment to improve the lives of those under study.

Relationships between theory and practice are always important in discussions of education research, and such relationships are addressed in many of the chapters. Drawing from their experience as teachers studying what is involved in trying to teach well, Deborah Loewenberg Ball and Magdalene Lampert describe some of what they have learned. The importance of grounding conversations about teaching in a common context--for example, the case of a student's learning about even and odd numbers--is one of the insights they explore as they detail the wide range of questions they have grappled with while trying to find productive ways to represent practice. Another chapter that is centrally concerned with relationships between theory and practice is the one written by James G. Greeno and a group of his colleagues at the Institute for Research on Learning. They describe how and why their collaboration to help design and develop a mathematics curriculum was successful. Although claims about the benefits to be had from researchers, teachers, and curriculum developers working together to create environments in which children can learn effectively are common, cooperation is more difficult than many appreciate. Greeno and his colleagues show that, while also providing a case study of the ways in which barriers can be surmounted.

In addition to the issues that run through several chapters and sometimes provoke considerable divergence between and among the various authors, there are many others raised by a single author. Thus, Roy D. Pea reviews new possibilities for improved communication using the World Wide Web, and Jerome Bruner closes the book with a plea to understand education research as a "cultural science."

Without our mentioning every chapter, the point may be clear. Issues in Education Research: Problems and Possibilities is intended as an introduction to the tensions, dilemmas, issues, and promise that currently characterize education research. The book sets out to flag some issues about which scholars have major disagreements and others that are just beginning to arise as scholars contemplate the significance for research of changes that have occurred in practice and policy as well as in research over the past ten to twenty years. The book does not cover and map every issue important to education research and its improvement. It does not deal with questions related to research funding or to the quality of educational publishing; it treads lightly over matters related to the continuing professional development of scholars in education and over matters concerning the dissemination of research. And having begun in a debate about standards for research, it tends to skirt that question. Its purpose instead is to demonstrate that education research is in a state of flux and to invite wide consideration of what that means for the training of education researchers and the sponsorship and conduct of education research.

In the course of its deliberations, the Commission on the Improvement of Education Research concluded that one way to improve education research is to attempt to stimulate discussion and debate. A scholarly field as broad, diverse, and important as education will thrive when questions of purpose, significance, validity, and usefulness are widely, publicly, and carefully debated. Such debate should encourage self-consciousness and experimentation among established scholars and a sense of excitement and open possibility among younger scholars. It should help frame the matters of quality and standards with which we are ultimately concerned.

Those matters cannot be easily resolved because there are difficult, perhaps impossible, trade-offs essential to them. For example, peer review is a widely used device that can be helpful in verifying the importance and reliability of a research report before it is published. But peer review can also stand in the way of bringing out high-quality, original work that is not entirely governed by existing scholarly styles and conventions. Without peer review, one runs the risk of publishing flawed material that experts in the subject would quickly recognize as problematic. But relying on peer review may limit creativity and the dissemination of new, critical ideas. Clearly, existing mechanisms for judging competence and reliability are flawed and imperfect, and yet a field of research without widely respected criteria for distinguishing the sound from the spurious will not be able to contribute worthwhile advice to those in search of expertise and will be held in low public repute. What, then, is one to do?

We do not believe that it is a retreat from the problem to suggest that what we need is to talk about finding ways to ensure quality in education research. Rather, we believe that discussions at faculty and professional meetings, conversations among staff and trustees of public and private funding agencies, and public debate in journals and on the Web can create the conditions out of which shared conceptions of "good," "less good," and even "bad" research can emerge. Such discussion and debate may not be a sufficient approach to improving education, but it is surely a necessary one. If this book encourages it, its goal will have been met.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Improvement of Education Research: A Complex,Continuing Quest (E. Lagemann & L. Shulman).


An Auspicious Moment for Education Research? (E. Lagemann).

Research and Purposes of Education (D. Cohen & C.Barnes).

Poles Apart: Reconciling the Dichotomies of Education Research (T.Mitchell & A. Haro).

Needed: Thoughtful Research for Thoughtful Schools (D.Meier).


Sociology and the Study of Education: Continuity, Discontinuity,and the Individualist Turn (C. Bidwell).

From Society to School and Back Again: Questions about Learning inand for a World of Complex Organizations (E. Clemens).

Understanding Educational Processes in an Era of Globalization: TheView from Anthropology and Cultural Studies (K. Hall).


Professing Educational Scholarship (L. Shulman).

The Core, the Canon, and the Development of Research Skills: Issuesin the Preparation of Education Researchers (A. Shoenfeld).

Discipline and Disciplines in Education Research—Elusive Goals?(S. Heath).

Culture and Commitment: Challenges for the Future Training ofEducation Researchers (V. Walker).

Preparing Education Practitioners to Practice Education Research(A. Neuman, et al.).


The Changing Infrastructure of Education Research (A.Collins).

Research, Reform, and Aims in Education: Modes of Action in Searchof Each Other (J. Greeno, et al.).

New Media Communications Forums for Improving Education Researchand Practice (R. Pea).

Multiples of Evidence, Time, and Perspective: Revising the Study ofTeaching and Learning (D. Ball & M. Lampert).

Postscript: Some Reflections on Education Research (J. Bruner).

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