Tuesday, June 10, 2008

In Defense of Research

Kevin Carey weighed in last night with some advice for ed researchers. Liam Julian heartily agreed today in Fordham's blog.

You can read their posts if you want to know everything that was said but, in short, they argued that education research needs to:

-get to the point
-be relevant
-be readable
-simplify
-conclude with something other than "more research is needed"

Half of me agrees and half of me disagrees with what was said. On the one hand, some researchers do need to work harder to make sure that their work is relevant and research journals are certainly not fun reading. When I first started my PhD, I would've made a lot of these same arguments. Our family Christmas letter that year said that my goal was to write a research article that could be read in one sitting w/o falling asleep.

But, on the other hand, things are the way they are for a reason. A snappy, simple, easy-to-read article has a place in ed policy -- but not usually in a top journal. It's simply not possible to fully explain research without nuance and details -- things that make reading it boring. Both complain about researchers who conclude by saying that more research is necessary. Authors do this for a reason: it's called being a responsible researcher. A responsible researcher acknowledges the shortcomings of their research. A responsible researcher acknowledges that no firm conclusions can be made in most circumstances. It is the rare article that can conclusively prove anything -- it takes a body of literature to do that. Asking authors to make strong conclusions based on weak evidence is the equivalent of asking them to be dishonest.

Before I get carried away, let me point out that the system is fundamentally broken. The average person is not going to sit down, read an education journal, and change they way they run their school(s) or classroom(s). As Mary Brabeck pointed out in EdWeek a couple weeks ago, we need research that will translate into actions on the ground level. Currently, the link between research and practice is tenuous at best. But the answer isn't to dumb down research articles -- the answer is to translate research articles into better resources for policymakers, principals, teachers, etc.

1 comment:

eduwonkette said...

Well said, Corey. It's not our job to be entertainers or to draw conclusions that our data can't support.