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Academy Launches 3-Year Study on Improving Research

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The National Academy of Education, a group of 135 leading education scholars, is launching a three-year study on improving research in the field.

"Education research is changing tremendously, and we think there needs to be a look at the ways in which that is happening and praising what is positive and not supporting what is not positive," said Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, who is co-chairing the panel that will conduct the study.

For example, she noted, many researchers are shifting their work from the laboratory to the classroom. While education research should be classroom-based, she said, the trend might pose some new concerns as well.

One such concern is the recent popularity among researchers of ethnography--more descriptive studies based on field observations.

Yet, there seems little agreement among educators about how to go about such research, said Ms. Lagemann, who is the editor of the journal Teachers College Record and the director of the Center for the Study of American Culture at New York University. "You have everything from the formal anthropological use of the term to somebody hanging around schools."

A 'Soft Science'

Education research has long been criticized as a "soft science," one that is susceptible to prevailing political and other trends. Such criticism inspired federal lawmakers and education officials last year to begin overhauling the U.S. Education Department's chief research office.

"We think education research is important and can be helpful to practice, if well done," Ms. Lagemann said.

She is heading the commission with Lee S. Shulman, an ed~ucation professor at Stanford University.

The other panel members are: Charles Bidwell, a University of Chicago sociology professor; Ann L. Brown, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley; Jerome Bruner, a cultural psychologist who teaches at the New York University School of Law; and Allan Collins, a professor at Northwestern University's Institute for the Learning Sciences and a senior scientist at Bolt, Beranek, & Newman, a private research firm in Cambridge, Mass.

The commission, which will begin meeting in the fall, plans to look in particular at three areas. They are: how education research is linked to the purposes of education, the changing nature of the academic disciplines in which research is grounded, and the infrastructure needed to support researchers' shift from the laboratory to the classroom.

Among the specific issues the panel may examine, Ms. Lagemann said, are the increasing use of videotapes by researchers and the growing number of long-term collaborative projects with schools. Those kinds of changes may call for longer-term rather than short-term grants to support field studies and different training for educational researchers.

Questions have also been raised over whether videotapes researchers collect should be shared with other researchers.

The commission will produce a series of papers over the next several years and a final paper in 1997 or 1998.

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