As those responsible for, among other tasks, finding better ways of training principals and teachers, education researchers themselves could use some of that treatment. At a panel discussion here at the annual convention of the American Educational Research Association, experts zeroed in last week on the training of researchers as a factor in many of the well-documented problems in the field.
“There are very severe problems of quality in education research,” said Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, a history and education professor at New York University, who led the session. “Training is one of the areas where you can try to intervene.”
Such interventions would affect research from the point at which it is conceived to the writing and publishing of the findings, Deborah Loewenberg Ball, a professor of education at the University of Michigan, said at the session.
“Increasingly, students read more and more narrowly,” she said. Encouraging them to read more broadly outside their fields, Ms. Ball suggested, can lead to the insights and conclusions that represent real advances.
Ms. Ball also warned of the dangers of making broad generalizations from research based on flawed or skewed samples.
And researchers themselves must beware of their own interests and their genuine desires to improve the education system.
In seeking objectivity, researchers must look within themselves to recognize the differences between their own cultures and those of the students and educators they study, said Vanessa Siddle Walker, an associate professor of education at Emory University in Atlanta.
“The researcher, too, is a person, but we often like to hide behind our findings,” she said. That can lead to conclusions or interpretations that are biased from the beginning, she warned.
“It’s this component that I’d like added into the discussion,” Ms. Walker said.
She urged that researchers be better trained to recognize that cultural differences affect any interaction between people--including researchers and their subjects. “You can get data and you can analyze it,” Ms. Walker observed, “but did you get good data--data that represent what I really feel and not just what I decided to tell you?”
Donald Warren, the dean of the school of education at Indiana University Bloomington, noted that the problem of training researchers is essentially a teaching problem.
“There are ways that we can rethink the curriculum framework of research training,” he said. “What we’re essentially talking about is the culture at each of our institutions that fosters the learning environment.”
Joseph P. McDonald, a professor in the school of education at NYU, called for the wider use of “studio” settings, in which students of research work cooperatively on specific problems or case studies in their field.
A version of this article appeared in the April 28, 1999 edition of Education Week as Education Researchers Could Use More Training, Experts Say