School & District Management

See, Health Researchers Argue About Qualitative vs. Quantitative Methods, Too

By Sarah D. Sparks — May 11, 2016 1 min read
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Methodology matters, and there’s not much to get folks in the research field as riled up as questions about whether some methods are better than others.

Education watchers have been arguing since before the dawn of the Institute of Education Sciences about the relative importance and role of randomized controlled trials versus implementation studies, big data analyses versus ethnographic studies, and so on. So it’s nice to know other fields can get just as heated over these issues.

That certainly was the case last fall, after the McGill Qualitative Health Research Group tweeted out a rejection letter from the British Medical Journal that suggested qualitative studies are “an extremely low priority” for the journal because they are not “widely accessed, downloaded or cited.”

Cue academic Twitterverse explosion.

In response, the International Journal of Qualitative Methods published recommendations for researchers looking to be published. Stephen Porter, a higher education professor at North Carolina State University, has some interesting perspective on the kerfuffle over at his personal blog, where he argues, “In short, the future of qual research looks grim.”

I’m somewhat skeptical that qualitative research is on the decline, in education at least. The Every Student Succeeds Act pushes more authority to states and even districts to determine what kind of research they need most, and takes a more nuanced approach to what constitutes “high quality education research.” Meanwhile, the Education Department’s research agency seems to be pushing for more research on why interventions do or don’t work, and how to scale them more effectively in different communities, and how different kinds of students respond differently to them.

Still, recent criticism over small sample sizes and the lack of findings that can be reproduced in education research is unlikely to go away soon, and policymakers are pushing qualitative and quantitative researchers alike to make sure their research is more relevant to practitioners. Conversations like the one over the BMJ’s acceptance policies may spur more practical consideration about how education research should evolve, too.

Readers, what do you think?


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.