Reflections on 100 Years of Education Research

S. M. Rayhanul Islam
Wednesday, March 1st, 2017


 

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the world’s largest interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, AERA is concerned with improving the educational process by encouraging scholarly inquiry related to education and evaluation and by promoting the dissemination and practical application of research results. The “Review of Research in Education” is a unique peer-reviewed journal of AERA published annually. The Centennial volume, edited by Patricia Alexander (University of Maryland), Felice J. Levine (AERA), and William Tate (Washington University in St. Louis), takes a “retrospective and prospective” approach on a diverse range of education research topics spanning the last 100 years. Contributed by 61 coauthors, the volume includes 22 chapters divided into four thematic sections: (1) the Research Enterprise and the Doing of Education Research, (2) the Contexts of Education, (3) the Process of and Substance of Learning, and (4) the Changing Attention to Diversity and Difference. While using historical trends as foundations for their chapters, the authors also look ahead to the most challenging issues and promising directions for the next century.

 

The first section of the volume contains six chapters which explore the research enterprise and the very process of engaging in education research. The chapter by Nancy Beadie leads off this collection of reviews by investigating the rise of social science research over the decades. Precisely, this chapter shows how social science research pertaining to educational concerns has continued to develop historically in the face of what the author describes as the “peculiarly decentralized and racialized structure” that has characterized educational policy and authority in the United States. The next chapter in the initial cluster adopts a very different research methodology. Specifically, by means of a very precise analysis of the contents of Review of Educational Research and the American Educational Research Journal from 1931 to 2014, it focuses on three trends of the past that speak as well to the future of publications in these and other prestigious journals: (a) changes in the structures of authority and authorship, (b) the national versus global orientation of the articles, and (c) the citation networks exposed within these publications and the interdisciplinary links that they suggest. Continuing with this theme of what is researched and what is ultimately published in education-related journals, the third chapter interrogates the literature to understand the potential impact of policy on the questions posed within education research.

 

The next two chapters focus on issues of educational assessment. The authors examine two parallel purposes of assessment (i.e., measuring effects of education and identifying individual differences). They also consider the future of educational assessment in terms of the convergence of assessment purposes, the role of innovative learning technology, and the effects of new psychometric challenges. The authors suggest what they call a “collaborative approach” as a mechanism for more effectively exploring the relation between school resources and student achievement.  The first section of the volume concludes with a chapter that takes on the question of implementation research, which the authors describe as the study of whether and how the multitude of educational interventions and related theories have had any enduring effects on students and on their academic success.

 

The chapters in the next cluster of this volume share thoughtful consideration of the settings or contexts in which education operates. The section begins with a chapter which examines school districts in the United States and how the institutional form of districts has changed dramatically since the early 19th century. In the second chapter on urban school privatization, the authors apply what they refer to as an “urban political economy framework” to explore the undesirable outcome of this phenomenon is a growing racial and economic divides between urban and suburban districts. They conclude that such undesirable conditions must be addressed by policy and research if the next century is to ensure greater economic equity in urban districts. The focus of the next chapter is on shifts in demographics, migratory patterns, economic conditions, and social changes in rural America over the past century. The perspective that the authors offer on the context of education is different from the administrative or geographic contexts in the preceding chapters. From their historical analysis, the authors demonstrate how the relation between schools and the workplace has changed over the past 100 years. They then complement that historical portrayal with a survey of the literature on career and technical education and draw on the survey results to articulate recommendations for the future of vocational education. The last chapter in this section offers a socio-cultural perspective on educational context. Here the authors demonstrate, for instance, whether informal learning occurs within family or community settings or is part of innovative schools and classrooms, it entails meaningful activities that draw on learners’ interests and personal choices, and the process of acquiring knowledge occurs in non-didactic ways.

 

Rather than address the “where” of education, the chapters that populate the third section of the volume are more concerned with the “what” of education. To initiate this focus, the systematic review, presented in the first chapter, not only interrogates the way in which learning has been defined within the literature, focusing on AERA journals as the principal data source, but also examines how beliefs about knowledge and knowing have changed over time and how such beliefs are ultimately reflected in the nature of investigations of learning that have been undertaken, including in classrooms. In keeping with the prior chapter, the next chapter contends that one of the goals of education is to promote reflection on knowledge and processes of knowing.  The subsequent three chapters in this section review school subject matter domains—mathematics, science, and literacy. Moving beyond subject matter domains, the last article in this section offers an analytic overview of school-based social-emotional learning. Through their interdisciplinary review of the literature, the authors demonstrate that concern for social-emotional learning has a long and storied history. They also establish that interest is growing in this domain of research, fueled, in part, by the growing influence of such related issues as bullying prevention, prevention of drug use and abuse, and emotional intelligence.

 

In the last group of chapters, the contributing authors consider the timely and profound topics of diversity and learner differences as those topics play out in academic contexts. The first chapter affords a critical analysis of the relation between gender and education. The ensuing chapter looks at yet another arena of education research that has remained both foundational and provocative—race and education. The enticing perspective that the authors bring to this subject centers on the intersection of race, culture, and identity. They chronicle a history of dehumanization that has occurred for marginalized populations and the countermanding efforts of scholars of color to humanize those very same populations. The next chapter seeks to bring to the surface a sometimes unseen or disregarded force shaping education and educational outcomes—poverty. The authors interrogate the interrelations of poverty, inequality, and schooling. They effectively reveal how these interrelations have manifested in the nexus between education research and educational policy. Nonetheless, as the authors argue, poverty will continue to exert its effects on student learning and education in the years to come, and that influence can no longer be overlooked or disregarded. The concluding chapter in this volume undertakes a critical analysis of a topic that has grown appreciably in significance over past decades—the education of learners whose mother language differs from the language of schooling. More specifically, the authors address two associated issues: bilingualism and bilingual education.  What the authors seek to demonstrate in the more recent research is the growing evidence that bilingualism can be cognitively and neurologically advantageous to learners in ways not readily captured in the past.

 

The writer is an independent researcher. E-mail: smrayhanulislam@hotmail.com

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