Monday, July 13, 2009

A Brief History of Research on Education


Educational research has changed dramatically in both its stated objectives and techniques since the late nineteenth century. From its early beginnings in the ivory towers of many research universities to the present day, educational research has not only undergone a variety of transformations but it has been a topic of significant scholarly, societal and political debate over the years. This brief essay will provide a historical overview of the key transformations educational research has gone through since the late nineteenth century until present day by focusing on important individuals who lead these efforts. It is not an attempt to validate or discredit certain educational scholars or the research approaches they embraced. It will primarily focus on the development of educational research in the United States with particular attention to the University of Chicago.

THE BIRTH OF EDUCATION AS A FIELD OF STUDY AND RESEARCH

The study of and research on education traces its roots back to the late 1830’s and early 1840’s with the revival of the common school and it is the first time that both school supervision and planning were influenced by systematic data collection.
[1] These data collection efforts, according to Robert Travers, involved “an examination of the ideas on which education was based, an intellectual crystallization of the function of education in a democracy, and the development of a literature on education that attempted to make available to teachers and educators important new ideas related to education that had emerged in various countries.”[2] Horace Mann and Henry Barnard were early pioneers in educational data collection and in the production and dissemination of educational literature during the mid- to late-nineteenth century. Additionally, they held prominent educational leadership positions by being the first secretaries of educational boards of Massachusetts (Horace Mann) and of Connecticut (Henry Barnard).[3] In many ways, the trends in the early history of educational research were components of the trends in American culture of the time.[4]

The founding of Johns Hopkins University as the first research university in 1876 set the stage for new elite research universities to be founded such as Stanford University and the University of Chicago.
[5] Additionally, the Morrill Act of 1862[6] allowed for the establishment of ‘land-grant’ colleges and universities, many of which would rival the more established elite institutions on the east coast in research and knowledge production, across the United States. As Ellen Condliffe Lagemann points out, research universities quickly became the leaders in creating and disseminating new knowledge, the professionalization of many professions and they became the “spawning grounds” for research on education at the end of the nineteenth century.[7] During this time period, there was a belief that the social world could be “acted on and changed through scientific practices …and that teaching and the social welfare professions embodied scientific analysis and planning.”[8] The restructuring of higher education in the United States from a focus on teaching to a new focus that included both teaching and research activities lead to new schools of thought and approaches to science. Professors at universities were now expected to teach and to plan and conduct original research.[9] Numerous pioneers of American education began their work and research in the major research institutions of the day. Perhaps one of the most well known of these scholars was John Dewey, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago from 1896 to 1904, who introduced a new approach to the study of education and became a leader in pedagogy. Dewey’s experimental Laboratory School was based more on psychology than on behaviorism which had long influenced educational research activities.[10] John Dewey’s progressive education philosophy opposed testing and curriculum tracking and relied more on argument than on scientific research and its evidence.[11] He worked to combine philosophy, psychology and education. Surprisingly, John Dewey never proposed future areas of inquiry or suggested future research directions in his writings and he never published any evidence on the effects his Laboratory School experiment had on children.[12] Dewey’s influence on educational practice outside of his Laboratory School was quite limited and overestimated.[13] Ellen Condliffe Lagemann summed up John Dewey’s legacy on educational research as follows: “to suggest that Dewey had served as something of a cultural icon, alternatively praised and damned by thinkers on both the right and left, might capture his place in the history of education more accurately than to say he was important as a reformer. Certainly, his ideas about a science of education did not create a template for educational study.”[14] In 1904, John Dewey left the University of Chicago for Teachers College at Columbia University where he remained as a professor of Philosophy until his death in 1952.

Within five years of John Dewey’s departure, Charles Judd arrived in 1909 to serve as Chair of the School of Education at the University of Chicago. Charles Judd differed substantially from John Dewey in his approach to educational research. Charles Judd, a psychologist, sought to bring a rigorous and scientific approach to the study of education. Judd was a proponent of the scientific method and worked to integrate it into educational research. This was evidenced by the University of Chicago’s School of Education reorganization into the Department of Education within the Division of the Social Sciences shortly after Judd’s arrival on campus. Judd’s preference for quantitative data collection and analysis and his emphasis on the scientific method, with a particular focus on psychology, was one of the leading schools of thought on educational research during the early decades of the twentieth century.

In 1904, the same year that John Dewey left the University of Chicago for Teachers College at Columbia University, the psychologist Edward Thorndike, also of Teachers College, published An Introduction to the Theory of Mental and Social Measurements which argued for a strong positivistic theoretical approach to educational research. Thorndike held a similar epistemological approach to the study of education to that of Charles Judd at Chicago. Thorndike favored the separation of philosophy and psychology. He did not care for the collection of data for census purposes but rather the production of statistics and precise measurements that could be analyzed. Thorndike became a very influential educational scholar and his approach to educational research was widely accepted and adopted across academia both in the United States and abroad.
[15] What Ellen Condliffe Lagemann describes as “Edward Thorndike’s triumph and John Dewey’s defeat” was critical to the field and to attempts to define an educational science.[16]

EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH AND THE INTER-WAR YEARS

The inter-war years were a time of transformation in educational research. By 1915, the study of education had been established at the university level with 300 of the 600 institutions of higher education in the United States offering courses on education. This time period also experienced an increase at the doctoral level of study which saw enrollments higher than any other discipline other than chemistry.
[17] While faculty at institutions such as Harvard, Teachers College and the University of Chicago, which had dominated the educational research landscape decades earlier, continued to make significant contributions to the study of education, there were scholars at many other institutions making additional valuable contributions to educational research scholarship. At the conclusion of World War I the focus on educational reform in the United States began to change to a more social control and efficiency and there was an opportunity for many educationists to provide guidance to public schools in the United States.[18] Disagreement among educational research scholars persisted during this time period and there was little consensus on the aims of education. With the population of the United States growing rapidly and the demographic make-up of its people changing due to the arrival of immigrants from across the globe coupled with the migration of African Americans from rural areas and the Southern states to the urban cities in the Northeast and Midwest the student bodies at public schools were diversifying at a rapid pace. The arrival of new immigrants to the United States coincided with the “testing movement” that emerged during World War I when the United States Army was testing its recruits. The most prominent psychologists of the time, including Edward Thorndike, were either involved with or supported the Army’s testing. The testing movement attracted both psychologists and sociologists alike and it was the sociologists, primarily in the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago, who challenged and actively researched the racial differences in intelligence quotients. Otto Klineberg from Columbia University also played a leading role in studying racial and cultural differences in intelligence quotients and their measures.

EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH – POST WORLD WAR II AND THE FUTURE

Educational research continued to flourish in the years and decades after World War II ended. During this time period, the growth in schools of education and in the number of courses on education at institutions of higher education continued to rise. Additionally, more academic journals with a focus on educational issues emerge as a means to disseminate new knowledge. These exciting changes in educational scholarship were not confined to the ivory towers in the United States. Even as Europe was rebuilding, the study of education across the continent was on the rise and in the United Kingdom, for example, the rise of professional graduate degrees in education was significant.
[19] Scholarly debates on the aims of education as well as epistemological discourse persisted.

In the decades after World War II, and in particular at the start of the 1960’s, a post-positivist movement in educational research starts taking shape.
[20] While positivistic approaches to educational research continued to be put forth during the post-war years and continued to be favored by many social scientists, we start to see the introduction of, and in some case the reemergence of, other epistemological approaches.[21] Constructivism, functionalism and postmodernism theoretical frameworks, among others, have offered strong criticisms of positivism.[22] Vigorous debates on the virtues of the various theoretical perspectives about knowledge, science and methodologies have played a very important role in educational research. Frequently, these critical discussions and analyses have found both a platform and a captive audience in the field of comparative education. These philosophical debates continue today both in and outside of academia.

The United States federal government also began to take a much more active role in educational research in the post-war years. Specifically, in 1954, the United States Congress passed the Cooperative Research Act. The Cooperative Research Act was passed as a means for the federal government to take a more active role in advancing and funding research on education in academia.
[23] Additional legislation and federal initiatives during the 1950’s and 1960’s that supported and/or funded educational research and provided a means for the dissemination of new educational knowledge included the National Defense Education Act of 1958 and the establishment of the Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) in 1966. These are but a few of the many examples of the new role the federal government was playing in educational research during this time period. To be sure, the federal government has continued to play a significant role in educational research since this time period. Since the 1970’s, according to Robert Travers, “virtually every bill authorizing particular educational programs has included a requirement that the particular program be evaluated to determine whether the program was worth the money spent upon it.”[24] For a long period of time, public focus on education and schools focused on resource allocation, student access, and the content of the curriculum and paid relatively little attention to results.[25] This new “evidenced-based movement”[26] is one that remains with us today. Patti Lather describes the evidenced-based movement as “governmental incursion into legislating scientific method in the real of educational research” and that the federal government’s focus on evidence-based knowledge is much more about policy for science than it is about science for policy.[27] The federal government has a vested interest in and support for “applied research” over “basic or pure research”. This, of course, is challenging for social scientists and educational researchers who are positivist in their approach to science and knowledge.[28]

A distinctive form of research emerged from the new assessment or evaluation movement in recent decades. Educational assessment, in many ways, is a form of “action research”.
[29] Action research does not aim to produce new knowledge. Instead, action research aims to improve practice and in the context of education it aims to improve the educational practice of teachers.[30] Action research, as Richard Pring points out, “might be supported and funded with a view to knowing the most effective ways of attaining particular goals – goals or targets set by government or others external to the transaction which takes place between teacher and learner.”[31] Action research proponents, Yvonna Lincoln and Egon Guba, highlight that “the call for action…differentiates between positivist and postmodern criticalist theorists.”[32]
A new and interesting approach to educational research can be found today at the University of Chicago. The Department of Education at the University of Chicago was closed in 1997 to much surprise around the world. Despite the closing of the Department of Education, a sprinkling of educational research activities by faculty and available education course offerings can be found in a variety of academic departments and professional schools. In addition, the University of Chicago has also operated the North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School under the Center for Urban School Improvement since 1998. Campus interest in urban schools and educational research led to the creation of a new Committee on Education in 2005, with a home in the Division of the Social Sciences, chaired by Stephen Radenbusch who joined the faculty in the Department of Sociology and whom the University lured from the School of Education at the University of Michigan. The University of Chicago Chronicle highlighted the arrival of Stephen Radenbusch and noted that the Committee on Education “will bring together distinguished faculty from several departments and schools considered to be among the best in the world into common research projects, seminars and training programs. The committee will engage faculty and graduate students from such areas as public policy, sociology, social service administration, economics, business, mathematics and the sciences to collaborate on the most critical issues affecting urban schools.”[33] The interdisciplinary focus of Chicago’s Committee on Education and its Urban Education Initiative plans to create a “Chicago Model” for urban schools that will “draw on and test the best ideas about teaching, learning, school organization, school governance, teacher preparation, and social service provision.”[34] While interdisciplinary research and collaboration is no stranger to the University of Chicago, it is a new and innovative approach to the study of education. The Committee on Education at the University of Chicago is highly quantitatively driven and data focused.[35] If this interdisciplinary approach to educational research is successful and is modeled by other institutions of higher education, both in the United States and abroad, it will be interesting to see if a positivistic approach similar to that found at Chicago is followed or if a more relativistic approach is pursued. Either way, interdisciplinary collaboration may very well be the next chapter in the history of educational research.

CONCLUSION

From its inception, educational research has been a subject of debate. Educational research has grown significantly over time and the variety of theoretical approaches that have been implemented in the research has diversified greatly over time. This essay identified many, but certainly not all, of the key transformations in educational research from the late nineteenth century to present day. Also, this essay is not an attempt to recommend one theoretical approach over another in the study and research of education. Rather, it is an attempt to provide a brief history of the types of educational research efforts and to highlight the epistemological debates that have occurred during this time period.

REFERENCES

Bowen, J. 1981. A History of Western Education; Volume III: The Modern West. London: Methuen.

Cohen, D.K, and C.A. Barnes. 1999. “Research and the Purposes of Education,” in Issues in Educational Research: Problems and Possibilities, ed. E.C. Lagemann and L.S. Shulman, 17-41. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Committee on Education. 2008. The Role of the Committee on Education. Chicago:
The Committee on Education, University of Chicago. http://coe.uchicago.edu/about/index.shtml.

Fuchs, E. 2004. Educational Sciences, Morality and Politics: International Educational Congresses in the early twentieth Century. Pedagogica Historica 40, no. 5: 757 784.

Greenwood, D.J., and M. Levin. 2003. “Reconstructing the Relationships between Universities and Society through Action Research” in The Landscape of Qualitative Research: Theories and Issues, 2nd ed., ed. Norman K. Denzin and
Yvonna S. Lincoln, 131-166. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Hamilton, D. 2002. ‘Noisy Fallible and Biased Though it be” (On the Vagaries of Educational Research). British Journal of Educational Studies 50, no. 1: 144 164.

Harms, W. 2005. “Radenbusch to Chair New Committee on Education,” The University of Chicago Chronicle. May 26.
http://chronicle.uchicago.edu/050526/raudenbush.shtml.

Hofstetter, R. and B. Schneuwly. 2004. Introduction Educational Sciences in Dynamic and Hybrid Institutionalization. Pedagogica Historia 40, no. 5: 569-589.

Kliebard, H.M. 1986. The Struggle for the American Curriculum, 1893-1958. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Lagemann, E.C. 2000. An Elusive Science: The Troubling History of Education Research. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Lather, P. 2004. Scientific Research in Education: A Critical Perspective. British Educational Research Journal 30, no. 6: 759-772.

Lincoln, Y.S., and E.G. Guba. 2003. “Paradigmatic Controversies, Contradictions, and Emerging Confluences” in The Landscape of Qualitative Research: Theories and Issues, 2nd ed., ed. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, 253-291. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Popkewitz, T.S. 1998. The Culture of Redemption and the Administration of Freedom as Research. Review of Educational Research 68, no. 1: 1-34.

Pring, R. 2000. Philosophy of Educational Research, 2nd ed. New York: Continuum.

Suskie, L. 2004. Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc.

Travers, R.M.W. 1983. How Research Has Changed American Schools: A History from 1840 to the Present. Kalamazoo, MI: Mythos Press.

NOTES

[1] Travers, R.M.W. How Research Has Changed American Schools: A History from 1840 to the Present. Kalamazoo, MI: Mythos Press, 1983), 7.
[2] Ibid, 7-8.
[3] Bowen, J. A History of Western Education; Volume III: The Modern West. (London: Methuen, 1981), 360.
[4] Ibib, 21.
[5] Both Stanford and The University of Chicago were founded in 1891.
[6] The Morrill Act of 1862 is sometimes referred to as the Morrill Land Grant College Act .
[7] Lagemann, E.C. An Elusive Science: The Troubling History of Education Research. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), 9; Hofstetter, R. and B. Schneuwly. Introduction Educational Sciences in Dynamic and Hybrid Institutionalization. (Pedagogica Historia 40, no. 5, 2004), 571.
[8] Popkewitz, T.S. The Culture of Redemption and the Administration of Freedom as Research. (Review of Educational Research 68, no. 1, 1998), 4-5.
[9] Lagemann, 19.
[10] Ibid, 21.
[11] Cohen, D.K, and C.A. Barnes. “Research and the Purposes of Education,” in Issues in Educational Research: Problems and Possibilities, ed. E.C. Lageman and L.S. Shulman. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999), 19.
[12] Ibid, 20.
[13] Kliebard, H.M. The Struggle for the American Curriculum, 1893-1958. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), 31.
[14] Lagemann, 42.
[15] Fuchs, E. Educational Sciences, Morality and Politics: International Educational Congresses in the early twentieth Century. Pedagogica Historica 40, no. 5, 2004, 773; Lagemann, 42.
[16] Lagemann, 22.
[17] Ibid, 20 and 103.
[18] Ibid, 20; Travers, 351.
[19] Hamilton, D. ‘Noisy Fallible and Biased Though it be” (On the Vagaries of Educational Research). British Journal of Educational Studies 50, no. 1, 2002, 145.
[20] Ibid, 160.
[21] Ibid, 159-160.
[22] Pring, R. Philosophy of Educational Research, 2nd ed. (New York: Continuum, 2000), 90; Greenwood, D.J., and M. Levin. “Reconstructing the Relationships Between Universities and Society Through Action Research” in The Landscape of Qualitative Research: Theories and Issues, 2nd ed., ed. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2003) 143-144.
[23] Lagemann, 184-186; Travers, 532-534.
[24] Travers, 539.
[25] Cohen, D.K, and C.A. Barnes. “Research and the Purposes of Education,” in Issues in Educational Research: Problems and Possibilities, ed. E.C. Lagemann and L.S. Shulman, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999), 29
[26] The “evidence-based movement” is also sometimes referred to as the “accountability movement” or the “evaluation movement”.
[27] Lather, P. "Scientific Research in Education: A Critical Perspective". British Educational Research Journal 30, no. 6, 2004), 759.
[28] Greenwood and Levin, 145.
[29] Suskie, L. Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide. (Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc., 2004), 8.
[30] Pring, 133-136.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Lincoln, Y.S., and E.G. Guba. “Paradigmatic Controversies, Contradictions, and Emerging Confluences” in The Landscape of Qualitative Research: Theories and Issues, 2nd ed., ed. Norman K. Denzin and Yvonna S. Lincoln, (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2003), 268.
[33] Harms, W. 2005. “Radenbusch to Chair New Committee on Education,” The University of Chicago Chronicle. May 26. http://chronicle.uchicago.edu/050526/raudenbush.shtml.
[34] Committee on Education. 2008. The Role of the Committee on Education. Chicago: The Committee on Education, University of Chicago. http://coe.uchicago.edu/about/index.shtml.
[35] Stephen Radenbusch is known as quantitative methodologist and he is an expert on hierarchical linear models.

4 comments:

  1. hello mr david how are you? hope you will be fine sir. i need your help sir, can tell me how to give apa style reference of this webpage, for my thesis sir. please guide me sir. try to respond as soon as possible. my email id is hamzamuzaffar1505@gmail.com

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  2. Hello Hamza, thanks for your question. I recommend a citation of this blog post in APA style as:

    Comp, D. (2009, July 13). A brief history of research on education [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://ihec-djc.blogspot.com/2009/07/brief-history-of-research-on-education.html

    Best,

    David

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  3. thank you sir. thank your very much. i am very gratefull to you for your this favor.

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