In other words, the problem with education research today is not so much one of quality as it is of coherence: To the detriment of teachers
and students, education research rarely responds to current needs and
fails to drive the development of hands-on technologies that help
In 1993, historian Carl Kaestle bemoaned the “awful reputation” of education research. A decade later, the former National Academy of
Education President Ellen Condliffe Lagemann commented that education
research has been “demeaned by scholars in other fields, ignored by
practitioners, and alternatively spoofed and criticised by politicians,
policy makers, and members of the public at large.”
Criticism of education research tends to center on scientifically weak or inconclusive results that are of dubious use to teachers and
students. For example, one of the flagship journals of the American
Educational Research Association recently published a paper that was a
two-year case study of a single classroom, despite the fact that
generalizing from a single classroom is widely considered to be
deficient research practice.
It is not always the researcher’s fault
Researchers are not solely to blame, however. Outcomes are harder to define and measure in education than in health care, for example.
Furthermore, the practices, techniques, and technologies studied by
education researchers are not universal and often depend on teachers’
and students’ unique contexts.
Importantly, research and development—or theoretical analysis and practical application—tend to be tied more closely in other fields. The
pathways for implementing new research insights and technologies and
establishing best practices in health care, for example, are clear,
well-trodden, and relatively fast. This is often not the case in
Without strong ties between research and development, education lacks the urgency found in other fields. Even when studies might be able
to inform practice, their findings often appear too late. Researchers
evaluating the implementation of a program need to observe its full
effects over time, analyze the results, and submit their work to a
journal and respond to peer reviews before publishing their findings.
By that time, however, the information can do little to affect the program’s implementation. For example, by the time studies credibly
demonstrated that a New York City school district’s efforts to break up
high schools into smaller schools had positive effects on students, the
district had already abandoned the program and moved on to another