Thursday, 26 March 2009

What is scientific research?

For a system of education, that’s educational research

CE's present research trap

Conductive Education has been ill-served (and not infrequently actually damaged) by ill-considered ‘research’ (usually empirical outcome evaluations that persistently fail to find significant advantage in favour of a program of Conductive Education over some other intervention or no intervention at all). Failure to demonstrate an effect has then frequently been taken by the naïve or ill-wishing (not necessarily mutually exclusive groups) as indicating demonstration of failure to achieve an effect.

Both advocates and critics alike then assert ‘More research is needed’, usually meaning more research of the same kind. Not surprisingly such further research goes on to produce more results of the same kind.

More research of the same kind is justified by assertion that only this kind of research is ‘credible’.

Why? To whom? For whose advantage?

Educational research

There are many specific criticisms that may be directed towards stuies research carried out on Conductive Education over the last twenty or so years. One fundamental across-the-board criticism, however, is that Conductive Education has hardly ever been investigated by means of educational research.

Conductors, centre-founders and managers, service-users, should be drawing a line in the sand and refusing to participate in non-educational research into educational questions.

Why in 2009 is it necessary to point this out? Within what sort of suicidal time-warp has Conductive Education entrapped itself? What other sector of education in the world (certainly in the Anglo-Saxon world) would permit such a situation? No wonder CE does not sup academically at the educational high table.

Next month’s great Jamboree

Lots of countries hold their own big educational research gatherings, where academics strut their stuff, scrabble up their chosen slippery poles, and earn brownie-points for their departments back home by presenting a paper somewhere important. By far the largest of these annual national bashes will be held in three weeks’ time, at San Diego, California, the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Because of the size and prestige of this meeting, it will not just be Americans presenting there, it will be academics, scholars and researchers, from all over the world.

2009 AERA Annual Meeting
Disciplined Inquiry:
Education Research in the Circle of Knowledge

Monday 13 April 13 – Friday 17 April 2009
San Diego, CA.

San Diego Convention Center
Marriott Hotel & Marina
Manchester Grand Hyatt
Omni San Diego
Hard Rock Hotel

Exhibit Hall
Sails Pavilion, San Diego Convention Center

Guess what is not on this colossal programme. It wasn’t on last year’s either. See for yourself:

Sorry folks. It looks as though, in the universe that is AERA anyway, Conductive Education just does not exist.

What self-respecting academic is going to win credit and career advantage working in such a nowhere field, such an apparent intellectual backwater?

What do you think are the advantages/disadvantages of this situation?

Scientific educational research

Conductive Education sure has a world of catching up to do. Just to make a start, CE people have to begin thinking very differently about the sorts of research that they need to attract around them. For 'credibility', yes, this is important, but perhaps even more so for its potential contributions to the further development of their craft. After all, the current economic crunch is focussing reluctant minds in every sector of our societies on what is going to have to be dumped over the side of our fragile balloon basket. ‘Old’, and certainly unhelpful ideas on what constitutes ‘research’, with little or no contribution to effecting changes in practice and understanding, may have to be counted as dispensable.

So what might we look for instead. If you wasn’t to see the range of modalities, concerns, methodologies, veritable worlds within educational research, just glance down the contents page of any educational research journal, or see the programme of any educational research conference (you could do worse that the programs of the two AERA Annual Meetings linked to above).

Just to make it easier, here is AERA’s latest definition of the very wide range of edeavour that constitutes scientifically based educational research.

Definition of Scientifically Based Research

The following definition of scientifically based research (SBR) was developed by an expert working group convened by the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in June 2008. The SBR definition set forth below was supported by the AERA Council as a framework that offers sound guidance to members of Congress seeking to include such language in legislation. AERA provided this definition in response to congressional staff requests for an SBR definition that was grounded in scientific standards and principles. The request derived from an interest in averting the inconsistencies and at times narrowness of other SBR definitions used in legislation in recent years.

Alternate Definition of Scientifically Based Research (SBR)

Supported by AERA Council, July 11, 2008

I. The term “principles of scientific research” means the use of rigorous, systematic, and objective methodologies to obtain reliable and valid knowledge. Specifically, such research requires:
  • (A) development of a logical, evidence-based chain of reasoning;
  • (B) methods appropriate to the questions posed;
  • (C) observational or experimental designs and instruments that provide reliable and generalizable findings;
  • (D) data and analysis adequate to support findings;
  • (E) explication of procedures and results clearly and in detail, including specification of the population to which the findings can be generalized;
  • (F) adherence to professional norms of peer review;
  • (G) dissemination of findings to contribute to scientific knowledge; and
  • (H) access to data for reanalysis, replication, and the opportunity to build on findings.

II. The examination of causal questions requires experimental designs using random assignment or quasi-experimental or other designs that substantially reduce plausible competing explanations for the obtained results. These include, but are not limited to, longitudinal designs, case control methods, statistical matching, or time series analyses. This standard applies especially to studies evaluating the impacts of policies and programs on educational outcomes.

III. The term “scientifically based research” includes basic research, applied research, and evaluation research in which the rationale, design, and interpretation are developed in accordance with the scientific principles laid out above. The term applies to all mechanisms of federal research support, whether field-initiated or directed.

Updated: 1/21/2009

© American Educational Research Association

1430 K Street NW, Suite 1200, Washington, DC 20005
Phone: (202) 238-3200 Fax: (202) 238-3250

Ask not who would pay for such stuff. Just remember that very few academics work for nothing, and almost every study or investigation to be reported to AERA next month will have been paid for somehow. The money is there, then. It just has to be found.


American Educational Research Association (2008) Definition of scientifically based research (as updated on 21 January 2009)

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