Ed schools History Teacher education

Peculiar Problems of Preparing Educational Researchers

This post is a chapter from my 2004 book, The Trouble with Ed Schools.  Here’s a link to an earlier version that was published in 2003 in Educational Researcher.  

I wrote this in response to my experience teaching doctoral students in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University.  Nearly all of the students in the program were former public school teachers, who often had a jarring experience being inducted into the world of educational research.  As teaching professionals at the top of their game, they were offended that the doctoral program tended to treat them as research amateurs who needed to rebuild their understanding of schooling from the ground up.   Instead of building on their knowledge from practice, they were expected to start over in rethinking education from the perspective of researchers.

Here’s an overview of the argument:

In this paper, I examine some of the difficulties involved in turning educational practitioners into educational researchers at American education schools. Teachers bring many traits that are ideal for this new role, including maturity, experience, dedication, and academic skill. At the same time, students and professors in researcher training programs often encounter a cultural clash between the worldviews of the teacher and researcher. Students may feel they are being asked to transform their cultural orientation from normative to analytical, from personal to intellectual, from particular to universal, and from experiential to theoretical. They often resist. The solution to this problem seems obvious: reduce the gap between the two cultures (as in efforts to promote teacher research and context-sensitive qualitative research) and craft doctoral programs that are respectful of both. But differences in worldview between teachers and researchers cannot be eliminated this easily, because they arise from irreducible differences in the nature of the work that teachers and researchers do.

 See if you think this argument still stands up.

The Peculiar Problems of Preparing Educational Researchers

 David F. Labaree

Ed schools are not only responsible for preparing teachers and producing educational research, but they also have to prepare future researchers.  Like the other two roles they are required to play, preparing researchers is fraught with special difficulties.  In this chapter, I explore these difficulties, with particular attention to the work of doctoral programs in ed schools that aim to turn experienced educational practitioners into accomplished educational scholars.

Framing Issues: Institutional Setting and Knowledge Space

Two issues that are peculiar to the ed school frame this discussion of the problems it faces in preparing researchers.  Both were examined in earlier chapters.  One issue is the lowly status of the ed school, and the other is the special problems posed by the kind of knowledge it has to pursue.  Let’s consider each of these in turn.    

Training in a Low Status Institution

Most researchers who focus on education are trained in education schools.  In light of this, what are the effects of preparing educational researchers within the tainted confines of this institution? First, in education schools, as in other schools for the lesser professions, the prestige of the faculty comes less from their standing as members of the profession – as teachers – than from their standing as university professors with specialized academic skills.[1] Frequently the result is a sizeable cultural gap between the teaching profession and the education school faculty, which means that teachers who enter doctoral programs in education often feel they are being asked to abandon teacher culture in favor of a new academic culture in order to become educational researchers. This jarring discontinuity can undermine the education school’s ability to effect a smooth induction of their students into the community of educational scholars. Second, the low status of the education school further weakens the position of the faculty to socialize doctoral students as future teacher educators and educational researchers. Professors in law and medical schools are generally seen as more learned and respected than those in education, which means that the latter may have more difficulty establishing their authority over students and spurring emulation.

Pursuing a Peculiar Form of Knowledge

 As we saw in the previous chapter, educational researchers work a domain of knowledge that is particularly difficult because it is very soft and very applied.  What, then, are the effects for education schools of having to prepare educational researchers to function within this soft-applied knowledge space? A key result is that, to be effective in studying this space, educational researchers need to develop an extraordinary degree of methodological sophistication and flexibility. It is not enough to be good at a particular mode of research and to be satisfied with a career of applying this approach in a series of studies. Where the terrain that needs mapping is this complex, researchers need to bring an equally complex variety of research methods to the task if they want to be able to view the subject in its many forms. Education only starts to become understandable when it is approached from multiple perspectives. This means that educational researchers need to have a broad comprehension of the foundational questions about the nature of their inquiry, instead of relegating this skills to those in the philosophy of science.[2] It also means that a program for preparing educational researchers needs to provide students with exposure to and competence in multiple research paradigms, unless it wants to relegate them to a parochial corner of the discourse in this multidimensional field.

A recent special issue of Educational Researcher reported on efforts at several universities to provide such training,[3] and a special issue of Journal of Teacher Education, devoted to a review of the literature in teacher education, turned into a similar discussion about the need for multiple research perspectives.[4] This does not necessarily require that every researcher be equally expert in multiple research methods. They should, however, be aware of the limitations of their own approach and the value of alternative approaches, and they should be capable of working in conjunction with researchers doing work quite different from their own. In 2002, a committee of the National Research Council published a report on Scientific Research in Education, which argued that, since “there are many legitimate research frameworks and methods” in education,

contradictory conclusions may be offered, adding fuel to the debates about both the specific topic and the value of educational research. The challenge for the diverse field of education is to integrate theories and empirical findings across domains and methods. Researchers from a range of disciplines working together, therefore, can be particularly valuable.[5]

The report goes on to spell out the severe challenge that this situation poses for programs that seek to prepare effective researchers in education:

Finally, this proliferation of frameworks, coupled with the sheer scope of the myriad fields that contribute to understanding in education, make the development of professional training for education researchers particularly vexing. The breath and depth of topical areas as well as multiple epistemological and methodological frameworks are nearly impossible to cover adequately in a single degree program. Conceptualizing how to structure the continuum of professional development for education researchers is similarly challenging, especially since there is little agreement about what scholars in education need to know and be able to do. These unresolved questions have contributed to the uneven preparation of education researchers.[6]

In sum, education schools face a multidimensional dilemma in their effort to prepare researchers. First, their lowly status within higher education puts these schools in a relatively weak position to provide students in their research preparation programs with the expertise they need and to induct them into the community of educational researchers. Second, the soft and applied nature of the knowledge that educational researchers need to produce, combined with the dispersed and rural organization of the educational research effort, make it particularly difficult to design programs that would adequately prepare graduates to work effectively and credibly in this field. And third, the epistemological and social complexity of the field makes it essential for educational researchers to have a firm grasp of the foundations of inquiry, a solid understanding of and appreciation for multiple methods for pursuing inquiry, and a willingness and ability to work with researchers of different types to synthesize theories and findings in the field – all of which puts an even greater pressure on research preparation programs. As a result of all this, we should not be surprised to find that these programs often fail to produce all that we ask of them.

Ed Schools Cover

The Focus and Roots of the Argument

Below I explore some key implications of this sketch of the special institutional and epistemological situation that faces American education schools in their efforts to prepare teachers as educational researchers. Why focus on this particular combination of people and places? Education schools are not the only institutions where someone can be trained in educational research, and teachers are not the only source of prospective researchers; but former teachers trained in education schools dominate the world of educational research, so understanding the problems that arise from their training process is undeniably important. In particular, I focus on the cultural clash that frequently occurs when representatives of two distinct realms of professional practice – the K-12 teacher and the university researcher – collide in a research-oriented doctoral program in education. This clash plays out in part as a problem of how to accommodate potentially conflicting professional worldviews between teacher and researcher to the satisfaction of both, and in part as a problem of how to agree on the kind of educational experience that is needed for teachers to become effective researchers without abandoning their teacherly values and skills.

The argument in this chapter emerges from two interrelated sources. One is an analysis of the structural situation within which doctoral programs function at education schools. That is, continuing the analysis developed above, I examine the various conditions and constraints that affect the way that these doctoral programs operate, based on the institutional differences between schools and universities and the differences between the work roles of teachers and researchers.

The other primary source for the arguments in this essay is my own experience with the preparation of researchers in one college of education. For the past 18 years, I have been intensively involved in the doctoral program in Curriculum, Teaching, and Educational Policy within the College of Education at Michigan State University. During this period I have regularly taught doctoral seminars, served on guidance and dissertation committees, advised students, and directed dissertations. From 1996 to 2001 I was the program’s coordinator, and from 1998 to 2002 I was the coordinator of the Research Training Grant Program, funded by the Spencer Foundation, which focused on enhancing research preparation for doctoral students across all programs in the college. The program serves all of the doctoral students in the Department of Teacher Education, which is the largest department (60 tenure-stream faculty) in a rather large college (of 140). It enrolls 25-35 new doctoral students a year, who explore a wide range of interests under its umbrella, including subject matter education, teacher education, curriculum, policy, and foundations. Nearly all of the students have experience as elementary or secondary teachers; most end up as professors in education schools. About 80 percent of them are enrolled full-time in doctoral study, supporting themselves with teaching and research assistantships.  The program has a strong national reputation,[7] and it draws students who are a little above average in tested academic ability when compared with the other top-ranked programs.[8]

Therefore, I am writing in part as an insider, a practitioner in a program for preparing teachers to become educational researchers. Much of what follows comes directly from my experience in this program. At the same time, however, I am writing as something of an outsider. Unlike nearly all my doctoral students and most of my colleagues on the faculty, I do not have experience as a teacher in elementary or secondary schools. Nor was I educated in an education school; my undergraduate and graduate degrees are both in sociology. As a result, when I entered the world of the education school in 1985, I was a stranger who had to be socialized into a culture that initially seemed foreign. I quickly became an insider, integrated into and identifying with the ed school community; but the initial perspective of the outsider has been helpful to me in sorting out the things that give a distinctive character to education schools and the preparation of teachers as educational researchers.

The Transition from Teacher to Researcher:

What Makes It Easy

            In many important ways, the transition from teacher to educational researcher is a natural and easy one. As prospective researchers, teachers bring many traits that are ideal for this new role, including maturity, professional experience, dedication, and good academic skills.

Maturity

One striking characteristic that distinguishes doctoral students in education from their peers in disciplinary departments is that they are grownups. In arts and sciences departments, students frequently enter doctoral study right after completing their bachelor’s degree, but in education they typically arrive at this stage only after first serving at least a few years as an elementary or secondary teacher. Nationally, 49 percent of all graduate students in education (master’s and doctoral level) are over 35, compared to 29 percent of those in other fields.[9] This matches the experience in my own program, where the age range is from 25 to 55 and the median is about 35. The median age nationally for a person receiving a doctorate in education is 44 – compared to 36 in business, 35 in humanities, 34 in social sciences, and 32 in life sciences.[10]

Doctoral students in education have already lived a life. They have spent at least some time, generally a lot of time, doing something other than being a good student. They have usually pursued a career as teachers, and along the way they have accumulated the experiences and obligations of adult life. They pay taxes. They often have a pension plan, car payments, and a mortgage. Frequently they are married and have children, or start having them while in graduate school. All of this puts a distinctive spin on the experience of doctoral study. Unlike many of their peers in the arts and sciences, who drift into graduate study out of inertia or avoidance, doctoral students in education choose to enter doctoral study as a deliberate step in the early or middle stages of a viable career as a classroom teacher. As adults, frequently the same age as their professors, they are not willing to be treated as kids just because they are students. One result is that they are likely to take charge of their doctoral program and make it serve their own needs instead of waiting for the program to shape them.

Professional Experience

As experienced classroom teachers and school administrators, these students bring a wealth of professional expertise to their doctoral studies in education. Unlike their counterparts in disciplinary departments across campus, they have more than an abstract conception of the subject they will be studying in their doctoral program. Their work in the program builds on an intensive and extensive involvement in elementary and secondary education, which gives them a sense of the subject that is much richer than what could be obtained by pursuing an undergraduate major in it, the usual preparation for doctoral study in the disciplines.

Teachers have a feel for the breadth, depth, and complexity of education as an institution that cannot be picked up by reading about it or observing it.[11] This means they bring a storehouse of data to doctoral study, which they can and do draw upon in evaluating the utility and validity of the theories they encounter there. Though neophytes in the business of theorizing about education, they are old hands at the practices that are the subject of this theorizing. Even Cronbach and Suppes, who, in their 1969 report on educational research for the National Academy of Education, favored recruiting nonteachers as educational researchers, recognized that such recruits will need to pick up some of the teacher’s knowledge of schools through such means as school-based internships and extensive classroom observation.[12]

Teachers and administrators also bring to doctoral study a set of plausible and professionally tested understandings about what makes education work and not work. They come in with a sense of what is happening in the institution they will be studying. This means they don’t want the doctoral program to explain to them what they already know but instead want it to allow them as scholars to continue exploring issues they already started examining as practitioners.[13]

Dedication to Education

A major task in a doctoral program in the disciplines is to convince students that their studies have value. Sure, they already have an interest in the subject, since they selected themselves into a doctoral program in that area. But they may not necessarily think of this area of intellectual pursuit as being more than an object of curiosity or a mode of personal expression. As a result, doctoral programs need to provide a process of induction into a career, and a key part of the process is to emphasize the importance of this career. That is a harder sell for a program in history or English than in education, because students coming into education are already thoroughly invested in the field.

The most visible characteristic of new doctoral students in education schools is their passionate commitment to education. These students express a calm certainty that the future of their country and its children depend on the quality of teaching and learning in schools. As a result, their goal in pursuing doctoral study is not to explore an abstract question or follow a whim. Instead, in their view their mission as doctoral students – and later as teacher educators and scholars of education – is, overwhelmingly, to improve schools. This powerful sense of mission is a rich resource from which the faculty members in an education school can build a program of doctoral study, where they already have the rapt attention and fervent commitment of their students to the object of study. As we will see later, it is also a serious problem for a program seeking to make these dedicated practitioners into scholars of practice.[14]

Good Cognitive Skills

Doctoral students in education tend to have good cognitive skills, although probably not quite as high as those in the social sciences. Consider the evidence from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Between 1995 and 1998, the average scores for everyone taking the GRE were 472 (verbal), 563 (quantitative), and 547 (analytical), for a total of 1582.[15] The average for prospective education students was 445/507/533 for a total of 1485, which was lower than all the other major academic groupings (natural sciences, physical sciences, engineering, humanities, and business), including the most comparable group, social sciences, which scored 481/531/555 for a total of 1567. However, this may not be a fair comparison. ETS data only show scores by field for students who took the test within two years of graduating from college,[16] but doctoral students in education most often take the test well after this point, since they are about 10 years older than other doctoral students when they enter their program. Fortunately, thanks to U.S. News and World Report, we do know the average GRE scores for doctoral students at the leading colleges of education. Every year the magazine ranks the top 50 education schools in the United States, using average GRE scores as one criterion. In the rankings for the year 2000, they listed 53 institutions (there was a four-way tie for 50th place). The average GRE scores for students entering these education schools in 1999 were 522 (verbal), 577 (quantitative), and 583 (analytical), for a total of 1682[17] – 200 points above the average of education students who took the exam within two years of receiving a bachelor’s degree and 100 points above the average of the whole population that took the exam at that point.

This comparison, however, is not very fair, since it pits doctoral students admitted into the best education schools against students applying to a wide range of graduate programs of varying quality. The problem is that U.S. News ranks social science programs by reputation only and therefore does not record GRE scores for these programs, so there are not comparable data for social science students. My point, however, is not that doctoral students in education are smarter than those in sociology or psychology but simply that they are – despite the generally bad reputation of educationists – no dummies. And the population of education students represented by the data from U.S. News is in fact the group that is of most interest for my purposes. The top 53 education schools (out of a total of about 750 such institutions) produce almost half of the U.S. doctorates in education every year (about 3,100 out of 6,600).[18] Even more important than the disproportionate number of doctorates these top-ranked schools produce is the fact that they train the large majority of the country’s educational researchers and teacher educators. They gain a position in the top rank largely because of their research productivity and their focus on the academic preparation of education researchers and professors.

Overall, then, if students doctoral programs in education face significant problems, it is not because they lack academic ability; nor is it because they lack commitment, experience, or maturity. Such problems arise instead from a potential clash between two distinct professional cultures.

The Transition from Teacher to Researcher:

What Makes It Hard

Professors and students in doctoral programs in education may confront two kinds of cultural conflicts. One derives from potential differences in worldview arising from the nature of teaching as a practice and the nature of educational research as a practice. The other derives from possible struggles over the kind of education one needs in order to become an effective educational researcher. Let’s consider each of these areas of potential conflict in turn.

The Problem of Conflicting Worldviews between Teachers and Researchers

            As we saw in chapter three, teaching is a difficult and distinctive form of professional practice, which poses serious problems for programs that seek to prepare students to carry out this practice effectively. At the same time, and for some of the same reasons, the nature of teaching can make things hard for programs that seek to turn teachers into effective researchers, and this problem of transition is exacerbated by the institutional and epistemological problems (as we saw in chapter four) that make educational research so difficult. Teachers and researchers not only find themselves in two very different institutional contexts – the public school and the university – but they also tend to carry with them sharply contrasting worldviews that arise from the distinctive problems of practice they encounter in their respective roles. Making the transition from teacher to researcher, therefore, calls for a potentially drastic change in the way students look at education and at their work as educationists.

Anna Neumann, Aaron Pallas, and Penelope Peterson provide a rich analysis of this “epistemological confrontation” between teachers and the doctoral programs that are trying to make them into researchers.[19] Drawing on their own experience as teachers in doctoral programs and on the cases of two teachers who made the transition and recorded their reactions, the authors identify three tensions that characterize this confrontation:

One is the tension of agenda, which bears on whose questions get asked: researchers’ or practitioners’. Another is the tension of perspective, which considers the ways in which the understanding of educational phenomena flows from the academic disciplines and from educators. The third is the tension of response (and responsibility) to primary stakeholders in the education enterprise, which examines the interplay of researchers’ public and intellectual stakes in the study of educational phenomena.[20]

What follows is my effort to tease out the core elements that define the basis of these tensions in research training programs in education, elements that emerge from the conflicting cultures of practice in teaching and research. I argue that the shift from K-12 teaching to educational research asks students to transform their cultural orientation from normative to analytical, from personal to intellectual, from particularistic to universalistic, and from experiential to theoretical. Embedded in these pressures to change is a struggle over the relationship between teaching and research in education and a emergent struggle over the moral responsibility of both kinds of practitioners for education’s social outcomes. As a result of this culture clash, students often feel that the programs are challenging the legitimacy of their own teacher-based perspective on education, and they often respond by challenging the legitimacy of the proffered research-based perspective and by resisting key elements of the research training process.

Presenting the issue in this way – as a conflict between two worldviews that are polar opposites of each other – is something of an exaggeration. These dichotomies start to break down when you look at them more closely. As actually practiced, educational research is also, in part and in its own way, normative, practical, particularistic, and experiential. Encouraging doctoral students in education to see this – and encouraging faculty members to make this aspect of their work explicit – is one step toward dealing with the cultural conflicts in education doctoral programs. In recent years major movements have emerged that work to narrow the gap between teacher and researcher. On one side is the movement to encourage teachers to carry out research into issues of practice in their own classrooms and to enhance the legitimacy of this work as parallel to the research generated by university professors. On the other side is the movement to focus university research on issues of teacher practice in the classroom (teacher thinking, teacher decision making, the social construction of teaching and learning within the classroom community) and on parallel issues of practice in school administration, especially through the growing reliance on qualitative research that seeks to capture the full richness and contextual specificity of these practices. The obvious response to the cultural conflict within doctoral programs in education, then, would be to develop programs that are more nearly bicultural, where the teacher perspective is respected and reinforced and where the research perspective is offered as an additional way to understand education rather than as a preferred substitute. This is what Neumann, Pallas, and Peterson propose,[21] and, in the end, what I propose as well.

However, the differences in the worldview between teachers and researchers are not the kinds of academic dualisms that simply disappear under close analysis, nor can they be brought together just by trying to make teachers more research oriented and researchers more teacher oriented. Instead, these cultural differences arise from irreducible differences in the work roles occupied by teachers and researchers. Occupants of both of these roles have to learn how to function effectively in occupational positions that pose for them sharply divergent sets of constraints and incentives. As a result, their jobs present them with different professional purposes, definitions of success, daily routines, time pressures, intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, social status, social expectations, work relationships, administrative regimes, architectural settings, and so on. These different positions set certain limits and enable certain possibilities for the ranges of action and modes of practice that actors are likely to pursue. The durability of each set of positional differences over time leads to a durable occupational culture, which spells out norms of purpose and practice that are integrated into a distinctive worldview. In short, position matters, which is why teachers who enter programs for preparing researchers find themselves straddling two conflicting work cultures. The discussion below is a positional analysis (reinforced by my own experience as a doctoral educator) of this conflict’s roots in the work situations of the two sets of participants.

From the Normative to the Analytical: Classroom teachers bring to doctoral study a perspective on education that is strongly normative. This perspective is deeply rooted in the practice of teaching, which necessarily puts a premium on doing what is best for the student. As a result, there is an element of teaching that is irreducibly moral, which compels us to think of teaching, in the words of Alan Tom, as a “moral craft.”[22] This is not to say that technique is unimportant. Teachers spend a lot of time examining their experience to find out what works and what doesn’t, and many can deploy their tested instructional technique in a dazzling display of expertise. But the moral factor is still at the heart of the enterprise.

The main reason for this is that, unlike most professionals, teachers do not apply their expertise toward ends that are set by the client. A lawyer, doctor, or accountant is a hired mind who helps clients pursue goals that they themselves establish, such as to gain a divorce, halt an infection, or minimize taxes. But teachers are in the business of instilling behaviors and skills and knowledge in students who did not ask for this intervention in their lives and who are considered too young to make that kind of choice anyway. By setting out to change people rather than to serve their wishes, teachers take on an enormous moral responsibility to make sure that the changes they introduce are truly in the best interest of the student and not merely a matter of individual whim or personal convenience. And this responsibility is exacerbated by the fact that the student’s presence in the teacher’s classroom is compulsory. Not only are teachers imposing a particular curriculum on students, then, but they are also denying them the liberty to do something else. The moral implications are clear: If you are going to restrict student liberty, it has to be for very good reasons; you had better be able to show that the student ultimately benefits and that these benefits are large enough to justify the coercive means used to produce them.[23]

However, if teaching is a highly normative practice, which focuses on the effort to produce valued outcomes, then educational research is a distinctly more analytical practice, which focuses on the effort to produce valid explanations. The mission of the educational researcher is to make sense of the way schools work and the way they don’t. The object of a particular foray into research, as a piece of scholarship, is not to fix a problem of educational practice but to understand more fully the nature of this problem. It is not that scholars are unconcerned about the moral issues that surround the problems they explore or that they ignore the implications for practice that arise from their work. Frequently a moral problem (for example, high rates of educational failure among minority students) provides the initial impetus for a scholar to pursue a particular research project, and frequently the scholar seeks to encourage practitioners and policymakers to act on research findings in a way that might improve some aspect of education. Their primary responsibility as scholars, however, is to work through the intellectual component of educational problems: they seek to clarify and validate arguments about the functions and dysfunctions, causes and consequences of educational practices. Their distinctive contribution as scholars to the discourse on education is to make good arguments, and they pursue this goal on the moral grounds that you can’t fix problems of practice unless you have a deep and sophisticated understanding of the nature of these problems and of the contexts within which they arise.[24]

But the scholar’s analytical mission is not an easy one to appreciate for practitioners who have been deeply immersed in the arena of moral action. Teachers entering doctoral study in education find themselves being asked to adopt a mode of professional practice that appears to be not only sharply different from their own but also morally suspect. From the teacher’s perspective, the scholarly approach to education may seem coldly distant and unconscionably unconcerned about student outcomes. The elementary and secondary classroom is a setting in which it is neither practically possible (given immediate demands to act) nor morally defensible (given the need to do the right thing by one’s students) for a teacher to adopt the analytical distance required for scholarship. But scholars of education are freed from direct responsibility for the students in the K-12 classroom, so that, unlike teachers, they have the time and space to focus their attention on what is going on and why, instead of having to focus on what to do and how to do it. At the same time, they are constrained by the scholar’s professional mandate to make valid explanations about teaching and learning in the classroom, in contrast to the teacher’s professional mandate to make good things happen for students.

As a result, students who enter doctoral programs in education tend to bring a normative view of education that gives them encouragement to resist the pressure they get from their professors to start looking at education as an object of analysis. The faculty pushes them to think and act in ways that are essential for the emerging scholar but highly suspect from the perspective of the teacher: to read extensively and intensively in the literature on education, critique and synthesize the ideas in this literature, develop cogent arguments about educational issues, and use data and logic to validate these arguments. All of this may seem to these students like so much intellectual fiddling while the classroom burns. Posed with a situation in which two children are fighting in the back of the classroom, the scholar wants to ponder the social, psychological, economic, and pedagogical reasons for this conflict, while the teacher wants to separate the combatants. Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that teachers are often reluctant to embrace the analytical practices of educational scholarship. They may well put a lower priority on getting things straight in their heads than on getting things right in the classroom.

In my experience, this reluctance often leads students in education doctoral programs to shift the discourse about educational issues from what is to what should be, looking for practical solutions before explaining the problem.[25] The initial impulse is still to intervene and fix the problem, or critique the actions of the teacher who made the mistake. It also often leads students to frame their own research around educational success stories. The idea is to pick an intervention that promises to improve education – a new teaching technique, curriculum approach, instructional technology, reform effort, or administrative structure – and study it in practice. The desired outcome is that the intervention works rather well, and the function of the study is to document this and suggest how the approach could be improved in the future. This often leads to an approach to scholarship (and eventually to a kind of scholarly literature) that is relentlessly, unrealistically, sometimes comically optimistic – one that suggests that there is an implementable answer to every educational problem and that help is always on the way.

In arguing that teachers see things normatively and researchers see things analytically, however, I am not arguing that teachers don’t think and researchers don’t care. Teachers are constantly evaluating the effectiveness of their instructional practices and adjusting these practices appropriately. And there are moves afoot to formalize and extend this analytical component. Teacher research[26] and action research[27] together constitute an emerging genre in the field of educational scholarship, which seeks to promote a more analytical approach to education among teachers and other practitioners by encouraging them to carry out systematic research projects within their own context of practice, while at the same time seeking to inject a more normative approach (grounded in the purposes and problems of the practitioner) into a research literature dominated by the analytical perspective of university researchers. In a complementary fashion, researchers are motivated to pursue scholarship in large part by a moral commitment to improve schools. They frequently combine research with development efforts, in which they design forms of curriculum and pedagogy that they hope will enhance the prospects of schoolchildren and then analyze the effectiveness of these efforts. This, after all, is much of what it means to do scholarship in an applied field such as education.

However, differences in the nature of the work done by teachers and researchers set a limit on how far each can and should move toward adopting the perspective of the other, and how much doctoral programs in education can and should incorporate both perspectives in preparing researchers. In a recent exchange in Educational Researcher, Anderson argues for using teacher research as a central component in education doctoral studies in order to bridge the gap between teacher and researcher,[28] whereas Metz and Page caution against embracing this approach by pointing to fundamental differences in the two work roles.[29] The problem is that research is defined as a central part of the professor’s job but not the teacher’s. A university faculty position gives professors the time and space to do research, sets expectations for the frequency and quality of research output, and enforces these expectations with pay and promotion incentives. None of these conditions is present in the position of the classroom teacher. The teacher’s job is to teach the required curriculum to the assigned students at an appropriate level of effectiveness, and this leaves no time for carrying out research. Under these circumstances, teachers can do research only if they add it on top of their existing work, which would place an unfair burden on them because of the heavy load they already bear, or if they do research at the expense of their teaching duties, which would unfairly deprive their students educationally. Realistically, then, moral and occupational constraints limit the time and intellectual effort that teachers can devote to research. As a result, Metz and Page argue,

It would be disrespectful both to the effort and professional qualities of teaching and administration in K-12 schools and to the effort and distinctive skills required for research to argue that these students [full time teachers who are doctoral students in education] can fully accomplish both tasks without loss of quality while most others find it challenging to do either well.[30]

To move from being a teacher to being a researcher through the medium of a doctoral program in education, therefore, constitutes a major change in occupational role and requires an accompanying change in professional priorities, which is reflected in part by the shift in emphasis from the normative to the analytical (and, as discussed below, from personal to intellectual, particular to universal, and experiential to theoretical).

This leaves faculty members in these programs with the responsibility to make a persuasive case for the value of analysis. They need to do so while continuing to honor the place of the normative, encouraging students to think of their transition from teacher to researcher as a process of adding a new perspective to their cultural repertoire rather than abandoning one in favor of the other. This means convincing their teacher-students that, instead of feeling guilty about playing researcher, they should enjoy the luxury (afforded by doctoral study) of being the observer for once rather than the person in charge and use it to develop a richer understanding of the problems of teaching practice. The key argument to support this position is that there is nothing moral about the long tradition of pursuing educational reform based on sentiment rather than any evidence that the reform might make things better. Too often the effort to do something about a problem that is not understood makes things worse, which is one of the things that over the years has turned educational reform into such “steady work.”[31] Under these conditions, to develop a firm understanding of how education works is a mandatory first step in any truly moral effort at educational improvement. Adding the analytical perspective, therefore, does not come as an alternative to the normative but as an enhancement to it.

From the Personal to the Intellectual: Not only is teaching a normative practice, it is also by nature highly personal. At its core, teaching and learning is about a teacher, a student, and a subject matter; and the key to getting students to pursue intellectual engagement with subject matter often lies in the quality of their personal relationship with the teacher. As a result, as we saw in chapter three, the ability to connect with students is an essential skill for teachers, and teaching takes on the characteristics of what Arlie Hochschild calls “emotional labor.”[32] If the teacher succeeds in getting you to like her, maybe you will like the subject she is trying to teach you; or at least you are more prone to go along with the kind of learning she is working to foster in the class, out of a desire to please her if not out of a simple love for learning.

The value of this expertise in fostering a relationship with students is a key component of the worldview that teachers bring to doctoral study, and it can create a degree of cognitive dissonance with the worldview of scholarship that they encounter there. Educational researchers necessarily focus to a considerable degree on relationships as a key object of study; in light of the importance that relationships have in the learning process, they could hardly do otherwise. But the primary currency of scholarship, the thing that distinguishes it from other practices in education and gives it value, is not relationships; it is ideas. The measure of quality in a scholarly work – a book, article, paper, or research report – is in the quality of the ideas it expresses. The criteria we use to evaluate scholarly texts arise from this fact. For example, here are the questions I ask my doctoral students to use in critically examining the texts they read, the same ones I use in evaluating the texts they produce:

  • What’s the point? (This is the analysis/interpretation issue: what is the author’s angle?)
  • What’s new? (This is the value-added issue: what does the author contribute that we don’t already know?)
  • Who says? (This is the validity issue: on what (data, literature) are the claims based?)
  • Who cares? (This is the significance issue: is this work worth doing, does it contribute something important?)

Teachers encounter these kinds of analytical performance criteria when they enter doctoral study. The way they read, write, and talk about education is evaluated according to their ability to consume ideas and produce ideas in accord with these standards. This single-minded focus on managing ideas about education is often in striking contrast to their own intense experience as teachers, which placed heavy weight on managing personal relationships. For doctoral study not only asks them to change their approach to education from the normative to the analytical, but also asks them to change their approach from the personal to the intellectual. All of those person-centered skills that are so essential to teaching seem to be discounted in doctoral study: establishing rapport with students, mediating conflicts between students, negotiating the tension between making students happy and encouraging them to learn, channeling the teacher’s own emotions into an effective and natural teacher persona. All of these professional capacities that enable a good teacher to establish a viable and comfortable learning community seem to matter little in the unnaturally idea-centered world of a doctoral program.

Under these circumstances of clashing worldviews, it is not surprising that many former teachers resist what they see as the oddly intellectualized perspective encountered in doctoral study. Finding the scholarly approach to education cold and impersonal, with little connection to the flesh-and-blood world of emotional interaction they recall in the K-12 classroom, they frequently (in my experience) hang back from embracing the intellectual skills that they need in order to become educational scholars. To adopt the intellectual perspective seems to do a disservice to the teacher’s view of teaching, to turn teachers and students into actors who are imprisoned in a world governed not by people but by abstract ideas.

Faculty members in programs that prepare educational researchers need to respond to this perception among their students by making a strong case for the value of intellectual skills in approaching educational issues. The big danger of the devotion to the personal is its corollary, the embrace of the anti-intellectual. As is true in the case of the normative-analytical tension, where doing something about education without sufficient analytical justification is immoral, so too is it immoral to act pedagogically based only on the fact that “I care about my kids.” We need people in education who have highly developed intellectual capacities for interpreting evidence, making arguments, and establishing valid grounds for action. Researchers are such people.

From the Particular to the Universal: Closely related to the normative and personal quality of teaching as a practice is its emphasis on the particular. As every good teacher knows, you can’t teach effectively unless you take into account the special learning needs of individual students. The general rule of teaching is that general rules don’t help very much. The exception is the norm, because every case is different. Some of the differences come from the special traits that students bring to the learning task: their psychological makeup, social background, economic condition, ethnicity, gender, cultural capital, social capital, role in the family, and so on. Some come from the special traits that teachers bring to the task: general education, professional education, subject matter knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, plus all of the just-mentioned personal traits, which affect teachers as much as students. And some come from the learning context: the community around the school, the culture of the school, the principal, the grade level, the subject area, the curriculum, the community in the classroom, the time of day, the day of year, the weather, and plenty more.

For teachers, then, education always comes down to cases. But for educational scholars, the emphasis is on the development of generalities that hold across cases. They usually aim to theorize. This means developing ideas about the way education works that apply to more than one student or classroom or school. Of course not all educational research fits this depiction. A number of studies – especially those using qualitative methods – focus on describing and interpreting educational processes, relationships, and systems within a particular context. This work is not conducive to generalization, but, as Peshkin notes, we nonetheless “appreciate the foundational character of good description for all research.”[33] The reason is that descriptive research is able to capture precisely those particularities of time, place, and person that teachers know are so integral to understanding how education works. In fact, one of the main factors that has fueled the rapid expansion of qualitative research in education in the last 20 or 30 years is that teachers and researchers alike – growing disillusioned with studies that misrepresented education by ignoring the importance of context – found that qualitative methods are well adapted overall to representing the context-sensitivity of education. But most qualitative research, while still sensitive to the particular, aims to go beyond description to pursue forms of analysis that Peshkin calls interpretation, verification, and evaluation. In these modalities, qualitative researchers in education are reaching beyond a single context with the aim, among other things, of explaining and creating generalizations, developing new concepts, developing theory, and testing theory.[34]

Given the particularistic nature of teaching as a practice, this reach for theory and generalization is not necessarily what teachers in doctoral programs want, but it may be exactly the kind of additional perspective on the situation that education needs. The understandings that teachers develop about the particularities of education are critical to their success in helping students learn, but the uniqueness of their sites of practice also leaves them potentially trapped. Unless they work in an unusually collegial school culture, they can be confined to one classroom with one group of students without ready access to what is going on in other classrooms with other teachers and students, which means they are often not able to base their practice on a collective sense of what works in settings other than their own. They are also often trapped in another way, by their own experienced-based sense of teaching as a radically particularistic practice, which means they may harbor a deep suspicion that there are no generalities about teaching – no ideas or theories or modes of practice – that will be of any use to them in dealing with their own unique pedagogical problems.

As Britzman and Lortie and others have noted, this sense of teacher as Lone Ranger is part of the distinctive self image of the teaching profession.[35] But this image is potentially both debilitating and wrong. Debilitating because it can force the teacher to work in professional isolation and to reinvent the pedagogical wheel. Wrong because it ignores the ways that problems of practice in one classroom often resemble those in other classrooms, which may be different in some details (as any two social settings will always be) but similar in others. Where similarity exists, there is the possibility of finding practices that teachers can adopt or adapt in order to meet their own pedagogical needs.

This is the professional function that educational scholarship can serve: to develop research findings – concepts, generalizations, theories – that make sense of educational processes across contexts and offer them to teachers and other practitioners. The idea is not to pretend to make claims about teaching and learning that are universal in a literal sense, but instead to provide a theoretical mirror, which teachers can hold up to their own problems of practice in order to see the ways that their problems are both similar to and different from those facing teachers in other settings. In this sense, then, theory allows teachers access to a community of practice that is otherwise often denied them by the tyranny of the self-contained classroom.

And this is the argument that faculty in education doctoral programs need to make to their teacher-students. Selling this argument is not easy. But like the pitch for the analytical and the intellectual, it can be done without abandoning the contrasting teacher orientation. Adopting an analytical stance toward education does not exclude a normative stance but instead supplements it. The same is true of learning to approach education as an intellectual problem, which can and should coexist with a clear sense of the student as person and the student-teacher relationship as fundamental. Likewise, it is quite useful to look at the classroom from both a highly situated and broadly comparative perspective. The model to present to teachers preparing to become researchers is to embrace the worldview of research as a second culture, which adds to the teacher perspective instead of demanding to replace it. In an interesting way, this bicultural character of teachers-become-researchers enables them to approach education with just the kinds of multiple perspectives that everyone seems to think is so important for any effort to produce research that effectively captures the complex world of education.

From the Experiential to the Theoretical: One final characteristic of the teacher worldview, implied in the preceding analysis, is the privileged position it assigns to professional experience. This follows naturally from what else we know about teaching as a practice. If we think about teaching the way teachers do – as, in large part, a particularistic moral practice involving the management of intense personal relations toward curricular ends – then teachers’ own experience as practitioners naturally emerges as their primary bank of professional knowledge. Only their experience fits the particulars of their own practice, while also being grounded in their own conception of moral purpose and their own style of personal engagement with students.

This position encourages doctoral students in education to stay at arm’s length from the arguments they encounter in the theoretical and empirical literature. Why? Because at any point in the discussion of an academic paper, the student can (and, in my experience, frequently does) introduce an example from his or her practitioner experience that automatically trumps any claim made by the authors. No matter how much data authors bring to the table or how effectively they make their arguments, personal experience still can carry the day. Just as the teacher reigns supreme in her classroom, the teacher’s experience dominates other kinds of knowledge as the basis for interpreting what happens in that domain. From the teacher perspective, researchers can say what they like about the nature of teaching and learning in general, but only teachers have the expertise to speak with authority about the teaching and learning of their own students.

This perspective causes obvious problems for the effort to socialize teachers into the researcher role. For educational researchers, teacher experience is an important source of knowledge about education, but that does not make it canonical. As the view of an insider and prime actor in the classroom, this form of knowledge has its strengths and weaknesses. It is uniquely insightful because of its rich knowledge about the particular context, the characteristics of the individual learners, and the intent of the teacher. But it is also narrow in scope by being confined to these same contexts, learners, and intentions. Although outsiders, such as researchers, are less knowledgeable than the teacher about the characteristics of the classroom, they are in a better position to put these characteristics in perspective, by comparing them with other actors and settings and by viewing them through the normalizing lens of theory.

The problem facing doctoral programs in education, therefore, is not to convince students that education is worth examining (which they already believe) but to convince them that there is something valuable they can learn about education by examining it as an outsider, as a researcher (about which they are skeptical). They need to be persuaded to retire teaching experience as a trump card and use it instead as one possible perspective, to explore the possibility that theory can be as useful as experience and that the practice of theory-building can be as important as the practice of teaching.

Dealing with the Cultural Divide

As I have repeatedly noted above, one way to deal with the cultural divide between teachers and researchers in education doctoral programs is to acknowledge it explicitly and to sell teacher-students vigorously on the value of adopting the researcher perspective – as an addition to rather than replacement for the teacher perspective. Another approach, as I have also suggested earlier, is to show that the gap is not as wide as it seems, that the differences are more a matter of emphasis in professional practice than of total opposition. In part this is done by demonstrating the ways in which educational researchers carry out their own work using many of the orientations characteristic of K-12 teachers.

Like teachers, researchers take moral responsibility for the consequences of education, and their work in trying to understand this institution is in large part motivated by their desire to rectify the harm done by dysfunctional education. Like teachers, researchers develop close personal relationships with their students and often their subjects as well. The advisor-student relationship in doctoral education is especially close, and managing the complexity of this connection is an important skill of the researcher as research mentor. Like teachers, researchers have to deal with education in all its context-bound particularism, which means that a central problem for them, in both designing research studies and explaining research findings, is to balance the urge to generalize against the need to validate those generalizations about a social phenomenon that is specific to time, place, and person. Finally, like teachers, researchers build on their own experience in important ways that gradually accumulate into individual professional biographies, and these biographies exert a powerful personal impact on the kinds of work they pursue.

To open up these issues to students in doctoral programs, faculty members need to be willing to talk more about how they carry out their own research – not the rationalized, normalized, and carefully reconstructed version that they present in journal articles, but the real process they followed from beginning to end, in all its complexity and incoherence. They also need to work at unpacking these elements in the work they have students read. A useful book for this purpose, which opens up many of these issues, is a collection of essays by women who do research in education called Learning from Our Lives: Women, Research, and Autobiography in Education.[36]

Another way to narrow the cultural gap between teachers and researchers is to design research training programs that deliberately demonstrate respect for the skills and orientations that teachers bring with them and that self-consciously invite these apprentices to develop roles for themselves as researchers that incorporate their teacher identities. This calls for the construction of a hybrid program that marries theory and practice, as is only appropriate for research preparation in a professional school; instead of pushing teachers to drop practice for a new career in theory, it would seek to induct them into a practice of research that draws heavily upon knowledge from the practice of teaching while simultaneously informing that practice. This is the model for the preparation of educational researchers that is proposed by Neumann, Pallas, and Peterson.[37]

In both of these ways, it is important for research training programs in education to narrow the cultural gap between teachers and researchers, but that does not by any means imply that this gap should or can be made to disappear. Teaching and research overlap in values, skills, and orientations, but the difference in emphasis between them is real and substantial because it is grounded in the positional constraints, incentives, and practices of these two forms of work. It is not disrespectful of teachers to say that, in order to become effective educational researchers, they need to acquire skill in and respect for the analytical, intellectual, theoretical, and universalistic orientations of the researcher. Like teaching in the public schools, teaching in a research preparation program involves changing people in valued directions. As adults, the students in the latter program have chosen to pursue these studies of their own free will, unlike elementary and secondary students who are compelled to attend school. But, like any student, they are faced with the prospect of learning, and learning means changing into someone different. So faculty members in research training programs in education need to be sensitive to the traits that teachers bring with them, but they do not need to apologize for seeking to change these teachers into researchers. That, after all, is their job.

The Problem of Mismatched Educational Expectations

            Another source of tension in the preparation of teachers as educational researchers arises from conflicting educational expectations. Teachers typically arrive in education doctoral programs with an undergraduate degree in education, or in a disciplinary major combined with teacher certification, and also equipped with a master’s degree in education. They did well in their higher education experience, earning good grades and confirming them with strong GRE scores. With a successful educational career behind them, an advanced degree in the field, and a rich professional experience in the same field, they feel ready and able to launch directly into doctoral study.

But the faculty members of their doctoral program in the education school tend to disagree. From the point of view of the faculty, the incoming students are seen as generally deficient in the educational preparation they need in order to pursue doctoral work effectively. The students are recognized as smart, capable, and professionally accomplished, but they are seen as having a weak exposure to and understanding of the liberal arts and almost no grounding in the theory and literature of education as a field of scholarship. The students are stunned and offended to hear the faculty telling them that they can’t write analytically, construct arguments logically, or read critically; that they don’t know anything about American history and culture and social theory; and that they don’t even know the fundamental issues and basic literature in their own field, education. All of these forms of academic knowledge and skill, they are told, are essential for an effective researcher in education. Negative comments, bad grades, and ill feelings pile up quickly, and students start doubting their own competence, dropping out of the program, or complaining that they are being treated unfairly.

 What’s going on here? One way of looking at this problem is as a conflict between the professional and the academic. The faculty complain that the students’ preparation has taken place largely within narrowly construed professional programs that are severely starved of basic academic content, which is critically necessary to succeed in an academic doctoral program for future educational researchers. And the students complain that the faculty’s vision of a doctoral program in a professional school of education is bizarrely academic in all the most pejorative meanings of that term: abstrusely theoretical, impractical, book-bound, and cut off from the real world of educational practice. Another way to look at the situation is not as a conflict between the professional and the academic but as a conflict between two forms of professional education that are simply not very compatible – the preparation of teachers and the preparation of educational researchers. These two kinds of programs may (or may not) be good in preparing students for their respective professional roles, but – as both are currently constituted – the former does not provide a good foundation for pursuing the latter.

Either way you look at it, there is a mismatch between the education that teachers receive and the education that these teachers are later expected to have and to enhance in order to become educational researchers. So let’s look in a little more detail at what is problematic about the education of teachers for programs that prepare educational researchers, adopting the perspective of the faculty in these programs. This is a deficit model for understanding the instructional problem in research-oriented doctoral programs in education. After reviewing the issue for this angle, we will return to the question of whether this problem is a result of the inadequate education of teachers or of the inappropriate framing of the education of educational researchers. In other words, in order to narrow the gap between the two, what we may need is not to make teacher education more academic but to make researcher education less so.

From the perspective of the faculty who prepare teachers to become educational researchers, the education of teachers in the United States is seen as generally lacking in intellectual rigor and academic richness. This is true of their education at every stage along the way, including the general liberal education they received in high school and college, the professional education they received in a program for teacher certification, and the advanced professional preparation they received in an education master’s program. Consider the potential problems for researcher education that are presented by the education of teachers in each of these three stages.

General Liberal Education: Most teachers do not receive a rich education in the liberal arts, but that is true as well for most American college graduates. As I suggested earlier, future teachers are neither the highest nor the lowest achievers within the universe of all U.S. undergraduates. The huge continuing demand for teachers draws such a large proportion of the undergraduate population that, for better and for worse, the average teacher looks a lot like the average college graduate. This is true not only for level of academic ability but also for quality of learning.

The U.S. system of education in general does not put primary emphasis on student learning. In a classic essay, Ralph Turner argues that American education is structured around the principle that he calls “contest mobility,” which stresses giving students wide access to schooling in order to support the open competition for social position. One result is that “Under contest mobility in the United States, education is valued as a means of getting ahead, but the contents of education are not highly valued in their own right.”[38] Another is that “schooling tends to be evaluated in terms of its practical benefits and to become, beyond the elementary level, chiefly vocational.”[39] A third is that the system leans toward formalism. Through the metric of the credit hour, which uses seat time as a proxy for educational accomplishment, the system guarantees not that students know something about a particular subject but only that they might have had the opportunity to learn it. This encourages students to focus on the tokens of learning (grades, credits, and degrees) rather than the substance.[40] As a result, possession of a college diploma does little to assure that a teacher or any other American college graduate has received a liberal education.

Initial Professional Education: If teachers, like most students, fail to gain a solid core of general academic knowledge in high school and college, they are usually not able to make up for this deficiency during the course of a teacher preparation program. As we saw in chapter 3, providing prospective teachers with professional preparation is extraordinarily difficult, given the complexity of skills and knowledge that are required to carry out this mode of practice effectively. Teacher educators have neither the time nor the academic expertise to give students a deep understanding of individual subjects much less a broad understanding of culture, language, history, and theory. Instead, teacher education, at best, provides a rich introduction to the practice of teaching and leaves responsibility for liberal learning in the hands of disciplinary departments across campus. At worst, it provides a mode of training that is so narrowly practical that it can actually displace and discount the liberal learning that the student may have acquired elsewhere.

Critics have long had fun ridiculing teacher education in books whose titles say it all – such as James Koerner’s The Miseducation of American Teachers[41] and Rita Kramer’s Ed School Follies[42] – and they have paid special attention to the intellectual failings of its curriculum. Recall what Koerner has this to say on the subject: “Course work in Education deserves its ill-repute. It is most often puerile, repetitious, dull, and ambiguous – incontestably.”[43] But even sober and sympathetic observers have been hard-pressed to characterize teacher education programs as intellectually rich and rewarding. In his comprehensive scholarly study of 29 teacher education programs across the country, John Goodlad (a former education school dean) concludes that

curriculum development in teacher education is largely absent, inadequate, primitive, or all of these. In the absence of accessible relevant knowledge and potent curricula, both the teacher educator and the teacher are left to their intuitive and practical interpretations. Because intuition is capricious and in short supply among humans, it is not surprising that both teacher educators and teachers are unduly influenced by what appears to work for them or others, has been part of their own experience as students, is well packaged and marketed, or is required by an empowered regulatory agency.[44]

Students entering a doctoral program in the disciplines also may not have received a solid liberal education as undergraduates; in that sense, they enjoy no automatic educational advantage over schoolteachers beginning graduate study in education. But these students do have the good fortune to have avoided the intellectually dispiriting experience offered by many teacher preparation programs. The contrast is particularly striking with the case of elementary teachers, who are likely to have majored in education, which means they took a smaller number of liberal arts courses and pursued these subjects in less depth than their peers in the disciplines. Prospective secondary teachers occupy an intermediate position in this regard. These students normally major in a subject area as undergraduates, and that greater disciplinary depth may be a key reason why they are more likely to pursue doctoral study than elementary teachers.

Advanced Professional Education: The final and perhaps most telling difference in the educational preparation of doctoral students in education compared to doctoral students in the disciplines, however, is found in their master’s programs. Entry into a doctoral program in a disciplinary field is normally predicated on successful completion of an academic master’s program in that field. Graduate work in these domains frequently incorporates master’s and doctoral study into a single sequence of courses, in which the transition from master’s student to doctoral candidate is marked by successful completion of a thesis or preliminary examination or both.

In education, however, master’s programs have a very different form and function. Most teachers pursue master’s programs in curriculum and instruction or in educational administration, which are not designed as preparatory programs for scholars seeking advanced academic study in the field but as terminal programs for educational practitioners who plan to stay in schools. Unlike disciplinary programs, their aim is not to immerse students in the theoretical and empirical literature of the field but to provide professional development that will enhance the practice of K-12 teachers and administrators. From the best education master’s programs, students gain significant help in enhancing their professional practice but little help in developing their academic understanding of the field. From the worst, they gain nothing but bad intellectual habits derived from low academic expectations. And, as Gresham’s law would dictate, the debased currency of the worst master’s programs threatens to drive other currencies out of the market. For many, perhaps most, practitioners in K-12 education, the primary reason to pursue a master’s is simple careerism. The degree helps them meet state requirements for continuing certification, and it grants them a pay increase (because of union contracts that, in part, base pay on number of graduate credits). Under these conditions, education schools have a strong incentive to offer master’s programs that make few intellectual demands, for fear that the customer will be able to buy credits more cheaply at the institution next door. And online technology for taking courses now means that a program can be academically low-balled by an institution across country as easily as by one across town.[45]

What a difference this difference makes. Once students have achieved doctoral candidacy in the disciplines, the program faculty can assume that they have mastered the academic foundations of the field – acquired in an undergraduate major and academic master’s program and confirmed by a thesis and/or comprehensive exam. As a result, doctoral study can dispense with courses that survey the field and that transmit fundamental knowledge in order to focus on advanced courses in a particular area of expertise, on research methods training, and on the dissertation.

Not so in education, where the faculty needs to construct doctoral programs that make few assumptions about the prior knowledge of the students. Those of us who teach in such programs can’t assume that our students have a solid foundation in the liberal arts. Instead, we need to find ways to inject that kind of broad and foundational learning into what is supposed to be a specialized and advanced program of study. We also can’t assume that our students have a strong background in the academic literature of education, picked up in their programs of initial and advanced professional preparation. Instead, we need to find ways to provide that kind of academic preparation as part of doctoral study. Both forms of instruction coexist within the confines of the same program that gives them advanced expertise in a specialized field, trains them in the craft of scholarly research, and supports them in the production of an original piece of scholarship that will make a contribution to the field. And all of this needs to be accomplished during a reasonably short period – say five years in total – in order to make doctoral study seem at all feasible for a mid-career teacher considering a career change. In light of these factors that make doctoral preparation so difficult in education, it should be no surprise to find that so many dissertations in education are academically weak, so many junior faculty members in education are struggling to establish a research agenda, and so much educational research is simplistic and uninteresting.

The Limits of Bridging the Gap between Teaching and Research: This depiction of the education of teachers is relentlessly negative, arguing that teachers are lacking in many of the main forms of academic knowledge and skill that are required by programs for preparing educational researchers. Since the diagnosis of the problem from this perspective is educational deficit, the logical treatment for the problem, at least in the short run, is educational remediation: Have doctoral programs try to inject as much of the missing skills and knowledge as possible in the short time that is available. This, as I have suggested, is not easy, especially since these programs are not able to extend the time that students spend in them, but this is exactly what responsible doctoral programs in education try to do as best they can.

In the long run, another response to the deficit diagnosis would be to improve the liberal education of American college students more generally, provide academic enrichment for programs of teacher education, and enhance the academic rigor and depth of education master’s programs. This is potentially attractive, since it seeks to improve education all along the way instead of trying to fill the accumulated deficits at the last stage, but for the most part it is not very realistic. Improving the quality of undergraduate education is a daunting task, well beyond the capacities for influence of the beleaguered and disrespected education school faculty. Enhancing teacher education is more in the faculty’s control, though it is constrained by a limited number of courses, by state requirements for the content of those courses, and by the market pressures detailed in chapter two. Change in the master’s curriculum is directly under the control of the faculty and less hampered by certification requirements, so this is an area where some useful curriculum enhancement could be done.

Efforts to infuse more academic content into teacher preparation and education master’s programs, however, could threaten the professional aims of these programs. Theoretically, we could reduce the gap between teacher education and researcher education by remaking the former to meet the needs of the latter, but this would not make much sense. We need to produce about 200,000 teachers a year (and provide master’s programs for a somewhat smaller number), but we probably only need about 1,000 educational researchers a year. In light of these vast differences in scale, it is hardly reasonable to remake our huge teacher preparation programs just to serve the needs of our tiny research preparation programs. For the same reason, it is unreasonable to make master’s programs in education into an academic preparation for doctoral study, thus denying the large majority of teachers who plan to stay in the classroom the opportunity of a master’s level experience in professional development. One promising alternative, however, might be to offer an academic master’s program in education in addition to the C and I masters. These could be structured as two programs, with a small M.A. program providing study in the academic foundations of education, ending with a thesis, and a large M.Ed. program providing professional development for teachers, ending in a classroom-based practicum and/or portfolio. Or an existing program could offer alternative specializations in academic or professional development studies.

Consider, however, a radically different approach to the problem of narrowing the gap between the educational expectations of research training programs and the educational reality presented by their teacher-students:  Reject the deficit diagnosis of the problem and take seriously the complaints that students make about the academic demands of research preparation programs. Maybe the problem is not that the students are insufficiently prepared academically, as the faculty claim, but that doctoral programs are overly focused on an academic approach to education, as the students suggest. From this angle, education schools need to reclaim their position as professional schools, which would mean abandoning the dream of transforming themselves into graduate schools of educational studies in imitation of the model set by higher status departments in arts and sciences, a tendency that a number of critics have identified as prominent within the top American education schools.[46] The pressure for students to pursue a strictly academic program of study thus is seen as coming from the faculty’s needs for status within the university, and as a result these programs deny students their professional identity and discount their professional expertise in the service of the strictly academic. In addition, an academic orientation distances the education school and its research effort from the profession of teaching and the problems of practice within schools. This critique of the approach to educational research in education schools is one of the reasons for the launch of the teacher-as-researcher movement,[47] and it is related to a broader critique of higher education as a conspiracy to reproduce the faculty rather than a service to students or society.[48]

This approach would ask programs to move closer to the students instead of the reverse – redesigning curriculum and faculty expectations around a core of knowledge from practice, channeling research toward issues arising from practice, and de-emphasizing academic skills and content. As a strategy for narrowing the gap in educational expectations between teachers and research training programs, it parallels the strategy for narrowing the cultural divide between the two, and it has both the strengths and limitations of the latter as well. Yes, these programs need to keep their grounding in the profession and their identity as organs of a professional school, rather than trying to ape their peers in the disciplines. This means drawing on and respecting the professional expertise of their teacher-students and also making students’ expertise a valued part of the curriculum instead of a problem needing a curricular remedy.

But programs can only move so far in this direction before they begin to undermine their ability to function effectively as programs of practice in a profession that is related to but distinct from teaching: educational research. To a considerable extent, the core knowledge and skills that are required to succeed in the profession of educational research are academic. In order to carry out valid and reliable studies of the workings of teaching, learning, and schooling, researchers need to have command of a rich array of conceptual frameworks; they need a broad and deep knowledge of the history and processes and purposes and functions of the social institutions in their society; and they need to be able to read, write, and argue with rigor and precision. As a result, doctoral programs would be grossly negligent if they did not provide their teacher-students with a strongly academic course of study. They need to connect such studies to the profession of teaching and create an environment that is welcoming and respectful to teachers as students, but they also need to hold their ground in defense of the academic education they offer and sell their students on the value of such studies for the practitioner of educational research.

[1]  Glazer, 1974.

[2]  Paul & Marfo, 2001.

[3]  Young, 2001; Metz, 2001; Page, 2001; Pallas, 2001.

[4]  Wilson, Floden, & Ferrini-Mundy, 2002; Florio-Ruane, 2002; Fenstermacher, 2002; Popkewitz, 2002.

[5]  National Research Council, 2002, p. 92.

[6]  National Research Council, 2002, pp. 92-93.

[7] For what it’s worth, the MSU College of Education has been listed as number one in the U.S. News and World Report ranking of all doctoral programs in both elementary education and secondary education for the past eight years. Recently they have also ranked number two among programs in curriculum and instruction. The program in Curriculum, Teaching and Educational Policy is the primary program in the college for these areas of study. (See the U.S. News website for more information:  http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/grad/rankings/edu/eduindex.htm) This is something we like to brag about in our promotional material, but it is dangerous to take these things too seriously. What the ranking does show, for the purposes of this analysis, is that the program looks credible using the relatively crude standard measures of academic standing, such as peer reputation, research funding, quality of students, and so on.

[8] According to the U.S. News and World Report (2001) website, doctoral students in the MSU College of Education (across all programs) had an average combined score in the three components of the Graduate Record Examination of 1695 in the year 2000, while the average for the top 53 colleges in the 2000 ranking was 1682 (calculated from their chart); the average for the four cohorts of students who entered my own program between 1998 and 2001 was 1754 (calculated from the program database).

[9]  NCES, 1997, calculated from table 213

[10]  NCES, 1997, table 299.

[11]  Neumann, Pallas, & Peterson, 1999.

[12]  Cronbach and Suppes, 1969, p. 215.

[13]  Neumann, Pallas, & Peterson, 1999.

[14]  Neumann, Pallas, & Peterson, 1999.

[15]  GRE Board, 1999, table 1.

[16]  GRE Board, 1999, footnote, table 4.

[17] Calculated from the table on the U.S. News (2001) website.

[18] The number of graduates from the top education schools is calculated from the table on the U.S. News (2000) website, reporting data from 1999; and the total number of education doctorates comes from the Chronicle of Higher Education (1999), reporting data from 1998.

[19]  Neumann, Pallas, & Peterson, 1999, p. 259.

[20]  Neumann, Pallas, & Peterson, 1999, p. 251.

[21]  Neumann, Pallas, & Peterson, 1999, 1999.

[22]  Tom, 1984.

[23]  Cohen, 1988; Fenstermacher, 1990; Tom, 1984.

[24]  Booth, Colomb, & Williams, 1995, section 4.1.2.

[25]  Consider an example. In my teaching I have used a book by Timothy Lensmire, When Children Write (1994), which emerged from a dissertation written when the author was a doctoral student at MSU. In it, he talks about his effort to introduce into a fifth grade class a version of writing workshop, which is a form of teaching writing that encourages teachers to act as facilitators, spurring students to write about issues of their own choosing and to present this work to their classmates. Lensmire recounts how this method backfired on him, when some students used writing to assert their status superiority over others, by placing classmates into stories within which they were made to suffer humiliation. The book explores what the experience shows about the nature of teaching: in particular, how a teacher can balance a dedication to student-centered pedagogy in the pursuit of progressive principles with the unavoidable need to exercise power in the classroom in pursuit of moral principles.

However, a remarkably common response to this book, by teachers and former teachers who read it in a graduate class, is to condemn the author for bad teaching. The teacher should never have allowed something like this to happen, they say; he should have defined acceptable limits ahead of time, and then none of this would have happened. And furthermore, they ask, why write about an educational failure like this? First he should have gotten this writing workshop thing right and then written about it; that would have been a book worth reading.

[26]  Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1990; 1999.

[27]  Mills, 2002; Stringer & Guba, 1999.

[28]  Anderson, 2002.

[29]  Metz & Page, 2002.

[30]  Metz & Page, 2002, p. 26.

[31]  Elmore & McLaughlin, 1988.

[32]  Hochschild, 1983.

[33]  Peshkin, 1993, p. 24.

[34]  Peshkin, 1993, p. 24.

[35]  Britzman, 1986; Lortie, 1975.

[36]  Neumann & Peterson, 1997.

[37]  Neumann, Pallas, & Peterson, 1999.

[38]  Turner, 1960, p. 83.

[39]  Turner, 1960, p. 85.

[40] I have discussed these issues in detail elsewhere; see Labaree (1997, 2000b).

[41]  Koerner, 1963.

[42]  Kramer, 1991.

[43]  Koerner, 1963, p. 18.

[44]  Goodlad, 1990, pp. 267-8.

[45] Even in the absence of such technology, education schools have been creative about undercutting the academic standards of their competitors in the effort to draw tuition dollars. For example, at least one institution in Michigan (the School of Education at Grand Valley State University) makes school districts an offer that is hard to refuse. The district provides professional development courses for its teachers, designed and taught by school district staff; the education school offers master’s credit for these courses and collects tuition, sharing a portion of the take with the district on a sliding scale based on enrollment. (School of Education, n.d., ca. 1998)

[46]  Judge, 1982; Clifford & Guthrie, 1988; Holmes Group, 1995.

[47]  Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1990, 1999; Huberman, 1996.

[48]  Damrosch, 1995.

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