Turning the Microscope on Education Policy Research
A new volume of essays co-edited by TC’s Susan Fuhrman looks at what the field has accomplished and where it’s headed
“The passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965 made the federal government an important partner in educational policy. Federal agencies also began to follow the example of Robert McNamara’s Defense Department, and sponsor research on the implementation and effects of governmental programs… as social research grew in both higher education and think tanks, analysts began to examine how federal and state policies actually reach recipients and how local schools and districts responded.”
Thus was the field of education policy research born. Forty
years later, what contributions has it made? What are its prevalent modes and
operating assumptions? Where is the field headed – and how could it improve?
These are among the key questions addressed in The State of Education Policy Research (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007), a new compendium of essays edited by Teachers College President Susan Fuhrman together with David K. Cohen of the University of Michigan and Fritz Mosher of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education. With a cast of contributors drawn from the fields of education, economics and related disciplines, the book is aimed at policymakers who draw on policy research and policy researchers who want to improve their efforts.
“Education research in general has come under attack as
being insufficiently rigorous,” the editors write in their preface. “Critics
charge that its generalizations are made on small samples and that it reveals
little about cause and effects.” The answer, the editors suggest, lies in research
focused on the interaction of policy and practice.
A chapter co-authored by Fuhrman with Margaret Goertz and
Elliot Weinbaum of the
“The growing centralization and standardization of certain
areas of education policymaking coexists uneasily with the public’s desire for
local control of its schools,” the authors write. “It results in a system that
is very tightly controlled around some issues – e.g., civil rights, state
standards and assessments – and very loosely controlled around other functions,
most notably teaching and learning.” Fuhrman, Goertz and Weinbaum recommend
that future research include projects that track shifts in power between levels
of government as a result of the federal No Child Left Behind Act – including
comparative studies of countries like
“Clearly the delicate and shifting balance of