Will our Research Hold up Under Scrutiny?
This is a tough time for educational researchers. Given the current political realities and a desire to reduce the national debt without increasing taxes, the value of research in the social sciences is being challenged. Established research-oriented operations such as the U.S. Department of Education and its Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), the regional educational laboratories, and the ERIC system are faced with the possibility that their funding will either be reduced significantly or eliminated altogether. While cost savings are certainly possible through improvements in efficiency and by streamlining operations, elimination of these organizations would have a devastating impact on educational research. At the Federal level, the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education would result in the loss of a national perspective on education. While educational decision making has historically been left up to the states and national mandates for education have been rare, it is critical that we maintain a national vision for education in the United States. At the state and local level, the funding reductions will have a negative impact on careers, families, and institutions. This hits close to home for me because many of my colleagues at the University of Illinois have projects funded through the National Center for Research in Vocational Education and face funding uncertainties on a daily basis.
Equally important, a decrease in education research funding would have a disastrous impact on research productivity, which would ultimately hurt educational practice and hinder the current education reform efforts. I cannot agree with those who complain that educational research does not influence practice. One only needs to look at the research on reading to see dramatic evidence that research changes people's perceptions on how we learn to read and the way reading is taught in the schools. Do we have similar evidence in our field?
While political realities are beyond our control, we can do a few things to insure that educational research in the vocational, technical, and human resource fields continues to have a major influence on educational policy and practice.
- Look for alternative sources of research funding. For example, the National Science Foundation has recently become receptive to research proposals that address improvements in students' technological understanding. Of course, if the House Budget Committee has its way, this funding source may also disappear because of their recommendation to eliminate the National Science Foundation's Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate, which provides research funding for studies in psychology, sociology, and cognitive science.
- Engage in research that impacts classrooms and teaching. Too many "researchers" in our field conduct studies that involve surveying ourselves to determine what we think. Aren't the most important questions facing our field related to how students learn and how they can be taught more effectively?
- Engage in research that probes for deeper understanding rather than examining surface features. Qualitative methods of inquiry have gained increasing acceptance in recent years. These methods are powerful tools for understanding the social, psychological, and environmental factors that support learning and teaching.
- Collaborate with practitioners on educational research projects. While I spent nearly ten years teaching in the public schools, it didn't take long in a university environment to become out of touch with what was happening in the schools and industry. Without collaboration with practitioners, our research will continue to neglect the critical issues and will not be sensitive to the daily problems faced in the field.
- Publish the results of your research in professional journals so other researchers can learn. Convince us that your findings are not only believable, but that your research methods are appropriate and defensible. The Journal of Industrial Teacher Education is certainly one of the scholarly journals in the field that should be considered as a vehicle for disseminating your research findings.
- Include practical dissemination activities in all of your educational research efforts. While we traditionally produce technical reports that detail the results of our research and publish articles that will be read by our peers, those publications too often fail to reach the practitioners and are written in a way that makes it difficult for them to see how the findings can be applied in their unique settings. At the very least, we need to produce materials that are usable by practitioners, conduct inservice activities and workshops on how to implement our ideas, and publish practical articles in the journals that are read by practitioners.
We have a long history of research in our field and have faced similar threats and challenges in the past. In response to the current funding dilemma, we must respond by providing evidence that our research is important, timely, and contributes to the field.
In This Issue
Four refereed articles are included in this issue. The first article, by James Gregson, examines the school-to-work movement and youth apprenticeship in the United States. He contends that many of the educational, social, and economic problems that contributed to the growth of vocational education in the early 1900s are similar to the problems that led to the current school-to-work movement. While he acknowledges the potential of the current school-to-work movement, he also offers a critical examination of the problems inherent in the initiative. In the second article, Chris Roegge and Jeffrey Flesher report the results of their analysis of the course-taking patterns of high school students. Their results suggest that some of our common perceptions about vocational students and courses may be incorrect. The third article, by Gregory Petty, presents an instrument he developed to assess occupational work ethic and the underlying factors that surfaced through a factor analysis. The final article, by George Rogers, presents the results of a study that examined the perceptions of trade and industrial educators toward the curricular outcomes of technology education. His findings reveal differences between those desired outcomes and the outcomes being emphasized in technology education.
The At Issue section contains two essays. The first, by Stephen Petrina, is a critical reaction to previous At Issue essays written by Theodore Lewis and Karen Zuga. Petrina presents several concerns about technology education from historical and philosophical perspectives. He contends that the outcomes of technology education should be revisited with a genuine concern for the historical identity of the field. The second At Issue essay, by Charles Linnell, argues for more emphasis on appropriate technology in the technology education curriculum. Under Review includes a review by Rupert Evans of The Politics of Education: Culture, Power, and Liberation, a recently published book edited by Richard Lakes. In addition to the usual Bits and Pieces items related to submitting manuscripts to the Journal, becoming a NAITTE member, and ordering various NAITTE publications, Associate Editor Rod Custer formally announces the winners of the annual JITE manuscript award competition.
Johnson is Associate Professor, Department of Vocational and Technical Education, Unviersity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Reference Citation: Johnson, S. D. (1995). Will our research hold up under scrutiny? Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 32(3), 3-6.