First issue of new international journal, Effective Education, published
I am delighted to say that the first issue of the new, international journal that I am Editor of - ‘Effective Education’ - has just been published. The journal has an impressive international Editorial Board and seeks to play a leading role in shaping the field of research into the effectiveness of educational programs, interventions and differing types of provision. Published by Routledge Journals (an imprint of Taylor and Francis), the first issue is available to view online for free at the Effective Education journal website at: http://www.informaworld.com/effectiveeducation
What makes the journal distinctive is its goal of creating a space for critical debate and encouraging new ways of thinking in relation to evaluative research in education. My aim is to ensure that alongside publishing the most rigorous and high quality research into the effectiveness of educational programmes and interventions, the journal will also include more critical pieces that encourage alternative ways of thinking and new approaches to evaluative research in education.
In the extended editorial in the first issue I draw out some of the key challenges facing research in this area and identify some of the areas in which I would hope that the journal could encourage debate. These include: the need to consider how research into the effectiveness of education can make much better use of a wider range of methods; the need to engage much more directly with teachers and practitioner research; and the need to challenge the rather crude and caricatured construction of educational effectiveness research that currently exists.
As regards this latter challenge, the size of the task ahead is evident from even a brief flick through the pages of Research Methods in Education (Cohen et al., 2007), perhaps the most popular and widely used methodology textbook in education within the UK. Unfortunately it includes a particularly negative section on randomised controlled trials. Students reading this will learn, for example, that: ‘randomised controlled trials belong to a discredited view of science as positivism’ (p. 278) and that ‘often in educational research it is simply not possible for investigators to undertake true experiments, e.g. in random assignment of participants to control or experimental groups’ (p. 282). Moreover, they will also be taught that: ‘even if we could conduct an experiment […] it is misconceived to hold variables constant in a dynamical, evolving, fluid, open situation. Further, the laboratory is a contrived, unreal and artificial world. Schools and classrooms are not the antiseptic, reductionist, analysed-out or analysable-out world of the laboratory’ (p. 277).
It is, of course, not difficult to understand why such negative perceptions of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) exist and I discuss these in my editorial. My own view is that such methods have an important role to play in education and that they remain the most appropriate method, where appropriate, for answering the specific question of whether a particular educational programme or intervention has been effective in achieving its desired goals. Moreover, the description that Cohen et al. offer of RCTs bears no resemblance to the many trials we are currently running at the Centre for Effective Education at Queen’s (see: http://www.qub.ac.uk/cee). Our own approach is informed by a critical realist perspective and is characterised by a commitment to working in partnership with practitioners, children and parents. Indeed one of the articles published in the first issue is by Laura Lundy and Lesley McEvoy that reports on one of the recently completed projects within our Centre that has sought to develop a children’s right-based approach to undertaking outcomes-focused research with children.