policy makers, and other concerned individuals want to hear about hard evidence, they want impartiality, and they want decisions to rest on reasonable, rigorous, and scientific deliberation. And how can the quality of science be judged? This is our topic.

To set the stage for this discussion, this chapter provides historical and philosophical background and describes how the current undertaking fits into that broader context.


Education research in the United States is barely 100 years old, and its history is not a simple tale of progress. The study of education drew heavily on the emerging social sciences, which had found a place in research universities at the beginning of the twentieth century. That foothold was often tenuous, however, with intense debates about the essential character of these “sciences.” Many in academic circles sought to model the social sciences on the physical sciences, while others—regarding this as “physics envy”—insisted that broader accounts of the nature of science had to be adopted in order to encompass adequately the range of phenomena in these newer domains (Lagemann, 2000).

Education research began as a branch of psychology at a time when psychology was still a part of philosophy. In the first decade of the twentieth century, psychology was emerging as a distinct field, as were the budding fields of educational psychology, history of education, and educational administration. By the 1930s, subfields of work that centered on different subjects of the school curriculum—notably reading, mathematics, and social studies—had also emerged. As education research continued to develop new methods and questions and in response to developments in the social and behavioral sciences, research fields proliferated (Lagemann, 2000; Cronbach and Suppes, 1969).

From the beginning, the field has been plagued by skepticism concerning the value and validity of developing a “science of education.” This attitude was evident as long ago as the late nineteenth century, when universities began to establish departments and schools of education. A chorus of complaints arose from faculty in the arts and sciences concerning the inclusion of scholars intending to systematically study the organizational

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement