of existing researchers in the field, or of the existing federal research function because that would have constituted a monumental challenge and we judged it to be beyond the scope of our charge. Instead, we adopted a forward-looking approach that draws on lessons from history and identifies the roles of various stakeholders (e.g., researchers, policy makers, practitioners) in fulfilling a vision for the future of education research.


At its core, scientific inquiry is the same in all fields. Scientific research, whether in education, physics, anthropology, molecular biology, or economics, is a continual process of rigorous reasoning supported by a dynamic interplay among methods, theories, and findings. It builds understandings in the form of models or theories that can be tested. Advances in scientific knowledge are achieved by the self-regulating norms of the scientific community over time, not, as sometimes believed, by the mechanistic application of a particular scientific method to a static set of questions.

The accumulation of scientific knowledge over time is circuitous and indirect. It often traverses highly contested territory—by researchers and other interested parties—and progresses as a result of a not-so-invisible hand of professional skepticism and criticism. Rarely does one study produce an unequivocal and durable result; multiple methods, applied over time and tied to evidentiary standards, are essential to establishing a base of scientific knowledge. Formal syntheses of research findings across studies are often necessary to discover, test, and explain the diversity of findings that characterize many fields. And it takes time to build scientific knowledge, whether in the physical, life, and social sciences or in areas related to education.

The scientific enterprise depends on a healthy community of researchers and is guided by a set of fundamental principles. These principles are not a set of rigid standards for conducting and evaluating individual studies, but rather are a set of norms enforced by the community of researchers that shape scientific understanding. We conclude that six guiding principles underlie all scientific inquiry, including education research:

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