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Scientific Research in Education
Science is an important source of knowledge for addressing social problems, but it does not stand in isolation. If we had continued our story about school resources and entered the current debate around education reform, we could readily show that the generation of scientific knowledge—particularly in social realms—does not guarantee its public adoption. Rather, scientific findings interact with differing views in practical and political arenas (Lindblom and Wodehouse, 1993; Feldman and March, 1981; Weiss, 1998b, 1999; Bane, 2001; Reimers and McGinn, 1997). The scientist discovers the basis for what is possible. The practitioner, parent, or policy maker, in turn, has to consider what is practical, affordable, desirable, and credible. While we argue that a failure to differentiate between scientific and political debate has hindered scientific progress and use, scientific work in the social realm—to a much greater extent than in physics or biology—will always take place in the context of, and be influenced by, social trends, beliefs, and norms.
Finally, we acknowledge that the degree to which knowledge has accumulated in the physical and life sciences exceeds that accumulation in the social sciences (e.g., Smelser, 2001) and far exceeds it in education. And there is clearly very hard work to be done to bring the kind of science-based research we highlight in this chapter to bear on education practice and policy. Indeed, scholars have long recognized that some aspects of human knowledge are not easily articulated (Polanyi, 1958). Some have argued that knowledge in education in particular is often tacit and less precise than other fields (Murnane and Nelson, 1984), rendering its use in practice more difficult than for other fields (Nelson, 2000). But, above all, the examples we provide in this chapter suggest what is possible; the goal should be to build on their successes to forge additional ones.