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Understanding Others, Educating Ourselves: Getting More from International Comparative Studies in Education 5 Infrastructure At the beginning of the 1990s, the international comparative education community lacked the infrastructure necessary to conduct rigorous Type I studies in a timely way. Today, thanks to work in International Assocation for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) studies throughout the 1990s, this capacity is institutionalized in international organizations such as the International Study Center at Boston College, the IEA Data Processing Center in Hamburg, Germany, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Directorate for Education, and a half-dozen other nonprofit and for-profit educational research centers, such as the Australian Council for Educational Research, the Educational Testing Service in the United States, and the Japanese National Institute for Education Research. These organizations are now capable of serving most high-income and some middle-income countries. They are also now working with other organizations, such as the International Institute for Educational Planning and the Institute for Statistics of UNESCO, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank, to increase the capacity of medium- and low-income countries to gather and analyze their own education data. At the same time, the organizations that comprise the infrastructure for Type I studies have taken on a life of their own, blurring the line between those who advocate for, who fund, and who conduct studies. This means that Type I studies have an articulate constituency, well-positioned to advocate for studies at the federal government level. Constituencies for Type II studies are relatively ad hoc, and for Type III studies constituencies are small, and generally not able to make their voices heard. The
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Understanding Others, Educating Ourselves: Getting More from International Comparative Studies in Education potential end-users of education research—secondary researchers, practitioners, state and local policy makers, and the public—tend to be the least well-represented constituency in federal decision making about international comparative studies. This suggests one reason why the usability of all types of education research is currently in question (Lagemann, 2002). This chapter addresses several ways infrastructure at the federal level could increase the usability of international comparative education research by creating a more broadly participatory infrastructure to plan, conduct, and disseminate findings from all types of studies. ORGANIZATIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE In July 1994, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) drafted a “Strategic Plan for International Activities at the National Center for Education Statistics,” aimed at expanding “ways to provide more information about U.S. education from an international perspective” (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 1994, 1995).1 NCES’s international activities program has since focused on developing a robust set of international education statistics, giving highest priority to the activities of cross-national collaborative data collection and analysis. Although the plan included among its main features “to emphasize the development of alternatives to large multinational education studies to collect useful comparative international data,” by default its small staff has focused most of its efforts on the large studies. In the eight years since the plan was prepared, NCES has implemented it with more or less adherence to a strict interpretation of statistics, funding Type I studies and leaving the funding for more interpretive Type II and III studies to other governmental and non-governmental sponsors. Many Type II and III studies are conducted without major funding from the federal government. Within the U.S. Department of Education, various international education directives2 encourage learning more about effective education policies and practices in other countries, but a strategic plan for U.S. government investments encompassing Type II and III studies has not been developed. Recommendation 5: The federal government should create a broadly participatory infrastructure to plan and conduct its international comparative education studies. 1 This strategic plan for 1995-2000 was never finalized, nor were the 1995 draft considerations for implementing the strategic plan. 2 U.S. Department of Education, Planning and Evaluation Services (2000); U.S. Department of Education (2002).
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Understanding Others, Educating Ourselves: Getting More from International Comparative Studies in Education Recommendation 5.1: Although no single federal office can encompass all the responsibilities entailed in building up international comparative studies in education in the U.S. government, the U.S. Department of Education should take the lead in developing a distinct program of international comparative education research studies for the U.S. government. The National Center for Education Statistics remains a prominent focal point for Type I studies. But with a newly reauthorized and robust Institute of Education Sciences (replacing the former Office of Educational Research and Improvement), and through the international program coordinating responsibilities of the Office of the Under Secretary, the department is clearly positioned to fulfill the leadership role for international comparative education research studies expressed in our recommendation. This program should be staffed with experts in international comparative studies in education, and its tasks should include developing policy statements to guide the agenda, inform funding decisions, and monitor all types of studies; updating existing NCES strategy for Type I studies; developing incentives for incorporating international perspectives into more domestically oriented education studies; and planning for building up the international comparative education research community. FUNDING The case for increasing overall funding for education research in the United States has been made in many venues and is not repeated here. Funding international comparative education research or domestic education research should not be approached as a zero-sum game, with funds for international increasing only at the expense of domestic research. Similarly, increasing funding for one type of international study should not necessarily come at the expense of another type. Results from one type of study may raise interest in and willingness to fund other types of studies; the TIMSS Videotape Classroom Study led directly to increases in funding for more qualitative or action research-oriented studies of Japanese lesson study. In addition, given relative costs, it is possible to fund scores of Type II and III studies without approaching the cost of a single repetition of a Type I study of educational achievement or literacy. Recommendation 5.2: In efforts to create a more balanced portfolio of education research, additional funding for international comparative education studies should not be approached as a zero-sum game, with increases for international coming only at the expense
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Understanding Others, Educating Ourselves: Getting More from International Comparative Studies in Education of domestic, nor with increases for Type II and III studies coming only at the expense of Type I studies. Technology offers enormous possibilities for further data collection, yet the capacity and resources to analyze existing data lag behind; expensive, existing international comparative education databases lie underused. Assuming continued, but perhaps less frequent, Type I studies of the quality achieved in recent years, increased efforts to plan for secondary analysis at the design stage, and increased efforts to place primary and secondary data in accessible archives, the quantity of international comparative quantitative data potentially available for secondary analysis in the medium term is adequate. Except for efforts to make their findings and data more useable for various audiences and more accessible for secondary researchers, present levels of funding for Type I studies are adequate and perhaps could be reduced. The 1993 Agenda called for “syntheses of empirical research throughout the world, bringing such research to bear on broad comparative questions of wide interest,” but almost 10 years later few such syntheses— which are most likely to qualify as Type II studies—have been undertaken. The lack of secondary analyses and cross-national syntheses of research may be attributed in part to the reward structure in the U.S. scholarly community, which values primary research more than secondary analysis and syntheses. Additional funding for the latter activities might help to shift this balance and attract a critical mass of scholars to use existing international comparative data and studies from other countries to address topics likely to become short-term policy or basic research questions in the U.S. education community. Recommendation 5.3: Funding agencies, both governmental and nongovernmental, must take the lead in encouraging the next stage of international comparative studies, which go beyond generating high-quality education indicators and correlations, to basic education research and comparative social science. Funding is also an issue in terms of building a field of scholars who can generate a steady and diverse flow of international comparative studies relevant to U.S. education policy. Type I studies can draw on an existing domestic pool of U.S. experts in psychometrics, statistics, and other quantitatively oriented fields. Preparation in these fields tends to be similar for both domestic and international research, and scholars in these fields do not require early specialization in international studies. Other types of international studies, however, demand scholars who have a long-term and ongoing commitment to specialize in the education
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Understanding Others, Educating Ourselves: Getting More from International Comparative Studies in Education system of another culture. Such scholars must devote a substantial part of their career to developing and maintaining up-to-date language skills, area studies, cross-disciplinary skills, and institutional linkages with scholars and education systems in other countries or regions. For significant periods in their careers, these scholars may live outside the United States, and their studies may not be directly related to education. Much of the education regional expertise now extant in the United States was funded piecemeal as future scholars begin language and cultural studies through student exchange programs, proceed through Fulbright-Hays training grants, the Peace Corps, the Department of Education’s foreign language and area studies fellowships, and American Association for the Advancement of Science fellowships with international development organizations, independent of funding specific to education studies. These were the scholars who were ready when U.S. policy makers and the public wanted to know why Japanese students performed so well on TIMSS. Recommendation 5.4: Additional funding for the secondary analyses of international comparative education surveys and cross-national syntheses of important topics should be used to attract a critical mass of scholars to these relatively neglected areas. Similarly, long-term investments are needed to encourage a critical mass of education scholars to develop geographical expertise in the full range of regions, countries, and research methodologies. All of this points to the importance of long-term investments not only to develop individual area experts, but also to develop a critical mass of scholars with specific area expertise. In the 1980s and 1990s, the work of William Cummings, Catherine Lewis, Lois Peak, Tom Rohlen, and others created a body of knowledge about Japanese education that enabled more recent scholars to make sense of new studies in far less time, with far less funding than might have been otherwise possible. Several of the scholars whose studies are cited in this report were the beneficiaries of student exchange programs and funding from the government of Japan. This enabled U.S. scholars to develop proficiency in Japanese early in their careers, leading to deeper and richer analyses later on. Maintaining a healthy, vibrant, and diverse community of comparative education scholars involves funding for all stages of academic development. Longer-term doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships that enable U.S. scholars to develop geographical area and language specialization are relatively inexpensive long-term investments in developing the comparative international education field. In addition, establishing more linkages among U.S. school districts that are interested in implementing international innovations with the scholars who study those innovations,
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Understanding Others, Educating Ourselves: Getting More from International Comparative Studies in Education and exchange groups overseas also represents a modest investment in expanding the number of Americans engaged in looking for and experimenting with a broader range of innovations in education. Japan, and perhaps other countries, have engaged more deliberately in these types of studies than has the United States. In the United States, the work of Liping Ma (Fang, 2002) is a model suggesting that tremendous dividends can be reaped from small amounts of funding to experienced teachers and senior scholars from other countries. A grant of $1,000 enabled Ma to return to China to collect her first round of data, without which she might have been unable to demonstrate to the senior scholars who later supported her work significant differences in the knowledge base of American and Chinese teachers. These dividends were increased when mentors helped Ma develop strong ties to domestically oriented departments in various U.S. schools of education, increasing the likelihood that her findings would make sense to U.S. educators. The cost of the type of study we envision might be as low as several thousand dollars. There is a large pool of foreign education students and scholars already in the United States on which to draw; facilitating their work may or may not require modest diplomatic capital; and, as noted above, the small-scale studies they undertake tend to be less demanding of student, teacher, and administrator time than Type I or II studies. Recommendation 5.5: U.S. funders should support all stages of academic development for international comparative education scholars and encourage foreign scholars to study the U.S. education system.
Representative terms from entire chapter: