[EDLING:89] Some Schools of Education Should Abandon Research Doctorates, Report Says

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at CCAT.SAS.UPENN.EDU
Tue May 8 14:38:51 UTC 2007

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Some Schools of Education Should Abandon Research Doctorates, Report Says

Research-oriented doctoral programs in education vary widely in quality,
and a significant number of them should close up shop, according to a
report released on Monday by the Education Schools Project. The report's
author, Arthur Levine, said in an interview on Monday that he was
confident that schools of education would tighten their standards. "It may
not happen this week or this month or this year," he said. "But it's
inevitable. The field is under siege." The new document, "Educating
Researchers," is the third in a series of reports on schools of education
from Mr. Levine, who served as the president of Teachers College at
Columbia University from 1994 until last year. He is now the president of
the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and director of the
Education Schools Project.

Mr. Levine's previous salvos examined education schools' roles in training
teachers and administrators. The new report looks at how well the schools
perform in training researchers. Mr. Levine and his colleagues conducted
surveys of deans, faculty members, alumni, and school principals;
scrutinized the research productivity and citation history of instructors
in doctoral education programs; and analyzed the dissertations of more
than 1,300 people who earned education doctorates in 2002. The bottom
line: While many institutions that offer doctoral education programs
produce excellent researchers, Mr. Levine writes, many others "are not
strong enough to sustain such programs in terms of their missions, hiring
practices, faculty quantity and quality, research funding, and climate."

In describing the dissertations approved at one large research university
in 2002, Mr. Levine does not mince words: "In general, the research
questions were unworthy of a doctoral dissertation, literature reviews
were dated and cursory, study designs were seriously flawed, samples were
small and particularistic, confounding variables were not taken into
account, perceptions were commonly used as proxies for reality,
statistical analyses were performed frequently on meaningless data, and
conclusions and recommendations were often superficial and without merit
since they were based on the meaningless data collected, and the
dissertations were written in cookie-cutter fashion." A major part of the
problem, Mr. Levine argues, is a "blurring" of the lines between doctoral
programs oriented toward training students to be education researchers
with those oriented toward training them to practice as teachers or
administrators. Students who intend to become administrators -- and who
have no need or desire to receive intensive training in research -- wind
up in programs where they nonetheless need to go through the motions of
writing a dissertation. At many institutions, Mr. Levine suggests, neither
the students nor the instructors take that enterprise very seriously.

Mr. Levine has argued elsewhere that there is generally no need for
administrators to receive doctorates at all; he has said that everyone
would be better off if administrators simply earned two-year degrees
modeled after the M.B.A. (The Chronicle, September 23, 2005).

But the new report does not make that argument explicitly. Instead, Mr.
Levine simply argues that schools of education should draw clear lines
between practice-oriented degrees and research-oriented degrees.

The new report drew praise on Monday from Grover J. (Russ) Whitehurst,
director of the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education
Sciences. "The report covers ground that has been covered previously, but
it does it with new data," Mr. Whitehurst said. "And it comes from a
source that has to be respected and taken seriously by the schools of
education. Dr. Levine is obviously an insider, and he's talking about his
own profession."

Mr. Whitehurst said that schools of education would do well to forge new
alliances with departments of statistics and psychology. He pointed to the
interdisciplinary predoctoral programs that the department has recently
financed at institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University and Florida
State University as potential models. (Mr. Levine, however, said in the
interview that education schools should be cautious about
interdisciplinary projects. "The risk they face is creating a program
where there aren't people with expertise and the boundaries of the field
are amorphous," he said.)

Other readers of the new report were more skeptical than Mr. Whitehurst.
Richard L. Schwab, dean of the University of Connecticut's Neag School of
Education, said in an interview that he agreed with many elements of Mr.
Levine's report, "but it's not new news." For several years, he said,
deans of education have been exploring new ways to delineate between
research-oriented and practice-oriented degrees.

More generally, Mr. Schwab said, schools of education are improving their
research-oriented requirements. "This is my 15th year as a dean," he said,
"and I've seen steady increases in the number of courses, both qualitative
and quantitative, that we're requiring of our students."

Mr. Schwab particularly objected to the report's broad suggestion that
institutions categorized as "Master's I" in the Carnegie classification
scheme should get out of the research-doctorate business.

"I don't think the issue is so much not letting smaller colleges offer the
degree," he said. "There are some very good smaller programs that have
developed a niche expertise that I wouldn't want to see lost."

David G. Imig, a professor of the practice at the University of Maryland's
College of Education, said he shared Mr. Levine's hope that a sense of
crisis would impel schools of education to change their practices. "Where
Arthur has pointed us -- I think we're close to that," he said. "We have
to be close. Or there's a major, major train wreck ahead."

The looming danger, Mr. Imig said, is that schools of education will
become irrelevant to policy debates, as government agencies, school
districts, and nonprofit organizations increasingly hire researchers who
are trained outside of education schools -- that is, people with Ph.D.'s
in economics, statistics, or psychology.

"A fundamental concern," Mr. Imig said, is that education schools are not
producing "the kinds of doctorates that are recognized, celebrated,
invited to engage in the national conversation about education reform."

Mr. Imig, who is a former president of the American Association of
Colleges for Teacher Education, is now coordinating a project of the
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching that is designed to
improve education doctorates. Mr. Imig rejects Mr. Levine's call for the
abolition of the practice-oriented doctorates, but he said that he
otherwise broadly agreed with Mr. Levine's new report.

The Education Schools Project is financed by the Annenberg Foundation, the
Ford Foundation, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and the Wallace
Foundation. The fourth and final report in the series, which Mr. Levine
expects to release in late 2008, will describe in positive terms what he
believes education schools should do.

Copyright  2007 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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