In Brief

It will take multiple social science methodologies to effectively study and find solutions to today's most pressing education problems--such as gaps in student literacy and low performance in math and science--presenters said during a national forum on educational research.

The Center for Education of the National Research Council convened the Dec. 14 forum, "Applying multiple social science research methods to educational problems," to foster discussion of how researchers can blend different research methods, including experimental, quasiexperimental, case studies and others. Attended by psychologists and other social scientists, the forum was co-sponsored by four organizations, including APA's Education and Science directorates and the Decade of Behavior.

Blending such methodologies as historical research, surveys, randomized experiments, meta-analyses, interviews and classroom observation sheds light not only on what educational interventions work, but how and for whom, said attendee Stephen W. Raudenbush, EdD, a professor of education, statistics and sociology and a senior research scientist at the University of Michigan. During the conference, Rena Subotnik, PhD, director of the APA Education Directorate's Center for Psychology in Schools and Education, and Susan Bodilly, PhD, associate director for RAND Education, gave an overview of and led discussions on Raudenbush's paper, "Learning from attempts to improve schooling: The contribution to methodological diversity." The paper, which Raudenbush also discussed, was commissioned for the forum.

In one example of blending methodologies: Greg Duncan--the Edwina S. Tarry Professor of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University--highlighted how researchers mixed qualitative and quantitative approaches to evaluate the New Hope program, an antipoverty program in Milwaukee. Researchers used randomly sampled qualitative cases from New Hope participants and trained graduate student research assistants to conduct qualitative interviews and analyze quantitative data.

But researchers are not always clear on which quantitative and qualitative methodologies are best to blend, presenters said. Thomas Cook, PhD--a professor of sociology, psychology, education and social policy at Northwestern University--said that which qualitative methods are more effective and how various quantitative ways relate to qualitative methods remains unclear. He called for social scientists to study which methodologies can best assess K-12 education problems and help schools modify their practices.

The forum also explored the implications for school district consultations, graduate student training and funding of adopting multiple methods research as the gold standard. Merry Bullock, PhD, associate executive director in APA's Science Directorate, moderated a session of speakers from funding agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Carnegie Corp., to explore their views of next steps in educational research.


Further Reading

Audio recordings and transcripts of the conference's sessions are available at