Professor Terry Moe from the Political Science Department of Stanford University recently spoke some provocative words at the University of Sydney. The Higher Education section of The Australian reports about her talk at the Schooling for the 21st Century conference in Sydney. Here are some of her provocative statements:

“If you were in political science and you proposed something like vouchers [enabling families to choose schools], there’d be a big theoretical discussion. In education, they’re thinking, what is the impact on the system which we all really care about and are invested in? As a result, a lot of education research is, I think, of poor quality. A lot of it is mixed with ideology.”

“My hope is that education will really develop as a social science and that we can have really honest exchanges. I’ve been in [Stanford’s political science] department 24 years – I’m the chairman of the department – and basically I don’t know anybody’s ideology in the department. We do our work and our work doesn’t really have anything to do with our own personal ideology”.

“Well, in the education school that’s not true … they know where people stand and they know it when they hire people, and that’s why they don’t hire people like me. If you do support markets, for what I consider to be truly legitimate theoretical and research-based reasons, [then] all I am is just a conservative … I’m a right-wing nut who’s dangerous”.

“This is not just the Stanford education school, this is a general problem, I think.”

Does she have a point? I must admit that I have heard the argument before from US political scientists and public policy scholars. And also some Australians criticise educational research. Although I work in a Faculty of Education, I don’t consider myself an education researcher. I got my Ph.D. in a department of public administration and policy studies (the Dutch system for some strange reason does not award doctorates in a particular discipline). I have been in Sydney’s Faculty of Education only for a short time now and cannot really judge their educational research since I am not familiar with it. The research that I am familiar with in the faculty is more of a sociological or political science nature. This research is not mixed with ideology and it is definitely not of poor quality. I only know the work of a few faculty members of Stanford’s School of Education like Francisco Ramirez, Martin Carnoy and Patricia Gumport (which again should be considered sociologists and economists more than educational researchers) and I wouldn’t consider their work of poor quality.

But what is it then with educational research? Is it too much mixed with ideology and is it of poor quality? Or shouldn’t it be judged by ‘social science standards’? Or isn’t there anything wrong with mixing with ideology? I do agree here with Moe that ideology stands in the way of objective research. In my previous position I didn’t know what my colleagues’ ideologies were (well, of some of them I did, but that was not based on their research but just because I knew them personally). Moe also says that she doesn’t know anybody’s ideology in her department. Well, I’m pretty sure I know what the ideology is of one of their professors: Prof. Condoleezza Rice….

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