What is it with education research…

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….

European integration business

In an article in the Financial Times, Ernest-Antoine Seilliere (president of Unice, the pan-European business association) accuses European governments of being indifferent and is urging governments to find a rapid solution to the institutional crisis.

Seilliere calls on the European governments to solve these three issues:

First, complete the internal market including services. This will not happen until the myth of the “Polish plumber” – the idea that cheaper workers from Eastern Europe will increasingly take jobs in the west – and other misconceptions have been dispelled. Second, review existing legislation and actions to create better law-making. Regulatory impact assessments must examine the effects on competitiveness. The efficiency of the institutions must not be measured by the number of pages of rules – less is more. Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, knows we will back him on his very attractive plan to scrap absurd EU laws. He has already received some proposals from business. Third, as governments have not yet agreed the EU’s financial resources for 2007-13, give priority to programmes that make the Union more innovative.

As a pro-integrationist I agree with his points: ongoing economic integration, simplification of European regulations and an improvement of European’s business climate will improve the institutional infrastructure of the EU and the competitiveness of its nations.

Great! But the points that Seillere addresses have all been used over and over again in the pro-Europe campaigns in the EU countries that have had a referendum on the European constitution. So who is he addressing in this article? Clearly he is addressing the governments of the EU member states. Does this mean that he’s asking them to bypass the votes that have been cast in countries like France and the Netherlands?

Maybe a 4th issue has to be added: improve the democratic deficit of the EU.

Let’s snap back

Yesterday I finally found the time to listen to Robert Reich’s lecture “How Unequal Can America Get Before We Snap?”. Very interesting and convincing argument presented in an exceptionally humorous but also sharp-witted way (I particularly liked the ‘French designer hips’). His argument is basically that the income disparity in the US has grown since 1979 and is likely to continue growing in the near future. Although everyone is getting better of in an absolute sense, the well-of are getting much more better off than the less well-of.

The two possible outcomes is like what happens with an elastic band: you’ll have either a ‘snap back’ or a ‘snap break’. Although Reich admits to be apocalyptic now and then, he thinks that the US has shown throughout history that it is able to generate a progressive movement in order to create a ‘snap back’ instead of a ‘snap break’ (in the subsequent Q&A he proposes Governor Thomas J. Vilsack of Iowa as a possible leader of such a movement).

It made me wonder if Reich’s argument could be extended to the global level, where inequality is even more manifest than domestically in the US. Are we currently witnessing a ‘snap break’ with increasing terrorist attacks and fundamentalisms (on different sides)? Or is there a global progressive movement that can cause a ‘snap back’?

What’s with the "i"

Remember that in the 1990s the whole world started to use the prefix –e? E-government, e-learning, e-mail, e-universities, etc. At least it was clear then what it stood for: electronic. But why does everything nowadays get the prefix i-? After Apple’s iPod, iTunes, iPhoto, iLife, iWork and after iMode and iBridge, there is now a conference called i2010. So what does the “i” stand for? Information, investment, inclusion, innovation, international, inc., interaction, individualisation..? Or does “i” just stand for “I”?

No worries! For now….

The Global Competitiveness Index has been released again a couple of days ago. It is compiled by the World Economic Forum and assesses 117 national economies. In this years report the top rankings are occupied by the East Asian tigers, the US and the Nordic countries (could this be because of the ‘aquavit model’?).

What rather surprised me was that China and India are ‘only’ on number 49 and 50. All politicians continuously point out that we need to restructure our economies because the Chinese and Indian economies are going to overtake us (I guess ‘us’ in this case means western countries). The WEF says that a more competitive economy (according to their methodology) is one that is likely to grow faster over the medium to long term. So…no worries for the medium to long term?

Country Rankings 2005-2006
1. Finland
2. USA
3. Sweden
4. Denmark
5. Taiwan
6. Singapore
7. Iceland
8. Switzerland
9. Norway
10. Australia
11. Netherlands
12. Japan
13. United Kingdom
14. Canada
15. Germany

24. Malaysia
49. China
50. India
74. Indonesia
117. Chad