Is Hake's "Yes!" defensible???
Even without reference to Boaler's papers, the
NRC's Education Center's criteria for "scientific educational research" (as
published by the National Academies Press) might be worth examining in some
detail ... before even attempting to use them in support or denial
of the scientific credibility of research by Boaler or anyone else.
Of course, the over-riding question is of how well
the Education Center's criteria characterize "scientific research in
education." For, those criteria appear to be glibly superficial and badly
unknowing about the nature of science.
(1) Pose Significant Questions That Can Be
Scientific knowledge does not advance only through
merely posing "questions." All substantial scientific advancements
have come through the development and verification of
scientific *theories* which describe whatever phenomena they
respectively attend. True, "questions" have their place in motivating particular
pursuits within the context of specific scientific theories. But to assert that
all scientific theories are developed through pursuing specific "questions" is a
bit far fetched and much too scholastic for serious scientists to
swallow. Rather, that assertion appears to be the Center's defense of
educators' claims that their "boards and bricks" kinds of fragmentary
investigations can in some ways be "scientific."
In the macrocosm, what is the scientific
theory which Boaler's works serve to advance? In the microcosm, what
are the "questions" that she has pursued? Are they genuinely *scientific*
questions about specific phenomena that are sufficiently well-defined so that
other researchers can readily focus on exactly the same questions? ... or are
they too nebulous to determine what her "answers" actually say, if
And when do the Education Center's scientific
questions become "significant"? When the answers open the way for progress
... if not for mankind, then at least for further development of the
scientific theory. No theory? ... no significance. No leads toward important
future developments? ... no significance.
The scientific importance, significance, and
credibility of Boaler's works (or anyone else's) can be assessed only
within the context of how well-defined her scientific "questions" are,
within the broader context of whatever scientific theories she is helping to
Traditionally, educational research has badly failed to be
"scientific", because it typically has been about collecting "bricks
and boards data" that merely hint at possible truths about nebulous
populations or phenomena ... rather than about developing scientific
theories about well defined kinds of entities. [My personal skepticism about the
science-ness of traditional "educational research" precludes my own
serious investigations into her works.]
(2) Link Research to Relevant
Not just to "relevant theory", but specifically to the
*encompassing scientific* theory. To speak of "scientific research" within the
context of badly non-scientific "theories" ... that are no more than
personal/committee/community opinions ... is a gross misuse of the label.
Only if/whenever Boaler's works/questions/answers can be
regarded within the context of an emerging, but definitive scientific theory can
they be regarded as being *scientific findings*. [True, some persons might
feel that they perceive a scientific theory into which her works might fit ...
but unless/until she provides such a scientific context, her works do not
qualify as being "scientific." [Again, my skepticism about traditional
"educational research" precludes my investigations into her
(3) Use Methods That Permit Direct
Investigation of the Question,
Methods which *others* can use for achieving *the same
(well-defined) answers* to the same, well-defined "questions" ... or, in the
broader context, methods which invariably yield exactly the same findings, about
phenomena of essentially the same kind. Boaler's "conclusions" can be
scientifically credible only if her "experiments" can be replicated by others
... and invariably produce the same results. Only if the nature
and proceedings of her investigations are so clear that others can do as she
did, can she hope for her works to be scientifically credible. [Again, my
skepticism about traditional "educational research" precludes my
investigations into her works.]
(4) Provide a Coherent and Explicit Chain of
Of *scientific* reasoning ... done within the context of
an evolving scientific theory. Such a theory must clearly describe the kind of
things it is talking about ... clearly define its crucial concepts ... clearly
specify its established facts and conclusions ... and combine all of those
with some newly acquired concepts/facts to logically derive the
"answers" to the newly posed "questions." If/when Boaler's conclusions
have that kind of theoretical basis, they thereby become admissible as
candidates for scientific credibility. [Again, my skepticism about traditional
"educational research" precludes my investigations into her specific
(5) Replicate and Generalize Across Studies
The scientific *studies* must be replicable ... and
their *results* must generalize across all such studies. But true
reliability and generality can happen only to the extent that the "studies"
and results are well-defined within the context of an evolving scientific
theory. Nebulous "studies" are of no scientific value ... and their
"findings" enjoy no scientific credibility. Likewise for educators'
"bricks and boards" data-collections, in general. But the attacks on her
"studies" and the "findings" of her experiments are scientifically
naïve (or scientifically irresponsible) straw men. Identifying weaknesses
in her methodologies cannot (as the challenges should know) disprove her claims
of generality. The only responsible mode of refuting her "findings" lies in
subsequent studies "of the same" kind failing to produce findings of her
kind ... or in producing even findings that directly contradict hers.
Otherwise, their attacks on her experimental methods can be regarded
only as being non-scientific efforts to uphold some contrary beliefs. On
the other hand, her only academic defense lies in subsequent studies "of the
same" kind producing findings "of the same kind." Endeavors of either kind
necessarily rely on her studies being so well defined
that they can be replicated by others. [Again, my
skepticism about traditional "educational research" precludes my
investigations into her specific works.]
(6) Disclose Research to Encourage Professional
Scrutiny and Critique.
"Disclose research"??? ... whatever might the Education
Center mean by that!? My best guess is that they should mean
"disclose the theoretical framework, the motivations for the particular
investigations, the procedures used for conducting the investigations, the
conclusions, the rationale for reaching the conclusions, and any empirical
verifications of those conclusions" ... all of which are to be done within the
context of the evolving scientific theory. For, these six criteria are supposed
to be "... six guiding principles that
underlie all scientific inquiry, including education research. [Again, my skepticism about traditional "educational research"
precludes my investigations into her specific works.]
I am even more skeptical about trying to use the Education
Center's description of "scientific educational research" as a basis for
supporting or denying the scientific-ness of any educational research effort ...
or of anything else, for that matter. I am amazed that the NRC would
allow such a publication.
So what does the above analysis say about Boaler's
works? Absolutely nothing ... except that they cannot be scientifically credible
without being scientifically definitive, within the context of a scientific
theory! What about the challengers? Absolutely nothing ... except that they
cannot be scientifically credible without being scientifically definitive within
the context of a scientific theory! Their sociological disputes over her methods
of educational research have no scientific meanings.
About Hake's, "Yes!": If Richard knows of some
evolving scientific theory to which Boaler has contributed to to its
development, I'm all ears ... not so much because of her own contributions, as
because of the earthshaking importance and significance of any such
scientific theory. Methinks that, unfortunately, Richard's
"Yes!" stems not from science, as such, but from his other instructological
information which has yet to congeal as a bona fide science. If
so, Boaler's "findings" (whatever her methodology) might somehow help
nurture the development of such a science. But unless such a science
already hides within an inner sanctum of mathematics instructology, it is worse
than rash to claim that her findings are scientifically reliable.
Yes, there is growing, scientifically reliable evidence
that some specific kinds of mathematics-instruction "reforms" will result in
easier, more productive ways of achieving even traditional goals of curricular
mathematics education, plus others. Some of those reforms are clearly
in harmony with some of Hake's contentions. But that is quite a different matter
from proclaiming specific educational research efforts to be in some way
"scientific." We (the world) are more than anxious to learn of whatever
educational research efforts qualify as being genuinely "scientific." They are
not at all easy to locate.
Sent: Friday, October 19, 2012 5:00 PM
Subject: [math-learn] Is "Education Research" "Scientific Research"
Some subscribers to Math-Learn might be interested in a recent post
'Education Research' 'Scientific Research' ? YES!" [Hake
Chandy at <http://bit.ly/PfqJqt> wrote (liberally
paraphrasing and drastically condensing); "Judging from his posts on
over 40-post Math-Teach thread 'Jo Boaler reveals attacks by
Bishop' at <http://bit.ly/Ty9tbf>, Robert Hansen is wrong
in his claim that 'Education Research' is not 'Scientific Research.'
To which Hansen at <http://bit.ly/RHESbF> responded with the
following statement (paraphrasing) of which the 2nd and 3rd sentences
are blatantly false (as I indicate in this post): "In scientific
research, conclusions are tested repeatedly by many different
researchers. In educational research, they are not. One does a study,
claims success, publishes it and that is the end of it."
Academies' "Scientific Research in Education" at
<http://bit.ly/VjrQaV> suggests six guiding
principles that underlie
all scientific inquiry, including education
research: (1) Pose
Significant Questions That Can Be Investigated
Empirically, (2) Link
Research to Relevant Theory, (3) Use Methods That
Investigation of the Question, (4) Provide a Coherent and
Chain of Reasoning, (5) Replicate and Generalize Across Studies,
(6) Disclose Research to Encourage Professional Scrutiny and
In my opinion Jo Boaler's research - see the material at
<http://bit.ly/R6XsuP> & <http://joboaler.com/> and Boaler &
(2008) at <http://bit.ly/R8FGsG> - satisfies all the
whereas the unpublished, undated, and referenceless
Boaler's research by Bishop, Clopton, & Milgram at
To access the
complete 12 kB post please click on <http://bit.ly/Vdj88z>.
Emeritus Professor of Physics, Indiana University
Links to Articles: <http://bit.ly/a6M5y0>
Links to Socratic
Dialogue Inducing (SDI) Labs: <http://bit.ly/9nGd3M>
URL's shortened by <http://bit.ly/> and
19 Oct 2012.]
Hake, R.R. 2012. "Is 'Education Research'
'Scientific Research' ?
YES!" online on the OPEN! AERA-L archives at <http://bit.ly/Vdj88z>.
Post of 19 Oct
2012 13:11:11-0700 to AERA-L and Net-Gold. The
abstract and link to the
complete post are being transmitted to
several discussion lists and are also
on my blog "Hake'sEdStuff" at
<http://bit.ly/OPmCjt> with a provision for
[Non-text portions of this message have been