Editorial

By Marginson, Simon | Australian Journal of Education, June 2002 | Go to article overview

Editorial


Marginson, Simon, Australian Journal of Education


Issue 46(1) opens with an article by Roy Nash on peer effects in schooling, which takes us into a key question of theory and method: the relationship between quantitative and qualitative research in sociological explanation. Drawing on Bhaskar's realist philosophy of science, Nash provides a clear and original argument. One of the most important contributions to the Australian Journal of Education in recent years, it is a challenge for both quantitative and qualitative educational sociology. Discussing two examples of research on peer effects in some detail, Nash argues for a larger conception of `effects' than positivism allows, and against the derivation of institutional properties from aggregated institutional responses, and finds that orthodox quantitative analysis, one of the Humean legacies in social science, tends to the elimination of the very effects it seeks to find. Nevertheless this does not constitute an argument against quantitative work per se. Quantitative and qualitative researchers might need each other more than they realise.

 
   One set of investigators has an effect--actually a proportion of the 
   variance in attainment associated with an aggregate variable--looking for 
   an explanation, and the other has an observed process looking for an 
   effect. The question for those who have discovered a statistical effect is 
   what processes have caused it. And the question for those who have observed 
   teaching and learning in schools with distinctive class compositions is 
   what effect does this have. There is obviously some basis for accommodation 
   here: if researchers in these different traditions can provide each other 
   with the answer they are seeking, their co-operation might be successful. 

The data on peer effects require such collaboration. The fact that groups of students with similar attitudes towards school make different educational progress is no more comforting for the standard positions in qualitative research than those of quantitative research. Nash also provides an alternative and more complex interpretation of the data: `nothing is as simple as it seems'. The paper does not settle the question of peer effects. Rather it problematises `peer effects' in an illuminating manner which has implications for all research on school attainment and social difference. We welcome comments, rejoinders and other contributions to the discussion that Nash has opened.

Damien Ridge, Jeff Northfield, Lawrence St Leger, Bernie Marshall, Shelley Maher, and Margaret Sheehan take us from theory and method in research to school policy and practice. They too are concerned to problematise one of the oppositions traditional to education. Their focus is not on the relationship between quantitative and qualitative research; it is the relationship between health and education. Using 13 case studies, taken from a diverse sample of 100 schools, they examine the implementation of the Health Promoting Schools program funded by VicHealth in Victoria between 1997 and 2000. Against the conception of health education as external to the mainstream curriculum and in time conflict with it--a conception reinforced by the health sector's single issue approach to changing health behaviours through education programs--they argue for a holistic approach to health programs. Here health education becomes a vehicle for advancing the skills and knowledge that education provides. They conclude that `there needs to be more ownership by the [education] sector of health programs' with `less reliance on the health sector to fund interventions, packages and kits'.

The next three articles embody three quite different ways of thinking about student achievement. Andrew Martin's approach is conceptual, while focused also on imagined classroom practice. He explores the concepts of motivation and of `academic resilience'.

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