Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Whose Reality? A Meta-Analysis of Qualitative Research in International and Comparative Education

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Whose Reality? A Meta-Analysis of Qualitative Research in International and Comparative Education

Article excerpt

The landscape of global educational reform in the last thirty years is characterized by the push for quantifiable, outcome-based objectives that lend themselves to data collection and statistical analysis. This trend has led to an overwhelming emphasis on research that is based on a scientific, data driven approach that allows for easily definable and measured conclusions (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005; Lather, 2004; Lincoln & Cannella, 2004). As a result, many qualitative researchers have warned about quantitative work being upheld as the golden standard in building and justifying education policies, at the expense of qualitative research methods. Even where qualitative methods are employed, they might not remain true to their constructivist origins, and instead may become yet another methodology in the toolbox of post-positivist researchers (Firestone, 1987; Smith & Heshusius, 1986). This meta-analysis examines recent qualitative research in the field of international and comparative education and assesses the extent to which this research remains true to the constructivist paradigm and the worldview it espouses. The main questions we seek to address are:

   Has the push for scientific standards in education research led
   qualitative research published in comparative and international
   education journals to align itself with a post-positivist rather
   than constructivist paradigm?

   Is the constructivist paradigm still adequately represented in the
   qualitative research published in influential journals in the field
   of comparative and international education?

   Is there cause for concern that the post-positivist paradigm has
   come to dominate qualitative research in the comparative and
   international education field, and may thus be limiting the scope
   of research produced?

Meta-analysis is most often defined as a quantitative synthesis of information from several studies (Trikalinos et al., 2008). However, a qualitative meta-analysis can allow for the systematic review of qualitative studies in a way that is more interpretive than aggregative (Ke, 2009). While the term meta-analysis typically invokes the process of combining findings across studies to determine the effect of some experimental or quasi-experimental treatment (Glass, 1976), in this case we used the term to describe the selection of studies with a common trait (i.e., qualitative methods) and the examination of their use of the qualities associated with the constructivist paradigm. The interdisciplinary nature of the field of comparative education, as mentioned above, opened this analysis up to the apples and oranges and file drawer validity threats recounted by Sharpe (1997) in his discussion of the problems of conducting meta-analyses. We delve into this in more detail in the discussion section.

Our qualitative meta-analysis seeks to address the extent to which the most recently published qualitative research does in fact contribute an additional paradigmatic perspective, thus benefiting the field by offering a more in-depth understanding of complex phenomena. This study contributes to paradigmatic debates within the field of comparative and international education by examining how bias toward any particular approach is evident through publication of research in some highly recognized journals. In addition, this review attempts a critical, nuanced examination of the types of qualitative studies that are accepted into these journals. This meta-analysis looks at the influences that contribute to the research design of today's qualitative theorists. Challenging unfair and potentially harmful biases within the academic world, this research allows for continued advocacy and discussion about the vital contributions of work from the constructivist realm.

Conceptual Framework

Since the mid-1980's, various voices in the broader educational community have expressed concerns about the ways in which the post-positivist paradigm and the scientific standards it espouses were coming to dominate discourse in education research (Firestone, 1987; Smith & Heshusius, 1986). …

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