Addressing the "Research Gap" in Special Education through Mixed Methods

By Klingner, Janette K.; Boardman, Alison G. | Learning Disability Quarterly, August 2011 | Go to article overview

Addressing the "Research Gap" in Special Education through Mixed Methods


Klingner, Janette K., Boardman, Alison G., Learning Disability Quarterly


Abstract

At least some of the challenges faced in special education, such as the disproportionate representation of culturally and linguistically diverse students, the gap between research and practice, and inequitable educational opportunities, can be explained in part by a research gap, or, in other words, a failure to conduct the different types of research best suited for addressing the complicated issues faced in schools. In this article we discuss the benefits of being more open to and welcoming of mixed methods when conducting special education research. We provide an overview of mixed-methods research and explain different philosophical concepts associated with mixed methods. We emphasize why it is important to foreground culture when conducting educational research. We also compare educational research with research in the medical field and challenge the notion of randomized controlled trials as the "gold standard." We finish by sharing an example of our own mixed-methods research.

Keywords

mixed methods research, research to practice, qualitative research

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At least some of the challenges faced in education, such as the achievement gap between White students and students of color (Lee, 2002), the disproportionate representation of culturally and linguistically diverse students in special education (Donovan & Cross, 2002; Harry & Klingner, 2006), the gap between research and practice (Elmore, 1996; Schneider & McDonald, 2007; Vaughn, Klingner, & Hughes, 2000), and inequities in educational opportunities (Ball & Forzani, 2007; da Silva, Huguley, Kakli, & Rao, 2007), can be explained in part by a research gap, or, in other words, a failure to conduct the different types of research best suited for addressing the complicated issues faced in schools. A broader view of research that encompasses mixed methods would enable special education scholars to collect empirical data relevant to issues involving culture, language, social interaction, and cognition (Gee, 2001), thereby expanding the kinds of research problems that can be addressed and the applicability of findings. Our position is that the U.S. Department of Education overrelies on randomized control trials for determining what works (Chatterji, 2005; Eisenhart, 2006; Raudenbush, 2005). At the very least, the practicability of randomized control trials is limited when the data collected are insufficient for contextualizing the results or for supporting real world applications (Spillane et al., 2010). Researchers sometimes gather and analyze a wealth of qualitative data that are never reported or used to understand quantitative findings because of the premium placed on significance values and effect sizes. We claim that mixed methods that combine quantitative and qualitative research tools can support stronger scientific inferences than when either is employed in isolation (Feuer, Towne, & Shavelson, 2002) and that mixed methods are better positioned to determine what works (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011). On this point, Raudenbush (2005), a highly respected quantitative research methodologist, asserts,

   The question before us now is not whether to employ mixed
   methods in education research generally; rather, the question
   is how to employ them in the service of a newly dominant
   research agenda that seeks to evaluate claims about the
   causal effects of interventions aimed to improve teaching
   and learning in the nation's classrooms.... Well-designed
   randomized experiments are, I believe, necessary but not
   sufficient for determining what works. (p. 25)

Mixed-methods designs are better suited to unraveling educational phenomena"of enormous complexity" (Berliner, 2002, p. 20). "Because the U.S. education system is so heterogeneous and the nature of teaching and learning so complex, attention to context is especially critical for understanding the extent to which theories and findings may generalize to other times, places, and populations" (Shavelson & Towne, 2002, p. …

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