Handbook of Reading Research - Vol. II

By Rebecca Barr; Michael L. Kamil et al. | Go to book overview

7
POLITICS, POLICY, AND READING RESEARCH

Patrick Shannon

In an analysis of What Works: Research about Teaching and Learning ( U.S. Department of Education, 1986), Gene V. Glass ( 1987) argues that the Reagan administration selected among educational research findings in order to prepare a document that would promote its conservative vision of schooling among state and local jurisdictions. Although he deplores this use of educational research, Glass acknowledges that such selectivity may be the rule rather than the exception concerning the negotiations, development, and implementation of educational policy, regardless of who is in the White House, the state house, or the school boardroom. Glass's criticism is important for reading researchers because it identifies several layers of the inherent politics of educational policy making and research -- a subject long neglected within the reading research community. Through an extension of Glass's underlying logic, we can see both an agenda and a process for examining the development of educational policy and its effects on the structure and process of reading education in schools.

First, Glass admits that the interpretation of educational research depends heavily upon the political assumptions of the interpreters. That is, he states that others do not agree with his assessment of What Works because they overlook its politics, find it politically expedient to endorse the document, or share its conservative assumption about human nature, ideal social organizations, and the role of schooling.

Second, Glass implies that groups who seek to influence educational policy do so as much for political reasons as they do to reach pedagogic goals. As evidence, he criticizes the promotion by What Works of research findings that require little governmental involvement or support (e.g., more homework, more phonics), while ignoring "more heavily documented," but costly findings that run contrary to the department's conservative philosophy (e.g., cooperative learning, smaller class size, and so on).

Third, Glass considers the power relations among the individuals or groups who seek to influence educational policy. Specifically, he worries about the abilities of school districts and state officials who disagree with the thrust of What Works to withstand the pressure of the federal government when it operates outside regular legislative channels as an independent pressure group. His concern is heightened by the fact that 300,000 copies of What Works were in circulation within three months of its printing.

Finally, Glass implies that education research itself is political, although he does not state this explicitly. The implication is embedded in the ease with which he classifies educational research as being supportive of conservative or liberal politics. If the research studies were not based on the same assumptions about human nature and society as the political philosophies, then it would be much more difficult for Glass to make his points about the selection of research to support political goals.

From start to finish, then, Glass maintains that the policy-making process is replete with political activity: the definition of the problems, the intended solution, the research to support that solution, the research itself, and the negotiations of the

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