Bodong Chen

Crisscross Landscapes

Notes: Berliner2002-jo- Comment: Educational research: The hardest science of all



Citekey: @Berliner2002-jo

Berliner, D. C. (2002). Comment: Educational research: The hardest science of all. Educational Researcher, 31(8), 18–20.


Summarize: An argument against the sole promotion / endorsement of randomized control trials / experiments in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Nicely argued.


The “evidence-based practices” and “scientific research” men- tioned over 100 times in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 are code words for randomized experiments, a method of re- search with which I too am much enamored (p. 1)

Discussion of these issues leads to the conclusion that educational science is unusually hard to do and that the government may not be serious about wanting evidence-based practices in education. (p. 1)

The government seems to be inappropriately diverging from the two definitions of science provided above by confusing a particular method of science with science itself. This is a form of superstitious thinking that is the antithesis of science. (p. 1)

Hard and Soft Science: A Flawed Dichotomy (p. 1)

Definitions of Science (p. 1)

I admire Richard Feynman’s (1999) definition of science as “the belief in the ignorance of authority” (p. 187). (p. 1)

Ed- ucational research is considered too soft, squishy, unreliable, and imprecise to rely on as a basis for practice in the same way that other sciences are involved in the design of bridges and electronic circuits, sending rockets to the moon, or developing new drugs. (p. 1)

As politicians recognize that “facts are negotiable, perceptions are rock solid,” so there is no guarantee that science will reduce ignorance. But as long as argument is tolerated and unfettered, that possibility exists. (p. 1)

Easy-to-do science is what those in physics, chemistry, ge- ology, and some other fields do. (p. 1)

really? (p. 1)

neither confuses science with method or technique, (p. 1)

The Power of Contexts (p. 2)

But they have more often found regularities in nature across physical contexts while we struggle to find regularities across social contexts. (p. 2)

Each local context was different, re- quiring differences in programs, personnel, teaching methods, budgets, leadership, and kinds of community support. These huge context effects cause scientists great trouble in trying to un- derstand school life. (p. 2)

In this hardest-to-do science, educators often need knowledge of the particular—the local—while in the easier-to-do sciences the aim is for more general knowl- edge. (p. 2)

Doing science and implementing scientific findings are so dif- ficult in education because humans in schools are embedded in complex and changing networks of social interaction. (p. 2)

There were 93 classroom contexts, 93 dif- ferent patterns of the relationship between evaluation anxiety and student achievement, and a general scientific conclusion that completely missed the particularities of each classroom situation. (p. 2)

embedded- (p. 2)

ness of educational phenomena in social life, which results in the myriad interactions that complicate our science. (p. 3)

Decade by Findings Interactions (p. 3)

There is still another point about the uniqueness of educational science, the short half-life of our findings. (p. 3)

Instead of putting its imprimatur on the one method of sci- entific inquiry to improve education, the government would do far better to build our community of scholars, as recommended in the NRC report. (p. 3)

Decade by findings interactions seem more common in the so- cial sciences and education than they do in other scientific fields of inquiry, making educational science very hard to do. (p. 3)

A single method is not what the government should be promoting for educational researchers (p. 3)