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Principals Diary

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April 2019
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  1. Toward Strengthening the Preparation of Teacher Educator


    Educators, scholars, and policy makers agree that quality research is needed to improve teaching and teacher education This is especially true in the current climate of increasing pressures to produce research that can guide policy making in an age of standards-based reform and teacher accountability. As pressures to enhance student achievement and teaching practice mount, so too does the demand for better and more rigorous empirical educational research that can inform policies and practice. Critical to this improvement is the preparation and training of educational researchers in doctoral programs.

    It is often presumed that teacher educators who have completed doctoral programs possess the knowledge and skills to conduct research that can contribute to the knowledge base of teaching and teacher education. It is also expected that the academic work produced by these teacher educators be useful in informing teaching practice, teacher education, and policies. However, much has been written about the lack of rigor and weaknesses in work produced by educational researchers in general and teacher educators in particular. Questions about the value of some contributions to the collective knowledge about teaching and teacher education have been raised Differences in traditions, purposes, design, and foci among different doctoral programs engendered, in part, by the lack of consensus about standards of good research and complicated by the multiple disciplinary traditions within the field of educational research as well as the lack of distinction between PhD and EdD degrees have not helped matters. Although recently some discourse has occurred around improving the preparation of educational researchers in doctoral programs research about teacher educators and their research preparation in doctoral programs is understudied and in its infancy. Much is still unknown about the links between teacher education programs and subsequent teacher performance and student achievement. A similar gap exists between researcher preparation and the subsequent quality of educational researchers. There is much to be learned about how best to prepare teacher educators in the midst of enduring charges of low-quality research and increasing demands for research that can inform policy and practice. The principal aim of this editorial is to provoke thought and dialogue about how to prepare better teacher educator/researchers in research-focused doctoral programs and propose possible research areas that may be useful to strengthening or rethinking their preparation. Although we recognize that being prepared to be a good teacher educator-researcher inacademeencompasses more than simply being prepared to conduct high-quality educational research, such as learning to be a strong teacher and mentor , we focus our discussion on the research preparation component in doctoral programs to stimulate deeper thought about better practices for preparing and training teacher educator-researchers. We frame our discussion around three questions: What should be learned about research? How should candidates learn to do research? How can learning about and doing research be sustained beyond doctoral programs?

    What Should Be LearnedAbout Research?

    Learning about research encompasses many aspects. It is expected generally that in doctoral programs, aspiring educational researchers learn to understand the complexity of research issues from multiple disciplinary traditions of theory and method and situate their work so that it contributes to the collective understanding of the field  Students of education must undertake the following : absorb the content of what they read, determine what is known and what needs to be known, identify important ongoing disciplinary debates,develop the judgment to discriminate between work of high quality and mediocre efforts, extract useful information on which to build, juxtapose multiple theoretical perspectives and explanations, connect research studies to one another, synthesize and reappraise others’ work, and learn the stylistic conventions of written work, such as norms of what to say and what to omit.  We use the term educational research literacy to describe one of the goals of doctoral student education. Borrowing from the concept of attaining “scientific literacy” or “language arts literacy,” achieving a minimal level of “research literacy” means that doctoral students are able to read, understand, and evaluate different types of research; develop meaningful research questions situated within a historical and theoretical context; develop strategies and collect and convert empirical data into text; and communicate their ideas in clear and coherent ways to intended audiences. It is implied that developing basic research literacy includes the development of fundamental skills of numeracy, reading, and technical writing, all using the specialized language of educational research. To be fully research literate, doctoral students need to develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of researchers as well as to be able to reason and argue from evidence and read research critically. In this regard, critical consumers of research need to have an in-depth understanding of the cores and canons of educational knowledge and methodologies and should be able to recognize the implications of historical, sociological, moral, ethical, and political issues within the field of teaching and teacher education. Being able to distinguish between high-quality and lowquality research necessitates being knowledgeable about the general standards for high-quality research, such as those outlined by the National Research Council’s Committee on Scientific Research in Education.These standards highlight the importance of selecting central questions, linking research questions to theoretical frameworks situated within relevant literature, adhering to rigorous design, disclosing methods for replication and generalization, using explicit chains of reasoning, and linking results to theory, practice, and policy. In 2008, 6,578 education doctorate degrees were awarded from a wide range of programs and institutions of varying quality in the United States . Of these, 274 of the recipients specialized in teacher education . Although recipients of doctoral degrees from other specialized areas in education (English education, mathematics education, etc.) or more generalized areas such as curriculum and instruction, adult education, and so on, may also find their niches in teacher education when they are employed in academe, it is reasonable to assume that approximately 5% of recipients of educational doctorates have specialized research interests in teacher education. Many prospective teacher educator-researchers who enter doctoral programs are former K-12 teachers prepared in education schools . Because their preparation at both the baccalaureate and master’s degree levels is mostly in education schools, many prospective teacher educator-researchers are prepared primarily to teach and may not have had opportunities to develop deep disciplinary knowledge of theories, subject matter, or methods that would allow for epistemological debates or the generation of knowledge within a field.Even though this lack of opportunity in predoctoral studies may not be unique to the field of education, beginning education doctoral students appear often to have had little exposure to theories. In their predoctoral training, most teacher education students are prepared to focus on what and how to teach rather than on theoretical thinking and the processes of knowledge construction. As Wilson  remarked- they  have not read Weber or Bourdieu,Kingdon, Parsons, Freire. They have little understanding of functionalism, behaviorism, socioculturalism, Marxism, or feminism. Indeed, finding a theory that helps them conceptualize an interesting piece of research, and another (sometimes quite different) theory that helps illuminate their results, is one of the most challenging aspects of doctoral study.  Upon entering doctoral programs, many teacher education students, with limited research knowledge and experience, undergo conceptual transformational shifts from classroom teacher to researcher . Labaree argued that “the shift from K-12 teaching to educational research often asks students to transform their cultural orientation from normative to analytical, from personal to intellectual, from the particular to the universal, and from the experiential to the theoretical” . Teacher educator doctoral candidates are usually older, with substantial experiences in teaching, which often disposes them to seek answers or solutions to problems that are immediate, practical, and personal instead of how and why something works. Because of the differences in the nature of their work, conditions, institutional demands and professional incentives, teachers and researchers often hold different orientations to education in the way they engage in educational practice and think about education (Labaree, 2008). Doctoral candidates are often expected to acquire a deep understanding of educational theory and research within a relatively short time period while contending with this shift in worldviews. Discourse is beginning to identify areas that doctoral students often find challenging in learning about research. For example, both Metz (2001) and Floden (2008) described the difficulties doctoral students encounter when understanding the bidirectional effects of generating significant research questions and feasible methods. Boote and Beile (2005) argued that there is not enough attention paid to the importance of developing the skills and knowledge essential for the synthesis and analysis of existing studies in constructing quality literature reviews in doctoral programs, leaving many candidates unable to articulate clearly and frame a researchable question. Lagemann (2000), Pallas (2001), and Metz (2001) discussed the difficulties and struggles of helping doctoral students understand the epistemological diversity, and the subtle nuances and implicit assumptions, among different research methods. Much of the literature on learning about research in doctoral programs uses anecdotal evidence, generalizations, and descriptions of programs rather than systematic inquiries of specific conceptual challenges students face in doctoral programs (Kecskemethy, 2008). One of the areas for future research may be to continue with more systematic and acute investigations of the challenges doctoral students experience in attaining deep theoretical understanding of methodology and educational knowledge. In addition, future research might involve the examination of ways to overcome these barriers by doctoral candidates, mentors, and professors and the examination of features of successful methods and programs. In this way, a curriculum for attaining research literacy may be developed and strengthened. One of the ongoing debates in educational research literacy pertains to the breadth and depth of preparing doctoral students in learning about research. With only three courses in research methodology required in many American doctoral programs, scholars question whether it is possible to prepare students with the depth and competence required for meaningful participation in high-quality educational research, work of high enough quality to influence theory, practice, and policy .Some argue for the broadening of students’ preparation beyond their own specialty areas to include interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and transdisciplinary experiences, while others argue that students should be prepared to have specialized competence in one methodological tradition . In addition, some of authors have even argued for the fortification of learning about quantitative methods to conduct the large-scale studies that policy makers often demand rather than more interpretive methods to answer specifically some of the critical questions in teaching, teacher education, and policy. Still others have maintained that doctoral students need to be prepared to be flexible in a multitude of methodological traditions to answer all types of important educational questions. While these debates continue, it is clear that more research is needed about doctoral preparation for research literary. For instance, additional research is needed to investigate the ratio of methodological preparation to the study of foundational or empirical literature in doctoral programs. In addition, how should learning about research best be configured in doctoral programs to achieve research literacy? Are dissertations demonstrative of attaining research literacy? Are there more innovative instructional methods or configurations than the traditional reading group communities in doctoral programs ? Furthermore, just as attaining research literacy needs to be conceptualized and explored further, so too does the examination of the guidelines and generic conventions of what constitutes acceptable standards of research. This raises the question of whether doctoral programs should be oriented to a common core of knowledge that should be attained by all doctoral students, as advocated by the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate and recommended by the National Research Council. Or should doctoral programs focus more on individual learning experiences where doctoral education is seen more as a personal and individual undertaking and common preparation experiences are less critical (Neumann et al., 2008)? This tension is further revealed when examining the issue of doctoral students learning to do research.

    How Should Candidates Learn to Do Research?

    Not only is learning about research important, but learning to do research is another crucial element in improving the quality of research preparation in doctoral programs. The apprenticeship model is the most prevalent and common to most doctoral programs . At many research institutions, students typically learn about research methodology and statistics in a series of courses and may participate in a research project either individually or as part of a professor’s research team prior to proposing and completing their dissertation research. If students participate on a professor’s research team, they are usually advised and mentored by that particular professor and are likely to produce research that extends and builds on their mentor’s work . Students conducting individual projects are usually supervised by a single professor and learn to conduct research with limited contact with other professors, thereby lessening opportunities for engagement within larger communities of educational practice. Doctoral students typically learn to do research under the guidance of a relatively small number of professors, and the amount of advising and mentoring varies by program and institution. Pallas (2001) contended that this type of professional socialization model is problematic, because it assumes that doctoral students are viewed often as passive recipients, with little consideration of their personal epistemology or own intellectual pursuits in the learning process, and does not make explicit “whose skills and values are internalized through the socialization process” . In addition, Labaree (2003) argued that this model does little to narrow the cultural divide in teachers transitioning to be researchers. He proposed that doctoral programs be designed in a way that recognizes and incorporates more of the specialized knowledge, skills, and orientations that expert teachers bring into doctoral programs, which may promote better connections between practice and theory in research.

    Since 1994, with the Spencer Foundation’s introduction of a number of individual and institutional grants in its Research Training Grant Program, which was designed to improve the quality of educational research in doctoral programs, some research-intensive universities have begun to explore ways to immerse students in the culture of doing research to expand the epistemological learning experiences of doctoral students . For example, Kecskemethy (2008) reported that in the University of Pennsylvania’s Spencer-funded reform of its doctoral program, a mentored research apprenticeship with co-curricular experiences was instituted to expand urban education and research methods knowledge among students. A series of seminars was also implemented, and during their second semester of study, students were engaged in 20 hours of research training with either one faculty mentor or several faculty mentors each week beyond their course work. These students learned about the “process of generating a research question, entry into a fieldwork site, conducting library-based or conceptual research, collecting data, analyzing data, writing and editing research-based scholarly papers or books, presenting research at professional conferences” . Central to many of these doctoral program reforms are efforts to provide aspiring researchers with the full range of experiences of an authentic investigation from beginning to end under supervision so that students observe, practice, and reflect on developing the skills and knowledge essential for doing their own research. These types of experiences required faculty members to be more explicit about their thinking and process and encouraged them to point out the complexities behind the deliberately crafted and rationalized accounts in journal articles (Labaree, 2003). This presumes that the mentors possess the necessary knowledge and skills themselves, have the capacity to mentor, are situated within institutions with adequate resources to support doctoral programs, and are conducting the types of research that advance the field in teaching and teacher education. Three issues are often debated when engaging prospective teacher educator-researchers in full immersion in the norms and practices of educational research in doctoral programs. First, although there is general agreement for research immersion to begin at the start of doctoral programs with the introduction of a traditional set of core courses in educational philosophy, foundations, history, particular specialized discipline subject matter, and methodological theories and techniques, there is little consensus and research about where and when the practice of research should be introduced within a program. For example, Michigan State University offers most of its support of practice to aspiring researchers during the middle years of students’ programs (Weiland, 2008), while other programs begin the practice of learning to do research near the initial phases, concurrent with course taking (Eisenhart & DeHann, 2005; Pallas, 2001). With few comprehensive studies of measured outcomes of the scope and sequence of research practice experiences on doctoral students’ learning, programsvary across the nation with regard to the nature and sequence of experiences that would enhance research education. Second, the nature and type of meaningful experiences or activities in conducting research need to be explored further. There is scant research and little conceptualized understanding of the extent to which specific types of practice or experiences enhance research education. For instance, does learning to conduct research happen primarily in formalized coursework with specific activities, a configuration that is typically outside authentic research contexts? How much is known about the informal learning experiences of conducting research? What types of pedagogy and activities enhance the ability to formulate and frame researchable questions in the field? What do students learn when students replicate studies about the underlying process of conducting certain types of research? What research and learning contexts best promote interdisciplinary research? How many and how varied should experiences be to encourage deep learning within the confines of a doctoral program?

    Third, to be immersed fully in the culture of research and to be able to engage in the full range of experiences within authentic investigations, it is likely that students need to be enrolled on a full-time basis when faculty members are conducting their research. Full immersion during which students are socialized to the practice and norms of research may be complicated by the requisite for full-time study. Many aspiring teacher educator-researchers enroll on a part-time basis and hold employment outside their programs, in part because of the limitations of adequate financial support for education students compared with other fields, such as the sciences (Eisenhart & DeHann, 2005). Given this circumstance, some scholars have discussed the possibility of offering distinct EdD and PhD degrees, with the EdD oriented toward practice and the PhD toward research  Some movement has been made toward making clearer distinctions between the two degrees with the creation of the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate in 2007, led by David Imig, that aims to redesign the EdD to focus more on the preparation of advanced school practitioners rather than researchers. For instance, some of the institutions committed to creating distinct doctorates, such as the University of Central Florida, have focused more on utilization-focused programs with evaluation and design research as the primary foci. In this type of program, EdD candidates are expected to redesign education products and practices as well as evaluate their effectiveness rather than the basic or applied research advanced in most research-oriented doctoral programs. However, with only about two dozen colleges and institutions  currently recognized as being involved with this project, as things stand today, it is often difficult to distinguish between the two degrees at many other institutions. Overall, we need better understanding of the impact of program structure, pedagogy, and design on fostering learning to do different types of research.

    How Can Learning ?

    Given the limitations and unevenness of research education in doctoral programs, how can neophyte teacher educator/researchers be supported beyond their doctoral work? One way may be to direct more attention to postdoctoral awards and fellowships, such as the ones offered by the National Academy of Education Foundation that provide new researchers with opportunities to increase their range of research skills by working with more senior scholars on studies critical to education and policy (Grossman, 2004). These types of fellowships could be expanded into long-term research programs that may be embedded within extant programs and centers of teacher education among selected universities with clear research agendas focused on carrying out the types of research useful for researchers, practitioners, and policy makers in teaching and teacher education. Although postdoctoral fellowships are common in sciences and engineering, they are not prevalent in teacher education, because of the combined effects of limited position availability, the traditional career trajectory of new graduates (who usually enter the professoriate in higher education immediately upon graduation), and the inadequate monetary values of fellowships in light of the high debt loads of recent graduates. Clearly,more dialogue and understanding are needed to increase postdoctoral fellowships in education. Another way to support new researchers may be to increase the number of research partnerships and networks . This includes induction and mentoring structures and programs within and across universities, as well as within organizations such as the American Educational Research Association and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, which focus on the coherent and close convergence of issues important for the field of teacher education. Some efforts have been initiated in this area, including innovative mentoring models, in which emeritus professors work closely with groups of new graduates. However, united and coherent designs for research partnerships are still somewhat wanting in the field of teacher education . Although there are no commonly agreed–upon standards for determining research competence and little empirical evidence for substantiating the extent and level of competence among research graduates, it is most often surmised that there are considerable disparities in the research literacy of teacher education doctorates graduating from programs nationwide. This further highlights the need to extend support for learning to conduct research beyond doctoral programs. Increasing the repertoires of research knowledge and skills among teacher educator doctorates may be accomplished, in part, with an increase in the provision of postdoctoral training programs, institutes, seminars, and workshops such as those offered by Dartmouth College’s Institute for Writing and Rhetoric or by the Institute of Education Sciences through its four centers: the National Center for Education Research, the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, and the National Center for Special Education Research. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics offers annually an intensive summer workshop on quasiexperimental design and analysis in education in which the most current research on quasi-experimental research methods is introduced with concrete applications to the planning, implementation, and analyses of data within school-based research. New findings and the refinement of methods are discussed in the workshop. However, typically, only 60 selected applicants (one third of the total applicant pool) are given the opportunity to attend. With rapid changes in education and methodological practices, it is very important that more attention be directed to postdoctoral research training. Additionally,with only a limited number of applicants being accepted to a small number of training program offerings, other means of offering postdoctoral research education, such as webinars, should be promoted.


    It is clear that strengthening the preparation of educational researchers in all fields, especially for teacher educators in doctoral programs, is vital if meaningful empirical contributions to the collective knowledge of teaching and teacher education are to be made through research. What is not as clear is whether current ways of preparing aspiring researchers in teacher educator doctoral programs are yielding the necessary research knowledge and skills and the necessary research literacy to enable doctoral graduates to make such contributions. Empirical studies, systematic program assessments, and community discourse are needed to articulate fully what attaining educational research literacy actually entails, what instructional and curricular approaches heighten learning about and doing research during doctoral training, and what institutional structures and arrangements encourage the postdoctoral development of research literacy among teacher educators, including those who previously engaged in part-time doctoral study. We hope this editorial will stimulate further dialogue about education research and the preparation of teacher educator-researchers during doctoral programs and beyond.

    By Emily Lin,Jian Wang,Elizabeth Spalding, Cari L. Klecka,and Sandra J. Odell



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