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Critical Qualitative Research and Educational Policy  

Madeline Good and Sarah Diem

Critical qualitative research is full of possibilities and explorations that can assist in transforming systems for social change and the public good. It is an approach to research that at its core is concerned with the role of power; how it manifests in systems, structures, policies, and practice; and how contexts can contribute to and reify power and its deleterious effects. The use of critical qualitative methods and methodologies within the field of education has grown significantly since the 1990s. This is a large area of work that encompasses studies throughout the spectrum of educational topics, from early childhood learning to higher education and beyond. In the area of educational policy, while scholars use a multitude of critical qualitative methodologies and methods, critical policy analysis (CPA) has continued to grow in popularity. CPA provides opportunities for researchers to question policy in general––how it is formed, implemented, and evaluated, as well as its assumed impact. It is appealing because it gives space for scholars to not only critique educational policy issues but also offer new perspectives, approaches, and alternatives to the policy process. Critical inquiry, however, does not occur within a vacuum, so the dynamics of conducting critical qualitative research within a hyperpolarized sociopolitical context must also be considered. Contentious times make it increasingly important for critical qualitative scholars to (re)commit to the work of transforming education with the goal of creating a more just society. There are a multitude of hopes and opportunities for this burgeoning area of critical research, challenging us all to not only look toward creative approaches when studying issues of educational policy but also to persistently interrogate how our own positionalities and relations impact the work we do.


Analyzing Everyday Life at School Through Lenses of Feminist Ethnography  

Elina Lahelma, Tarja Tolonen, and Sirpa Lappalainen

Feminist ethnography in education has in so-called Western countries developed in the late 1900s into a research approach with its own identifiable characteristics. Starting points are in feminist theorizations that draw from perspectives of different marginal groups, raised in the context of cultural radicalization of the 1960s and 1970s. In Finland, feminist ethnography took the first steps in the 1990s and achieved a stable position in educational research in the early 2000s. This emerging research has provided possibilities for subtle analysis in educational institutions on gendered, spatial and embodied practices, which have impact on intersectional inequalities. A theoretical and methodological invention developed by the first Finnish feminist ethnographers in the 1990s is differentiation between the official, informal, and physical layers of the school. Teaching and learning, the curriculum, pedagogy, and formal hierarchies belong to the official layer. Interaction among teachers and students, including informal hierarchies and youth cultures, takes place in the informal layer. The physical school refers to temporality, spatiality, and embodiment. These layers are intertwined in the everyday life of the school; the distinctions between them are analytical. This differentiation is one illustration of nuanced ways to conduct analysis of gendered, classed, and racialized processes and practices in schools. This analytical tool was elaborated in the large ethnographic project, Citizenship, Difference and Marginality in Schools—With Special Reference to Gender (1993–1998). The project was conducted in schools in Finland, collaborating with a similar project in the United Kingdom. The collective project was conceptualized in comparative reflections on contemporary educational politics and policies in both countries and included cross-cultural ethnographic analysis. The layers were used as tools in constructing the theoretical-methodological layout of the project and in focusing the ethnographic gaze in the field, as well as in analysis, interpretation, and writing. Using the layers of the school as an analytic tool passed on to later studies and have further been developed in novel ways, demonstrating the usefulness of collaborative feminist work in national and international networks.


Doubly Reflexive Ethnography and Collaborative Research  

Gunther Dietz and Laura Selene Mateos Cortés

Doubly reflexive ethnography is a collaborative research methodology developed in the social and educational sciences through a combination of classical ethnographic methods of participant observation and lifeworld-oriented interviewing, on the one hand, and participatory methods of co-interpreting, co-theorizing, and co-validating empirical research results together with the collaborating actors, on the other hand. Double reflexivity is defined here as the result of a dialogical, collaborative conversation between different actors involved in educational research processes, starting from the research design, problematization and delimitation, going on through a cyclical accompaniment via observations and interviews, and culminating in a dialogical, often collective data analysis, which leads to collaborative and diversified ways of assessing, validating, and evaluating research results. This doubly reflexive approach integrates and relates the researcher reflexivity with the reflexivity contributed by the collaborating actors, be they organizations or institutions active in an educational field. Doubly reflexive ethnography maintains close relations with the main features of ethnography and classical ethnographic methods; it has transited from originally and historically extractive ethnographic practices toward collaborative and participatory alternatives of research methodologies. The key semantic, pragmatic, and syntactic dimensions of doubly reflexive ethnography are identified and illustrated as those dimensions that allow for a spiral, cyclical research and collaboration process that includes visual, observational data; verbal, interview data; and textual, documentary data in an integrated system of collaborative-ethnographic methods. This system integrates and triangulates diverse sources of information, diverse degrees of data abstraction, and diverse degrees of researcher involvement, thus avoiding and overcoming conventional dichotomies of quantitative versus qualitative research and of unilateral, extractive versus proactive, participatory strategies.


Gender Equity in HIV/AIDS Education  

Kacie Kidd

Since its initial discovery in the early 1980s, through the development of treatment and prophylaxis medications as well as continued attempts at vaccination development, HIV/AIDS has changed the narrative about infectious diseases around the world. It has led to recognition of the complexities of the intersections of sexuality, gender, race, age, culture, and socioeconomic status while simultaneously highlighting gender inequities in all aspects of the disease. These inequities present in clinical trials that include only subsets of the population, prevention strategies that are offered based on oversimplified assumptions about sexual behaviors, and limited education about risk for everyone from schoolchildren through medical professionals. Activists and public health advocates push for inclusion and transparency in research and treatment for HIV/AIDS, but education at all levels has lagged. The United Nations and the International Conference on Population Development have declared school-based sex education a goal for all countries in order to reduce the health burden of HIV/AIDS. Sex education in schools varies between and within countries, with no standardization of how to best educate youth about sex, reproductive health, or disease prevention. Despite continued challenges with curriculum incorporation and content, research suggests that key qualities of an effective educational program include the creation of a safe space for student questions, inclusion of diverse voices, and clear guidance for preventing sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS. In order to mitigate continued inequity over the next several decades and beyond, comprehensive HIV/AIDS education must emphasize the intersectionality of gender, sexuality, race, age, culture, and socioeconomic status at all levels from elementary introductions through training for medical and mental health researchers and providers.


Testimonio in Education  

Marcela Rodriguez-Campo

Testimonio involves bearing witness to the collective experiences of historically marginalized communities, particularly as it relates to their oppression, resistance, and resilience. As an approach, it is an inherently decolonial process since it decenters Eurocentric knowledge and challenges power. Unlike oral history, memoir, or autoethnography, testimonio positions itself as an urgent and political voicing that rejects notions of objectivity and neutrality. Instead, it posits that there exist multiple truths of which each contributes to producing our understanding of a collective reality. Similar to these different practices, testimonio does not have a predictable or set structure as it can take the form of a poem, speech, interview, letter, and so on. Each of these, however, involves a public accounting of human experiences that have the ability to build solidarity. Testimonio finds its formal roots in Latin America; however, as a practice it could be argued that it predates most traditional approaches as it has long existed within indigenous cultures that observe oral traditions and storytelling. Testimonio has been used primarily for movement building and resistance as marginalized groups globally named the oppressive practices of their governments and institutions. Since the late 1990s, testimonio has found a home in education, where scholars have deployed it as a strategy for visibilizing the experiences of people of color and women, especially Chicanas and Latinas. Additionally, testimonio has been adapted as a pedagogical tool, research method, and methodology. In the classroom, testimonio can help reveal the varying experiences and knowledge that students bring into the classroom. As a research method and methodology, testimonio compels researchers to reenvision their role in the research process and their relationship to their participants.


Philosophical Tenets of Action Research in Education  

Luis Sebastián Villacañas de Castro and Darío Luis Banegas

The juxtaposition of action and research conveys a sense of the richness and complexity of action research, yet it does not entirely translate its nuanced and sophisticated philosophy. In turn, an understanding of this philosophy is crucial for grasping action research’s radical originality. In this context at least, it may be more accurate to define action research by drawing on the term practice, even though it does not form part of the basic conceptual pair. Not only does practice make it easier for us to trace the constellation of philosophical influences behind the theory and practice of action research—from pragmatism to postmodernism, including Greek philosophy and Marxist and psychoanalytic schools of thought—but also to identify where these influences end and action research emerges as the bearer of a nontransferable view. Beyond this, at the heart of action research lies a structural affinity with singular social practices, which are its key ontological sites—that is, the context where action research in each case fills its epistemological and ethical dimensions with meaning. What kind of knowledge does action research aim to produce? What behaviors do action researchers engage in? Compared to other research paradigms in the social sciences—the field of education included—the specific quality of action research has to do with how its epistemological and ethical dimensions are shaped not from without but from within any given social practice. This is the key to its specific ecology. In action research, the epistemological and ethical realms do not stand beyond or above the situated social practices, with their values, principles of procedure, knowledges, and discourses, including their own literacies and modalities—in short, their own internal cultures. Action research conceives and presents itself as a rational and systematic way for members of the different social practices to build and rebuild their own epistemologies and ethics precisely by drawing on, and selecting from, their own internal cultures. How does this ecological perspective translate itself in education? Education is one of the key areas in which action research is generally applied, together with welfare and healthcare. Yet apart from the specific use of action research by educators, action research carries within itself a specific educational philosophy (and a political philosophy as well) which underlies its application, regardless of the specific social practice in which it takes place. In the same way that action research is politically democratic, educationally speaking action research is participatory, meaning that learning, improvement, or development can only be realized through a self-determining process in which people act and research freely upon and among themselves. This is precisely what action research facilitates in the different social practices. Action research is always educational, whether one develops it in education, welfare, or healthcare. As a result, action research has contributed a clear-cut pedagogical model that some critical educators have already imported to their own educational institutions and practices: youth participatory action research.


Effective Practices for Teaching Social Skills  

Timothy J. Lewis, Courtney Jorgenson, Jessica Simpson, and Trisha Guffey

Student problem behavior continues to significantly impact student academic, social, and emotional functional in school and post-school. Positive behavior support (PBS) focuses on identifying and teaching prosocial behavior and providing environmental supports to increase the likelihood that students will fluently use prosocial skills across school environments. Directly teaching prosocial social skills, discrete behaviors that lead to important social outcomes for the student, has been an advocated strategy for decades. Effective social skill instruction follows a direct instruction format and are taught through a “tell-show-practice” format whereby the teacher provides a definition of the skill and under what conditions it should be used (tell), then provides examples and non-examples of the social skill (show), followed by students using the skill in role-play situations based on natural school contexts (practice). Key to success, of course, is providing multiple opportunities to practice across all school settings with multiple adults to build fluency and generalized responding. Social skill instruction is one component of increasing student “social competency.” Social competence is defined as using the appropriate social skill, as defined by the students’ peers, adults, and larger community standards, to get their needs met. Social skill instruction should focus on improving overall student social competence, and not simple discrete skill mastery. Recent work expanding PBS across all school settings (i.e., school-wide) through a continuum of tiered instruction and environmental support strategies has demonstrated improved social competence among all students, including those at risk and with disabilities.


Comparison in Qualitative Research  

Lesley Bartlett and Frances Vavrus

Comparison is a valuable and widely touted analytical technique in social research, but different disciplines and fields have markedly different notions of comparison. There are at least two important logics for comparison. The first, the logic of juxtaposition, is guided by a neopositivist orientation. It uses a regularity theory of causation; it structures the study by defining cases, variables, and units of analysis a priori; and it decontextualizes knowledge. The second, the logic of tracing, engages a realist theory of causation and examines how processes unfold, influenced by actors and the meanings they make, over time, in different locations, and at different scales. These two logics of comparison lead to distinct methodological techniques. However, with either logic of comparison, three dangers merit attention: decontextualization, commensurability, and ethnocentrism. One promising research heuristic that attends to different logics of comparison while avoiding these dangers is the comparative case study (CCS) approach. CCS entails three axes of comparison. The horizontal axis encourages comparison of how similar policies and practices unfold across sites at roughly the same level or scale, for example across a set of schools or across home, school, religious institution, and community organization. The vertical axis urges comparison across micro-, meso-, and macro-levels or scales. For example, a study of bilingual education in the United States should attend not only to homes, communities, classroom, and school dynamics (the micro-level), but also to meso-level district, state, and federal policies, as well as to factors influencing international mobility at the macro-level. Finally, the transversal axis, which emphasizes change over time, urges scholars to situate historically the processes or relations under consideration.


Peer Effects in Education  

Jonathan Pratschke and Giovanni Abbiati

In the social sciences, the term “peer effects” has been widely used to describe the various ways in which individual behaviors and attitudes can be influenced by friends, acquaintances, and the wider social environment. Due to the crucial role of social interactions within the school context, the role of peers in shaping academic outcomes has been under scrutiny for decades. Following seminal work by Manski, we distinguish between three different components of peer influence: endogenous (where the behavior of an individual varies in accordance with the behavior of the peer group), exogenous (where the behavior of an individual varies with the characteristics of the members of the peer group), and correlated (where the behavior of individuals is shaped by shared environmental or institutional factors). By estimating a simultaneous autoregressive model, we assess the relative strength of these three forms of peer influence in relation to secondary school exam results in a large sample of Italian school-leavers. One limitation is that we are only able to observe peer influence within the classroom, while another is that the study is confined to a specific moment in time, which comes quite late in young people’s educational trajectories. The results confirm that peer processes play an important role in the reproduction of social inequalities, against the backdrop of institutional criteria for the selection of students into schools and classes. These factors therefore demand the sustained attention of educational administrators and policymakers.


Education and Media Discourses  

Nicole Mockler

Over the past 30 years, a growing field of scholarship has explored the relationship between education and the media. Scholars within this field have explored representations of education, schooling, teachers’ work and students in print and other news media, utilizing approaches that include critical discourse analysis, news framing analysis and, more recently, corpus-assisted discourse analysis. The relationship between these representations, public understandings of education and education policy has also been explored in the research literature, with a focus on the complex interplay between media discourses and public policy around education. The emergence of social media and the engagement of both educators and members of the general public on social media around issues related to education has seen this relationship shift in the first two decades of the 21st century. This, along with the growth of computer-assisted research approaches (including corpus-assisted analysis and network analysis, for example) has brought new theoretical and methodological possibilities to bear on the field.