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Research Methods and Educational Organizations

I am reticent to state with conviction that participatory action research (PAR) relates well to change in educational organizations. PAR is “a way of empowering people to take effective action toward improving conditions in their lives.” While in theory this sounds workable within an educational structure, there are too many variables within such structure that make participatory research difficult at best. I also do not see educational organizations being changed by struggling or disenfranchised people in order to transform their lives. Educational realms are far more diverse.

PAR depends on knowledge becoming the main piece in assisting people in determining how their world will turn. In short, participants take an active role in the research, learn what factors affect the status quo, and renovate those in order to attain the socially responsible goal they originally wanted. It is action- and result-oriented. It is not seeking answers to questions based on observation.

Educational reform is a long, tedious process. Such reform is difficult, complex, and controversial. Educational reform is put in place by people who have no understanding of what education provides people in the form of outcomes. Instead reform focuses on skills and standards instead of the heart of teaching – establishing and forming relationships with students as the foundation for learning.

Educational reform requires involvement from many stakeholders. Anyone affected by reform needs to be included in the change process. Goals must be set; the new structure defined with expected changes; benefits, challenges and opportunities identified; changes communicated and supported, then implemented, reviewed and refined.

Stakeholders are an uncontrollable factor because those involved in the educational process vary from year to year, and priorities are as fluid as the stakeholders. Students, staff, and community interests are a constantly moving and changing participant pool.

There are legal and legislative factors surrounding issues in the educational realm that would impede a PAR process. Federal, state and local statutes dictate how a school district or university will conduct business and a coalition of interested stakeholders will not be enough to change that unless they are willing to enter the legislative process and make real change.

Research approaches I find conducive to the educational realm are descriptive, which doesn’t allow for manipulation of variables but would allow for the knowledge of what is (staus quo), and causal-comparative, which allows for the exploration of relationships where intelligence, creativity, socioeconomic status and personality cannot be manipulated.

An interesting problem that can be investigated in a classroom is the success and comprehension of high socio-economic students vs. low socio-economic students. This is a plausible study as it is easy to discern what economic background students come from and as a teacher, it is easy to track classroom performance. Qualitative research would be the primary mode for this type of project.

In studying and researching educational organizations, there are many modes of research that would assist a researcher in gathering information to prove or disprove a hypothesis. However, participatory action research is not the mode I would choose. PAR lends itself to people in communities who are interested in research that is relevant to them, and while educational facilities can be considered a community within themselves, they are highly structured with far less freedom to act as change agents in their environment than people living within traditional communities. Educational facilities (especially public K – 12) do not have the ability to be empowered, to transform themselves, or be involved with social action. Therefore, PAR is not the research method of choice.

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