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Renewing the public and the role of research in education


Australians live at a time when the quality of discussion in the public sphere and within the institutions of the state is at a very low ebb; when policy making is dictated by short term political cycles, spin and focus groups; and when notions of the public good are set aside in favour of self-interest. This paper is based on the premise that if one of the historic purposes of education is to renew the public, then education holds the key to improving the quality of public discourse. However since education policy making in contemporary times is also caught up in the processes which diminish public discourse, the challenge is to find ways to break this vicious cycle. This paper argues that one of the factors contributing to this state of affairs is the influence of what is currently passing for educational ‘research’. It traces the ways in which unrefereed consultant and think-tank research has captured policy makers and some sections of the media, and shows—using a recent influential research report as a case study—how such research often does not stand up to critical review. The purpose in questioning the rigour of such research is based on the conviction that a process of reinvigorating and deepening public debate about education must be based on quality research. The paper concludes by suggesting some ways by which the education research community can contribute to the process of renewing the public.

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This paper is based on the text of the 2012 Radford Lecture presented by the author to the AARE/APERA conference at Sydney University on Tuesday 4 December, 2012.

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Correspondence to Alan Reid.

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Reid, A. Renewing the public and the role of research in education. Aust. Educ. Res. 40, 281–297 (2013).

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  • Education policy
  • Education research
  • Public education
  • Public sphere