As someone with a masters degree in educational psychology, I probably have the credibility to tell you that music benefits learning. But how would you know for sure?
One thing the Executive Director and CEO, Mike Blakeslee, mentioned in his workshop during NAfME’s 2017 National In-Service Music Education Conference is that quantitative (think objective) research is not as reliable as it once was. There are many flaws where research done in one area won’t prove to be generally true, or perhaps not prove true at all.
How can teachers and administrators advocate for music in education, when they don’t know which research is credible and which is not? While anecdotal or qualitative research can be influential for community members, those relying on money, budgets, and/or expected academic improvement sometimes need accurate statistics and objectively proven results.
Even if parents, teachers, administrators, etc. have not had any training in research and statistics, there are still some basic things they can do to verify if a recent study or article is credible.
- Who is the author? An author who is a teacher, professor, psychologist, therapist, researcher would be more credible than someone in market research or product sales.
- Who is in the research? How many students or teachers were involved in the study? Was there more than one school or more than one neighborhood? How old are the students? Are there any existing learning issues with the students? Is there an existing relationship between the researcher and the people being studied?
- What is the research about? Is the author looking at one specific program or method of teaching? Is the person teaching the program or method experienced in that area?
- What’s missing? Does the researcher acknowledge any faults in the current study or research in general? Or, does the researcher write of implications for future research? Are all participants accounted for, or if any are eliminated, how many are eliminated and why have they been eliminated?
It seems strange that we should have to question educational research, but the truth is that all researchers have some biases that they bring into their research. Consider me, as an example — I am an educated advocate for music education because a lot of the credible reliable research has proven it to be beneficial. But, that does not mean that I should guide my research in such a way that every type and method of music education is successful. Researchers who do this are the primary cause for elements of education not being taken seriously or perhaps too seriously.
Please contact me if you are concerned about a piece of research you’ve found or if you’re still curious about a study even after you’ve answered the above four questions. I’d be happy to help!