Critical Realism, Policy, and Educational Research
In this chapter, I make the case for a critical realist approach to educational research and policy making. Such an approach enlists the full range of educational research tools to generate as broad an empirical picture of educational practices, patterns, and institutional outcomes as possible. Its aim is to establish a comprehensive picture of an educational system at work, not just classical input/process/output descriptions, but also models of the life trajectories and capital of teachers and students to and through schools. The empirical work sets the table for theorizing and modeling educational practice, for the interpretive and discursive work of policy formation. The translation of critical realist research into policy formation requires historical narratives and scenario planning, explanations about how things came to be, and about how alternative normative scenarios might be constructed. Here I provide a historical backdrop to the links between critical realism and a broader agenda of social justice and educational equity. Noting the parameters of current and recent research on pedagogy, achievement, and social class, I emphasize the need for new sociological directions in pedagogy and in educational assessment and evaluation-but new directions built squarely on the foundations of social reproduction theory. In so doing, I suggest a way past the critical/empirical, qualitative/quantitative divide that has arisen in the context of neo-liberal educational politics in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada. To address questions of generalizability, such an approach entails a shunting back and forth between levels of scale in a system. But moreover, it requires a sociological imagination and critical hermeneutics for reading and interpreting evidence and research.