Is Evidence-Based Practice Appropriate In Education?

Polemic Paper, 2018

9 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Contents


Ambiguity in Defining Evidence-Based Practice

Diverse Attributes of Professional Action

Professional Judgment and Evidence-Based Education

Obstacles to Evidence-Based Education




Over the past few decades, educational transformation seems to have assumed a new dimension with evidence-based practice being at the core of this transformation (Slavin, 2002). Currently, different countries have designed educational policies to incline the educational profession into evidence-based approach as it has been in the field of medicine. However, this issue encompasses immense controversy among policy makers and educators, as well as within educational research community (Biesta, 2007). This controversy has emerged due to matters related to the significance of educational research in several aspects. First, educational research has been observed to be inadequate in developing a reliable educational knowledge that can be used by educational institutions and governments to develop appropriate educational policy. Secondly, educational research has been reported to be noncumulative and fragmented with numerous methodological faults. Thirdly, evidence-based practice in education is claimed to exhibit political dimensions. Finally, educational research encompasses ambiguity in definition (Pring, 2000). These are the issues in evidence-based practice that compromise its relevance and quality. On the other hand, it is apparent that there is a culture gulf between the precepts of research and the teaching profession (Hempenstall, 2006). In this research paper, I will carry out a comprehensive literature review to answer the question; is evidence-based practice appropriate in education? To accomplish this, this research will present issues raised by evidence-based education. In addition, it will provide a critical analysis of the key models involved to demonstrate the culture gulf between the teaching profession and evidence-based practice.

Ambiguity in Defining Evidence-Based Practice

Foremost, evidence-based education encompasses ambiguity in its definition and implications. In the context of education, clear distinctions have not yet been developed to explain whether evidence-based practice entails the adoption of empirically validated approaches or decision-making process. According to Eddy (2005), evidence-based practice implies the use of outcomes in the decision-making process. In contrast, Cook & Cook (2011) refers to evidence-based practice as effectively validated approaches. On the other hand, Whitehurst (2002) defines evidence-based education as the integration of instructional empirical evidence with professional wisdom.

Another controversy related to evidence-based practice in education is who should be involved in the process of decision-making. In some incidences, it implies that professional teaching should be incorporated in decision-making to ensure that the reflective aspect of teachers in the education system (Slavin, 2003). On the other hand, teachers are excluded from decision-making in evidence-based education. This phenomenon creates difficulties in understanding the precepts of evidence-based education as envisaged in some educational models such as in Great Britain and the United States.

Diverse Attributes of Professional Action

Ideally, the adoption of evidence-based approach in the field of education is based on diverse assumptions. The idea of evidence-based practice bears its origin in the field of medicine where it has proved to be appropriate in many aspects. This is the reason why proponents of evidence-based practice assert that scientific knowledge forms the basis for any practice (Shavelson & Towne, 2002). As such, it is perceived that any practice that lacks this aspect is not reliable. In line with this notion, the attitude towards adopting evidence-based practice in education calls for the establishment of a culture that values evidence over empirical assumptions. However, transforming the education system into evidence-based practice seems to raise more questions than answers. Foremost, evidence-based education seems to encompass immense positivism in the assumptions related to evidence-based practice in education. It is also observed to undermine the values of the teaching practice.

To demonstrate the inappropriate nature of professional action in education, a critical evaluation of its precepts is deemed necessary. In reality, professional action entails interventions whose success focuses on the ends, a phenomenon which appears seemingly different in educational practice. According to the casual model of professional action, evidence-based practice is defined by the professional action, in this case intervention. In medicine, such treatment outcome depends solely on the treatment administered to counter a health consequence. As such, evidence-based practice is viewed as a philosophical approach to define ‘what works.’ The notion of ‘what works’ entails intervention as the cause, whereas the outcome serves as the effect (Slavin, 2004). In this respect, effective intervention is determined on the basis of relationship between the intervention and outcome. This aspect is explained by Biesta (2007) who reports that “Effective interventions are those in which there is a secure relation between the intervention (as cause) and its outcomes or results (as effects)” (p. 7). In this context, it implies that professional action relies on effectiveness as the key aspect of professional action. According to the idea of professional action as it is applied in medicine, the focus relies on the quality or rather the effectiveness of processes, but not necessarily the predetermined objective of intervention. From this idea of professional action, it is imperative that effectiveness should be the focus in evidence-based education, a notion that bears no grounds. This is so because; effectiveness in education implies effective schooling or effective teaching, aspects which cannot define educational effectiveness.

On the other hand, the second assumption encompassed in the idea of professional action seems to place the model of professional action outside the field of education. Similar to the precepts of casual model of professional action, the technological model defines interventions on the basis of means and ends. In this context, technological advances are instrumental in improving the effectiveness of interventions (Gersten, 2001). This has been the case in medicine where technological advances have transformed the medical practice from its classical nature to a transformed practice. In professional action, means and ends of intervention appear to be entirely separate entities (Elliot, 2001). As such, the effectiveness of the means of professional action determines the successfulness of the ends. This implies that the efficiency of the adopted technology plays the key role in achieving effective interventions.

According to the assumptions of professional action, it appears that its validity can be easily achieved in the field of medicine than it is the case in the field of education. Despite the validity of these assumptions in medicine, Biesta (2007) observes “I do not think that they can easily be transposed to the field of education” (p. 8). This model appears inappropriate in education in several aspects. First, it is quite apparent that treatment is a physical process, whereas education is a symbolic mediated process. In this respect, a student cannot be viewed as an illness as it is in the casual process in treatment. As expressed by Vanderstraeten & Biesta (2001), education occurs through mutual interpretation in which learners interpret the content taught by educators to construct sense.

Moreover, transforming education from it normative nature into a technological process implies creating a technologically-oriented environment for children (Cook & Schirmer, 2006). This is relatively difficult because the learners’ success in education relies on home environment. This implies that the effectiveness of professional action – intervention, cannot serve as a substantial basis for decision-making in educational processes. In general, the assumptions of professional action imply that it is relatively impossible to link means and ends in a technological platform. In education, these two aspects of professional action are related in a constitutive way. This aspect is reaffirmed by Carr (1992) who states that the means applied in education “contribute qualitatively to the very character… of the goals which they produce” (p. 249). As such, it is apparent that the ethics of professional action can produce desirable interventions in education only if education was a technological enterprise, rather than its nature as a moral practice. The noncasual aspect of education calls for an establishment of an additional model of professional action that acknowledges practical wisdom which is distinct from instrumental knowledge (Biesta, 2007). As it is currently, evidence-based practice in education does not encompass the normative dimensions of education.

Professional Judgment and Evidence-Based Education

Professional judgment is another aspect encompassed in evidence-based practice. In theory, there appears that differences in professional judgments exist between evidence-based research as applied in medicine and education. Therefore, an understanding of the two approaches of professional judgment provides a clear approach for evaluating the significance of evidence-based education. In other fields, primarily medicine, professional judgment is informed by research. This is so because; research in other fields rather than education is based on casual practice. In these fields, technical judgment is solely informed by research outcomes. In contrast, education exists as a noncasual practice that is possible through moral dimensions; thus technical judgments are not appropriate. Instead, value judgments hold the principal significance as professional judgments. On the other hand, evidence-based education is perceived as an appropriate approach through which the truth can be unearthed. In this context, the role played by knowledge in professional responses can be understood through an analysis of the most relevant practical epistemology.

From a philosophical perspective, Dewey theory provides an explanation of expectations of research in educational practice. In Dewey theory, the way of action is regarded as knowing, a different perspective from that exhibited by the theory of knowledge (Biesta, 2004). This theory of knowing is based on experience as the principal notion. According to Dewey, experience is generated through double relationship between an individual and the environment. The precepts of this theory implies that actions and their consequences constitutes knowing through what is commonly referred to as ‘trial and error.’ Conclusively, Dewey observes that actions can proceed without knowledge. This notion is different from that held under evidence-based practice. In evidence-based practice, knowledge controls action. He also states that our interaction with the environment constructs intelligent action.

Therefore, it is apparent that learning new habits occurs in situations where the double relationship between an individual and the environment is interrupted. This implies that, under natural circumstances, problem solving ability of people does not require knowledge, contrary to the notion embedded in evidence-based research where outcomes inform professional judgment. However, Dewey theory implies that “research, does not provide us with information about a world ‘out there,’ but only about possible relations between actions and consequences” (Biesta, 2007 p. 15). This implies that tested recipes do not constitute professional action. Instead, professional action entails addressing unique problems (Cimbricz, 2002). In addition, acquired knowledge, primarily from inquiry or research does not necessarily fit in reflective problem-solving process as a rule. This is why Dewey (1984) asserts that “no conclusion of scientific research can be converted into an immediate rule of educational art” (p. 9). This implies that in education, whether a teacher acts as a professional educator or researcher, predetermined ends are not ideal in educational practice.

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Is Evidence-Based Practice Appropriate In Education?
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Education, Evidence, Practice, Transformation
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Caroline Mutuku (Author), 2018, Is Evidence-Based Practice Appropriate In Education?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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