Evidence of the Integration of Quantitative Methods in US Society Term Paper

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¶ … Society

Quantitative methods of research and information dissemination have been historically associated with science, industry and medicine. Other schools of thought have also adopted quantitative methodologies, to bolster the "scientific" nature of research such as sociology, psychology and other areas previously though of as "soft sciences" by nature the content of research. A recent trend has carried the methodology into the mainstream media and education at never before seen levels. This can be evidenced by two specific phenomena, the accountability movement in education and the frequent utilization of statistics and scientific studies in media representations.

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The main stream media has always utilized polling as a tool of expression of concepts and public opinion, yet more recently there has been an increase in the number and complexity of reporting on quantitative scientific research, especially in medial research. Rarely an evening goes by in which the news does not discuss some quantitative research finding. Many times the issues are surrounding health and wellness, weight loss, pharmaceuticals and the like. Often these programs pick up news from major news carries, such as the Associated Press, making it clear that the information is being sought by major mass media links. One recent example of a widely distributed bit of information is the recent article describing a quantitative research review done by an outside panel of experts, for the FDA, over viewing research on the effectiveness of over the counter cold remedies for children under the age of 6. The quantitative nature of the report is evidenced in the fact that words and phrases such as "data" and "research findings" peppered with name dropping of scientist and their affiliation are frequently utilized in the news stories.

The data that we have now is they don't seem to work," said Sean Hennessy, a University of Pennsylvania epidemiologist, one of the FDA experts gathered to examine the medicines sold to treat common cold symptoms." (Bridges, October 20, 2007, NP)

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The most recent example I can remember, is actually from just the other day, when a research article was discussed on the radio, and all the major network news stations regarding the low incidence of heart disease and heart attacks among Mormons living in Utah. The study found that contrary to the oft cited restriction of Mormons from smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, tea or coffee and the most casual data connected the low incidence of heart disease was not linked to either of these reasons but to the religious practice of monthly 24-hour fasting. (Ostrow, November 6, 2007, NP) There are countless other examples of this recent trend as the daily news continues to become an outlet for health research data and information.

This trend could be in part linked to media research that indicates that one of the number one reasons people access the internet is to find health information, and the internet is fast becoming traditional media's largest competitor for time and information. In a survey done in 2004 Burst Media found that 53.9% of all users questioned about internet usage, all of whom spent more than 3 hours online a day used it access local and national news, and 26.3% accessed health information. (Burst Media, 2004, NP) The summaries of quantitative research findings are often followed by the internet link for the particular program being watched. It is clear that research data on media is also getting far more quantitative, as information has become a much more competitive business and is therefore seeking outlets for information that can help them create programs and offerings that are more likely to reach the viewers of the day, as can be attested to by the above research data, a quantitative expression of the reasons why people use the internet. Though, this is clearly only the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to the ways that media has begun to use quantitative data to develop more competitive products.

Another trend, discussed in this work is the extensive manner in which education has embraced quantitative methods for nearly every aspect of its programs and theory. The accountability movement in education demonstrates the near exclusive use of high stakes test scores to determine the relative success and/or failure of students, and these scores are often linked directly to funding, teacher retention and even individual student passage from one grade to another. A couple of stark examples of this trend can be found in abilities tracking, a system that has been around for many years in most school systems and the laws associated with the No Child Left Behind Act. Both of these programs are seated squarely in the use of quantitative methodology to determine outcomes and future actions.

Ability tracking, in modern real world schools is often much more subtle but the results are frequently the same, as children and educators recognize differences based on test scores (and observations of ability) and respond to them, accordingly, ostracizing or even separating those who are labeled "slow" or "gifted" at both extremes from the rest of their peers. In extreme cases of ability tracking the evidence of inflexibility is rampant, though it is clearly easier to fall from grace than to climb out of mediocrity, most children relegated to the different ability classes will remain in such systems until they either complete school or leave dejected. (Ansalone & Biafora, 2004, p. 249) (Fiedler, Lange & Winebrenner, 2002, p. 108) The ability tracking trend is also a big part of the NCLB act as it is a key aspect of how students are ranked and guided through the system, based almost entirely on how well they score on written or action tests, which are then quantified to determine how well the student will do on arbitrary learning tasks.

The development of the accountability movement has led to a distinct emphasis on data as a rich source of solutions for whatever ails the school and its students. With careful interpretation of the data on the part of the administrators and other educators the school will learn what can be done to strengthen such weaknesses, as are found in the data and develop better strategies to achieve greater success. This in turn means better data, at which point the process begins all over again with a new set of data for a different period.

The accountability movement, mentioned before requires a greater explanation. In a sense the accountability movement is a relatively recent trend that associates reward and praise with success on exit data. In a sense the trend can be looked at as if the school is a business and the data becomes the profit or loss. Seeking to raise the data teachers and other educators use the previous years or quarter's data to guide the manner in which they formulate curriculum and other aspects of the data to increase the numbers as they would say, on the sales floor.

Accountability systems usually have two purposes: to monitor the performance of schools and districts as reforms are attempted and to provide a tool for school improvement...These are the familiar high-stakes accountability systems. (Henry, 1996, 85)

In the past most accountability systems put the state at the center of any data driven changes as the state then became responsible for the data and the implementation of change. (Henry, 1996, p.85) A current trend has been to level the field and demand change driven by data at every level. The No Child Left Behind Act is the most recognizable accumulation of the accountability model in schools, as a federal guideline of requirements that offer incentive as well as punishment for failures recorded in the quantitative data. Though there are many opponents of data driven accountability systems, as high-stakes testing seems to be the most logical and occasionally the only aspect taken into consideration to elicit change and this is a direct result of the adoption of qualitative methodology as the only "scientifically" accepted tool to determine fact. Though most educators believe that teaching to the test is not the most logical way to insight school improvement and ask that other factors such as obvious strengths and weaknesses, school culture, school context and performance progress also be a part of the equation rather than one set of data that determines all. (Harris, 2002, p. 21) many educators and others also complain that relying so heavily on quantitative data will in the long run damage schools and students as it will force curriculum down a path of definable and tested goals and reduce diversity in curriculum. (Toch, Oct. Nov. 2005, p. 26)

Most educators and administrators agree with the concept of quantitative data being an important aspect of understanding the system but believe that other issues must be included in order for a full picture to be created. Data is therefore thought of as foundational and functional as it is one of the only quantitative ways in which success and/or failure can be tracked and accounted for over time. (Nathan, 2002, p. 595) Yet, the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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