Rethinking the politics and practice of action research in education studies

Educational researchers now find themselves caught up in a 'science war' in which the very definition of what constitutes 'science' is being narrowed, and in ways that privilege the what works paradigm (Biesta, 2010). In which case, education policy now purports to know the right answer and the only task for teachers, broadly defined here, is to (unproblematically) 'implement' what works in our classrooms. Aligned with performativity demands, educators are now cajoled and blamed for unsatisfactory outcomes, for having failed to implement what works effectively. But then as Hayes et al (2009) remind us: 'the key issue is not what kinds of pedagogies improve educational outcomes but how to support the development of the kinds of pedagogies that we have good reason to believe will work. As in the past, the sticking point remains practice' (p. 253). Implementing faithfully what works shows no signs of being successful in 'disadvantaged' schools, as it is local school knowledge about practice that largely determines what kinds of pedagogies get enacted. Simply put, we need to be researching teachers' engagement in the process of redesigning pedagogy.
As an alternative to what works, collaborative and participatory action research has growing influence internationally and in Australian educational research, contributing to teacher capacity-building and professional renewal in local settings (Somekh, 2006; Hattam et al, 2009). But then, advocates of action research have been arguing for ongoing developments including these:
- the importance of 'systematic, meticulous, tedious, detailed observations' of 'pedagogical sites' (Gore, 1997, p. 215);
- focusing on pedagogy as an 'ongoing practical accomplishment' (Freebody & Freiberg 2012: 80), constituted out of the 'practical reasoning' or 'practical theorising' (p.80) at the local school level.
- framing action research as another way to do policy sociology;
- augmenting action research with ethnographically informed approaches to provide context about school structures and school cultures;
- being informed by alternative critiques of knowledge, such as from post-structuralism (St. Pierre 2011 ) and decolonising methodologies (Smith, 2012)

In this symposia, we take up the urgent need to be rethinking the politics and practice of action research in the Age of Measurement. Each of the papers provides a case study of recent attempts to update action research as a politically viable and productive approach to generating worthwhile knowledge about reforms that aim to make a difference.