Following the Research in Mathematics Education

As a beginning Ph.D. student, most of the readings you do are to provide some breadth and to grow some roots in your field, and most of them are assigned as coursework. Once you get past your comprehensive exam, there tends to be less coursework and the reading you do typically is closely related to your dissertation topic. If I were facing a future as a tenure-track faculty member, I guess 80% of my reading would be done specifically to help me conduct further research or write the next paper, while the other 20% might simply be to keep up with other goings-on in the realm of educational research.

I now know my next job is not that of a tenure-track researcher. Instead, I'm working for the department of education and my primary role is to provide support to math teachers across the state. I need to keep up-to-date on math education research not so much for myself, but for the teachers I'll be working with, and they will certainly have a more diverse set of concerns than the narrow focus of my dissertation. So how do I go about following the breadth of research in mathematics education?

I decided to start with a long list of journals where mathematics educators typically publish. Thankfully, Sam Otten maintains such a list. I think the world of education research journals as it relates to mathematics education looks a bit like this:

Three categories of education journals as they relate to mathematics education

There's basically the big world of all education research, and within that the subset of journals where math educators are likely to publish, and then a smaller subset of journals that publish only work about mathematics education. There's no good way to monitor everything in the big set, as altogether I'm sure that represents hundreds of journals and 10,000+ articles annually. Tracking a set of journals that resembles the middle set might be possible, but it gets pretty noisy: for each article relevant to mathematics education published in Educational Researcher, for example, you'd probably have to wade through 10-20 irrelevant articles. The inner set should be trackable, as now we're probably down to a few dozen journals and a relatively high signal-to-noise ratio.

Thinking about where impactful mathematics education research gets published makes things more complicated. For example, a top researcher in mathematics education is more likely to publish a major article in a high-profile yet non-math education journal like AERA's American Educational Research Journal instead of a lower-profile math ed-specific journal like the Journal of Mathematics Education at Teachers College. (Don't get me wrong - the Journal of Mathematics Education at Teachers College is a fine journal that publishes work from prominent names in math education — but work there doesn't have the exposure and impact as work does in AERJ.)

Sam has about 100 journals on his list, and Pat Thompson's list has even more. The journals on Pat's list that aren't on Sam's list include a lot of non-English journals and ones that probably belong in the outer circle of my diagram. Sam's list focuses more on English-language journals from the inner two subsets. Still, 100 journals is too many for me to track consistently, so I combed through and found 20 that I know I've read from on multiple occasions as a graduate student. I then put those 20 journals in a poll that let other researchers sort and rank, and here's what resulted:

Ranking journals relevant to mathematics education

The poll instructions said, "If you were tasked with keeping up with K-12 research in mathematics education, and had to choose a limited number of journals to follow or subscribe to, which journals would you follow? Use the choices below to rank the importance of each journal." Only five people (I'm one of the five) responded, but you can see that we're in general agreement about which journals are most relevant for keeping up with mathematics education research. Some differences in rankings can be explained: I, for example, was the one who ranked Educational Researcher at #2, because math education articles published in ER typically represent a synthesis of a major body of work and are written to appeal to the broad audience of education researchers. I often feel a bit embarrassed when someone catches me having not read something math ed-related in ER, so I assigned it a higher rank. Opinions about ZDM are all over, ranking as high as 4th on one list and as low as 20th on another. That one is more difficult to explain, but maybe it's higher-volume, international, invitation-only, and themed-issue approach appeals to different researchers in different ways.

When I created the poll, I thought I'd be using the results to narrow my focus down to the top 10-12, but so far for TWiME I've kept up with all 20. I'm also following some open access math education journals, both because I value open access and because I know everyone who reads my blog can also read those articles. I'm not making any effort to check journals in the outer set, but occasionally something relevant published in something like Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis crosses my path and I give it a look. I've tried using RSS and email subscriptions to follow everything, but I'm finding that keeping all the journals in my browser bookmarks and going through them one-by-one is the easiest approach. Below is the list of everything I'm checking weekly:

Open access journals:
If you're asking, "Raymond, are you concerned about your level of access to the paywalled journals above after you're no longer affiliated with the university?" my answer is, "Yes. Yes I am. But I think I'll manage."