Kenneth Howe

Kenneth Howe
Professor Emeritus
EFPP: Educational Foundations, Policy & Practice

School of Education, Room 245
University of Colorado Boulder
249 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309-0249

Kenneth R. Howe is Professor of Educational Foundations, Policy and Practice and past president of the Philosophy of Education Society.

Professor Howe specializes in education policy, professional ethics, and philosophy of education. He has conducted research on a variety of topics, ranging from the quantitative/qualitative debate to a philosophical examination of constructivism to a defense of multicultural education to education policy analysis, particularly school choice. He teaches courses in the social foundations of education, the philosophy of education, and philosophical issues in education research.

Professor Howe's books include the Ethics of Special Education (with Ofelia Miramontes), Understanding Equal Educational Opportunity: Social Justice, Democracy and Schooling, Values in Evaluation and Social Research (with Ernest House), and Closing Methodological Divides: Toward Democratic Educational Research


PhD Philosophy/Education (joint), Michigan State University, 1985
MA Philosophy, Michigan State University, 1978
BA Philosophy, Michigan State University, 1973

Professor Howe’s scholarship has been historically concentrated in three major areas: educational ethics, social justice in education, and the philosophical dimensions of educational research. Each is ongoing and each informs his recent work in educational policy.

Educational Ethics

Professor Howe has worked in medical and nursing ethics, where he developed a general view that he also applies to education: professional ethics should be based on a model in which practitioners both help define the ethical problems to be addressed and participate in their solution. In 1992, he published the Ethics of Special Education (with Ofelia Miramontes), a book based largely on cases collected from practicing special educators and that incorporates the approach to professional ethics just described. He has also published several articles in educational ethics, the most recent of which is Ethics in Educational Research (with Michele Moses) in Review of Research in Education (1999).

Social Justice in Education

Professor Howe has an ongoing interest in the principle of equality of educational opportunity and its role in social justice. He has analyzed the concept of equal educational opportunity across a variety of educational policy issues, such as multicultural education, gender equity, testing and standards, separatism, and school choice. He has published a number articles in this general area in addition to a book, Understanding Equal Educational Opportunity: Social Justice, Democracy, and Schooling, in 1997.

The Philosophical Dimensions of Educational Research

Professor Howe also has an ongoing interest in the philosophical dimensions of educational research methodology. He has focused especial attention on the quantitative-qualitative and fact-value distinctions, the "two dogmas of educational research." He has written a number of articles on these topics, five of which have appeared in the Educational Researcher. His most recent book, Closing Methodological Divides: Toward Democratic Educational Research (2002), traces and extends this work. In a related vein, Professor Howe’s 1999 book, Values in Evaluation and Social Research (with Ernest House), articulates a conception of evaluation research that advocates fostering democratic deliberation in designing and conducting evaluations of educational and social policies.

Education Policy Research

Professor Howe’s fourth and newest area of scholarship is empirical research on educational policy. He has published several articles in the Phi Delta Kappan and in Educational Leadership (both with Margaret Eisenhart and Damian Betebenner) on an empirical study of the school choice system in Boulder, Colorado. He also conducted a study of the role of the American College Testing (ACT) examination in Colorado’s standards-based accountability system (with Damian Betebenner). (For more information, see: 

Professor Howe endeavors to have students come away from his courses with an appreciation for complexity and a respect for opposing viewpoints. Many (all) of the issues he considers involve controversy, for which there are no unquestionably right answers. Digging into complex material and engaging in critical dialogue about it helps reveal the kind of complexity that is almost always there. Thus, when students take their own positions, they should not be inclined to rely on caricatures and to demonize those with whom they disagree. They should also appreciate that their own view is not perfect, but rather the best they can do under conditions of uncertainty.

Courses Frequently Taught:

Philosophy of Education (EDUC 5055)

The course is devoted primarily to examining the role of education in promoting a just and democratic society. It examines the views of philosophers such as Plato, John Dewey, and Amy Gutmann. Plato provides the first fully developed Western conception of education, a nondemocratic conception, and his views serve as a foil for democratic views, as well as the more radical views of thinkers such as Foucault and Freire. One of the major issues addressed is how these thinkers might respond to the challenge to incorporate oppressed and excluded "voices." Feminism is an important part of this conversation.

Seminar in Philosophical Issues in Educational Research (EDUC 8804)

General topics include a comparative analysis of the “paradigms” of positivism, interpretivism, critical theory, feminism, postmodernism, and pragmatism. Topics that cut across these general paradigms and help distinguish them from one another include the quantitative/qualitative debate, the fact/value distinction, relativism, objectivity/subjectivity, and bias. The emphasis is often on philosophy of science as much as (or more than) on educational research per se, but the course generally seeks to explore and strengthen linkages between philosophy of science and educational research wherever they exist.

Social Foundations of Education (EDUC 5005)

The course is designed to acquaint students with the broad moral-political dimensions of public education that frame competing positions on issues such as tracking, multiculturalism, gender, and school choice, to name a few. 

Two major threads are woven through the more specific issues examined: (1) the traditionalism versus progressivism divide, and (2) the drive for educational equality, spurred in recent history by the landmark Brown versus the Board of Education decision in 1954.

Professor Howe is active in the Philosophy of Education Society and the American Educational Research Association. He serves on editorial boards and as a reviewer for several professional journals. He currently co-edits the Kluwer philosophy of education series.

(For complete list of publications, please see the faculty member's curriculum vitae.)


Betebenner, D. W., Howe, K. R., & Foster, S. S. (2005). On school choice and test-based accountability. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 13(4).

Howe K. & Ashcraft, C. (2005). Deliberative democratic evaluation: Successes and limitations of an evaluation of school choiceTeachers College Record, 107(10), 2274-2297.

Howe, K. (2004). A critique of experimentalismQualitative Inquiry, 10 (4), 42-61.

Howe, K., & Welner, K. (2002). School choice and the pressure to perform: Déjà vu for children with disabilitiesJournal of Remedial and Special Education, 23(4), 212-221.

Howe, K., Eisenhart, M., & Betebenner, D. (2001). School choice crucible: A case study of Boulder Valley. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(2), 137-146.

Howe, K. (2001). Qualitative educational research: The philosophical issues. In V. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of Rsearch on Teaching (pp. 201-208). Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.

Howe, K., & Moses, M. (1999). Ethics in educational researchReview of Research in Education24, 21-60.

Howe, K. (1998). The interpretive turn and the new debate in educationEducational Researcher, 27(8), 13-20.

Howe, K. (1994). Standards, assessment, and equality of educational opportunityEducational Researcher, 23 (8), 27-33.

Howe, K., & Dougherty, K. (1993). Ethics, institutional review boards, and the changing face of educational researchEducational Researcher, 22(9), 16-21.

Howe, K. (1992). Getting over the quantitative-qualitative debateAmerican Journal of Education, 100(2), 236-256.

Howe, K. (1992). Liberal democracy, equal educational opportunity and the challenge of multiculturalismAmerican Educational Research Journal, 29(3), 455-470.

Howe, K. (1990). AIDS education in public schools: Old wine in new bottles? Journal of Moral Education, 19(2), 114-123. Posted here with the permission of Taylor & Francis, journal available online.

Howe, K., & Eisenhart, M. (1990). Standards in qualitative (and quantitative) research: A prolegomenonEducational Researcher, 19(4), 2-9.

Howe, K. (1989). In defense of outcomes-based conceptions of equal educational opportunityEducational Theory, 39(4), 317-336.

Howe, K. (1988). Against the quantitative-qualitative incompatibility thesis (Or dogmas die hard)Educational Researcher, 17(8), 10-16.