Research Group Seeks More Influence Over Policy, Practice
Towards the conclusion of a keynote discussion on assessment at the National Academy of Education’s 50th anniversary meeting, John Q. Easton raised a thought-provoking question. As a former director of the Institute of Education Sciences and a respected senior fellow at the Spencer Foundation, Easton questioned why the academy has so little influence and ability to communicate with practitioners and policymakers. This question brings to light the organization’s current soul-searching regarding its role in the education policy landscape.
While the academy has always facilitated lively debates on policy and practice among the education research community at its annual meetings, members are now advocating for a more active leadership role in translating research into education policy and practice. This push comes at a time when new federal guidelines for accountability rules for schools are being developed. The academy sees this as a critical opportunity to influence how legislation is implemented at the state and district levels. The presence of Deputy Education Secretary John King, Jr. at the conference, the first federal schools chief in 15 years to attend, further highlights the growing demand for scholarly input in education debates.
Michael Feuer, the academy’s president and the education dean at George Washington University, believes that the education research community has become more knowledgeable about the need to bridge the gap between research and policy. He explains that simply providing research-based knowledge to policymakers and teachers is no longer sufficient, and that a more collaborative approach is necessary to effect positive change in education.
This is not the first time the academy has had to reassess its vision and expand its reach. Initially, the academy focused on big research ideas rather than practical studies in education. In the 1980s, the academy faced financial difficulties and a shift in interest towards educational practice rather than research. It was during this time that the academy formed a partnership with the Spencer Foundation to provide funding and support for postdoctoral education researchers.
Overall, the academy’s reflection and desire for increased leadership demonstrate a commitment to shaping education policy and practice through research-based approaches. By actively engaging with practitioners and policymakers, the academy hopes to bridge the gap between research and implementation and ultimately improve education outcomes.
Snow explained that the group is currently focused on expanding both their membership and fellowship programs. They have made a concerted effort to prioritize diversity in their recruitment of young, minority, and female scholars. Lalitha Vasudevan, an associate professor of technology and education at Teachers College of Columbia University, has recently joined as a Spencer fellow. She is conducting research on collecting data from portfolios and other non-test projects. Vasudevan believes that the academy’s work serves as a reminder that research should strive to tackle important questions and make a positive impact in the world.
Feuer and Snow argue that it is important for the group to involve more educators and policymakers in discussions on how to make education research more applicable. They point out that simply providing high-quality research is not enough to ensure its utilization in policy and practice. Adam Gamoran, president of the William T. Grant Foundation, states that the focus should shift towards establishing the necessary structures and relationships that facilitate the use of research. In the late 1980s, the academy participated in cultural delegations, fostering connections between educators in the United States and the Commonwealth of Independent States. During this time, Anderson called for a "glasnost" approach, promoting open and collaborative discussions between education researchers and practitioners. He argued that members should engage in face-to-face dialogues, presenting evidence for policies at meetings attended by state officials and district leaders.
Anderson expressed the need for increased interaction with school leaders, as he believes that their perspectives are often different from those of researchers. He encouraged academy members to actively participate in school board meetings and speak up about their concerns. Jeffrey Henig, an education politics professor at Teachers College, shared a similar sentiment. Instead of searching for a single definitive study to address pressing questions in education, he suggested that the academy should focus on helping practitioners incorporate new knowledge as it becomes available. Kenji Hakuta, a Stanford education professor and long-time academy member, emphasized the importance of making research more relevant to educators and policymakers. He noted that not only is this necessary for the survival of the academy, but also for the field of education research as a whole. Hakuta expressed his disappointment that despite the establishment of rigorous standards, the funding for education research still falls short. He believes that Congress is unlikely to support education research if its advocates solely consist of researchers.