Researchers Ponder How To Reach Practitioners
New York--The education-research community has "come of age" within the past decade and now has a substantial body of information that could improve America's schools. But many in the field have failed to find ways of sharing their knowledge with the teachers and administrators who put research into practice.
This was the message of many participants in the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (aera), held here last week.
"We have miles to go to establish dialogue with practitioners," said William W. Cooley, the newly elected president of the 16,000-member organization.
"The gap between research and practice--between what we know and what we do--is one of the most crucial underdiscussed problems that face schools," added Milton Goldberg, a former acting director of the National Institute of Education (nie)--the Education Department's nine-year-old research arm--and currently the executive director of the National Commission on Excellence in Education.
Mr. Goldberg and others mentioned several reasons for the lack of communication between education researchers and those who face students on a day-to-day basis in the schools, including the style that many research papers are written in, the failure of education schools to transmit research information to their students, and widespread skepticism among teachers about the relevance of research to classroom practice.
"We need to put together research in a way that is interpretable to those in the schools," Mr. Cooley said.
The leadership of the aera endorsed several actions designed to do that. The organization will sponsor a series of seminars in Washington on national education issues such as the implementation of block grants and the effects of tuition tax credits.
The research organization will also appoint an "editor without a journal," whose role will be to "translate" education re-search and try to publish it in general-circulation publications. In addition, the organization agreed to work more closely with other "school-based" education groups, such as the teachers' unions and the National School Boards Association.
Mr. Cooley acknowledged that these plans are also designed to gain more public recognition and support for the education-research community in a time of sharp cutbacks in federal support to education.
Marilyn Rauth, director of the educational-issues department of the American Federation of Teachers, said at the meeting that until recently teachers were skeptical of education research because it often failed to be supported by classroom experience.
"Research in the past was suspect, at best," Ms. Rauth said. "There was a feeling among teachers that 'my ideas work better than yours, so go away, you bunch of carpetbaggers."'
Losing Research Information
Ms. Rauth also said teachers are "losing a lot of [research] information" because of inadequate dissemination channels. Other conference participants agreed, citing as examples research journals, state education-department offices, the National Diffusion Network, and the National Institute of Education.
"With a few exceptions, the state education department is the last place you would want to send research--they are so isolated from classroom practice," Ms. Rauth said.
"They are certainly not disseminators," she added.
She and others contended that communication between researchers and practitioners has been hampered because very little research has been conducted in schools until recently and teachers were rarely included in decisions about what to study.
The American Federation of Teachers is using a $200,000, two-year grant from the National Institute of Education to train 60 teachers who will test the classroom usefulness of new research and help other teachers apply the new material to their classrooms.
Judith E. Lanier, dean of the college of education at Michigan State University, said the "gap" between education research and its use in classrooms is caused in part by a "very serious lack of communication between researchers and education-school faculty."
This lack of communication, said Ms. Lanier--who is a former co-director of the Institute for Research on Teaching, one of 17 federally funded education-research laboratories and centers--results in a failure of education-school faculty to keep up with recent research. In turn, she said, the faculty members often fail to expose their students to the research.
Added Ms. Rauth: "Teacher-educators have the same problem as teachers: Research is done and it sits somewhere. They never see it."
aera members appeared in agreement that the quality of education research has improved markedly in the last decade, a period that roughly parallels the establishment of a significant federal role in the field, intensified with the founding of the National Institute of Education in 1973.
Among the areas in which researchers claim their work has made a difference in the quality of schools are early childhood development (through programs such as Head Start), school finance, and reading.
Participants here cited as potentially fruitful areas for future research the application of technology to the classroom, testing, education of the gifted, and literacy.
Nearly 6,500 people attended the aera meeting--a record.
Alex Heard also contributed to this report.