Column One: Research
Calling the federal government's system for disseminating educational research "dysfunctional," Diane S, Ravitch called for creating an electronic data base that would allow teachers, parents, and policymakers to find out about research findings and effective practices.
Speaking at the Education Department's annual research, development, and dissemination forum this month in Washington, Ms. Ravitch, the assistant secretary of education for educational research and improvement, also said the department was creating an office of media and dissemination, which would coordinate dissemination activities and develop videotapes, audiotapes, and interactive software products to spread the word on research.
"/don't think we actually have a dissemination system," she said. "We have a series of programs ... that don't necessarily have any connection to each other."
The proposed on-line system-which she called "Source for Materials and Research About Teaching and Learning," or "SMARTLINE," could make information available in every public library and school library in the country, Ms. Ravitch said.
It would include information about "what works"; referrals to state, local, and national organizations; a directory of exemplary programs; and federal grant announcements, among other information.
"This offers the possibility of building the nation's treasure chest" of information about education, Ms. Ravitch said.
Some researchers at the conference cautioned, however, that the proposed system might not work as Ms. Ravitch hopes.
Paul D. Hood, the director of planning and evaluation for the Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development, said that teachers and parents might not avail themselves of the information.
"There are severe limits to what can be accomplished through some of the technologies that look so dazzling," he said.
And Elizabeth Fennema, a researcher at the National Center for Research in Mathematical Sciences Education at the University of Wisconsin, said some studies in their early stages are not ready to be disseminated in schools.
But Ms. Ravitch responded that teachers she has spoken with have asked for such a system. And, she suggested, a proper system of dissemination could make the case to the Congress that research is valuable.
"If we don't do a better job of getting research into people's hands," she said to Ms. Fennema, "we inhibit our ability to go to Congress and get funding for the kind of research you're talking about."--R.L.