In his first major talk yesterday at the American Educational Research Association’s annual confab, John Q. Easton, the U.S. Department of Education’s research czar, found himself largely among friends. A veteran of the field, Easton knew many members by name and the questioning was gentle.
That stands in contrast to one of his predecessor’s early meetings with the group. Former Institute of Education Sciences director Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst met with more hostile questions a few years ago when he presented his plans for boosting the rigor of studies in the field. Whitehurst’s early emphasis on the use or randomized controlled trials to determine whether interventions work did not sit well with everyone in this crowd.
While Easton has no plans to backtrack on the agency’s prior work in producing better-quality research, his vision of the kinds of methodologies that could be used in the future to produce that kind of research is slightly broader than Whitehurst’s was perceived to be at first.
At Sunday’s talk, Easton reiterated his five goals for the agency. Besides creating new rigorous research methods, he wants to: make research more relevant and useful; study schools as organizations; deepen the field’s understanding of teaching quality; and train a new generation of researchers to do the kind of collaborative, on-the-ground work that Easton himself did when he was director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research. (For more details on some of those goals, see this EdWeek story from November.)
“Far too much education research—including much of it that is done in universities—is driven by the interest and theories of the researchers themselves and not the needs and problems of practice,” he told the audience. “That has to change.”
Easton also dribbled out a few details of his plans for the Institute of Education Sciences. One that piqued my interest: Finding a way to measure whether students have “grit” in addition to the usual academic outcomes, which many view as overly narrow. University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth, who espouses the grit concept, defines it as the ability to set specific long-term goals and do whatever it takes to reach them. And, according to Easton, Duckworth claims that no one who is successful got that way without it.
Is this what we mean by 21st-century skills, I wonder, or are we channeling John Wayne? Easton’s full speech is due to be posted today on the IES website.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.