To the Editor:
We understand why Ronald A. Wolk titled his perceptive Commentary “Education Research Could Improve Schools, But Probably Won’t” (June 20, 2007). As he notes, research language is often complex and off-putting. Researchers and practitioners don’t always agree. Some research studies contradict each other. These conditions, however, exist in other fields, such as engineering and medicine, in which, despite problems, research does improve practice. Based on our experience with research in and out of education, as well as our work in curriculum development, we think the prospects may be brighter than Mr. Wolk predicts.
Advances in health care, transportation, consumer goods, electronics, and other fields have all been built on the accumulation of evidence about what works and doesn’t work, and education could take a lesson from these fields. The key is to have a sufficient number of knowledgeable experts who understand how research can make a difference, and who are empowered to act on their understanding.
The major suppliers and buyers of educational products and services could recruit sufficient expert staff who are highly qualified to interpret the research literature and translate their interpretations into practical recommendations for an instructional approach or product design. With the right kind of expertise, school districts, schools, and product-development companies could also systematically test the effects of interventions and materials they design, purchase, and implement, thereby identifying what’s working, what’s not, and why.
The alternative to using research in education is the “try and discard one new fad after another” approach that has failed us for more than a century. Why not adopt the approach that works in many other fields—for both buyers and makers? Use available science to inspire (or inspect) possible solutions, scale those solutions for general distribution, and test to see if children get the intended impact before full distribution.
Many other industries have gone before us, and benefited both themselves and users this way. We believe our children, families, and teachers can all benefit from research—if we get the right people to take the time to understand how to do it and how to use it.
Chief Learning Officer
Vice President of Evaluation and Research
To the Editor:
Ronald A. Wolk’s Commentary “Education Research Could Improve Schools, But Probably Won’t” is a well-thought, profound, and long-overdue analysis of the conflicting benefits of education research in the 21st century.
His ideas are enlightening and show the need for new guidelines to move “the education of education” forward from the industrial past into the era of knowledge and globalization. It is crucial that the subject become serious and objective, to address education quality within the new quality paradigm—which, in contrast to other sectors of society, is still foreign to education.
M. Teresa Lepeley
President and CEO
Global Institute for Quality Education
A version of this article appeared in the July 18, 2007 edition of Education Week as Bringing Education Research Into the New Century