To the Editor:
In an otherwise perceptive Commentary on scientifically based practice (“‘Scientifically Based Practice: It’s About More Than Improving the Quality of Research,” Commentary, March 23, 2005.), Deborah Stipek made inaccurate statements about the Institute of Education Sciences.
She writes that the focus of research at the institute is “on identifying effective teaching practices.” The institute does fund research on teaching and instructional practice. However, it also funds research on curriculum, assessment and accountability, learning and cognition, the teaching and administrative workforce, resource allocation, and systems and policies.
Ms. Stipek indicates that the institute has “put its faith, and its money, in a particular methodology—randomized field trials.” She contrasts this with the National Research Council’s recommendation “that the fit between the method and the questions being asked is more important than the particular method,” and the National Academy of Education’s position that research should be “embedded in practice.”
The methods supported by the institute vary with the question being addressed. They include methods for producing sound descriptive summaries, including surveys, observational data, and administrative records; methods appropriate for isolating possible relationships, such as multivariate analysis; and methods designed to address questions concerning the effectiveness of particular policies or practices, including single-subject, quasi-experimental, and experimental approaches.
We strongly prefer, as do policymakers and the public, randomized field trials when the question is the effectiveness of mature programs and practices. Such trials virtually always include the collection of process data that can provide insight into why an intervention does or does not work and that allow an examination of the relationship between implementation and outcomes.
However, randomized trials are only a part of our portfolio. A substantial portion of our funding goes to upstream work in which researchers are developing new programs or identifying promising practices, using methods appropriate for those investigations. We also invest in the development and validation of measurement and assessment tools. All of the institute’s research programs are embedded in practice, requiring both the selection of topics that are highly relevant to practitioners and the conduct of research in authentic education-delivery settings.
Ms. Stipek writes that “policymakers will have to give more weight to research findings than they now do if evidence is to have an impact on practice.” We agree and are devoted to establishing the rigorous and relevant research base and the effective dissemination strategies that are a prerequisite to that goal.
Grover J. (Russ) Whitehurst
Institute of Education Sciences