Diane S. Ravitch, the well-known education historian, was sworn in last week as assistant U.S. secretary of education for educational research and improvement and counselor to the secretary.
The author of numerous books and articles, most recently The American Reader, an anthology of writings and speeches that illustrate American history, Ms. Ravitch has been a leading voice in the debates over history instruction, multicultural education, and other issues.
She also served as a principal author of California’s new curriculum framework in history and social studies, and as co-director of a study sponsored by the National Academy of Education that set an agenda for education research. The academy’s study, “Research and the Renewal of Education,” was released this month.
Approved unanimously by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee and the full Senate, Ms. Ravitch’s nomination comes as the Bush Administration has pledged a major research effort as part of its education strategy, America 2000. But these efforts have also sparked some concern in the Congress, which has moved to restrict the ability of the office of educational research and improvement to act on the strategy without Congressional approval.
Speaking on her first full day on the job, Ms. Ravitch discussed her agenda with Associate Editor Robert Rothman.
Q. The Bush Administration’s major research initiative is being conducted by the private sector through the New American Schools Development Corporation [established in conjunction with America 2000]. What is oeri’s role in the Administration’s effort?
A. Oeri will be assisting the New American Schools Development Corporation. These are not competing efforts; they are cooperative and collaborative. We’re not working toward different ends; we’re working toward the same ends.
I will be working with the rand Corporation [which is assisting the new-schools corporation], and other people at oeri will be as well.?
I see what we’ve gotten as additional resources to accomplish common goals.
Q. The new National Academy of Education study, which you co-directed, called for a major increase in funding for research and a greater emphasis on comprehensive studies. Now that you are in a position to make policy, how do you plan to implement those recommendations?
A. The main thing that came out of that report was that there is a sense of vision needed. I’m going to try to bring what I see as a comprehensive strategy [to] research: connecting research to practice.
One of the lessons of the study is that research and practice should be tied together. Researchers should be asking all the time: Why are we doing this? What can it bring to practice? I will be asking those questions, and I will encourage people at oeri to be asking them, too.
Q. Do you share the priorities for the research agenda listed in the academy’s report [including active learning over the lifespan, assessment, bolstering achievement of underserved groups, school organization, and connecting research to teaching]?
A. I don’t know whether I can say those are exactly mine. I’m now in a different situation. There are specific things I want to accomplish, [how ever].
I want to initiate a dynamic pro gram of disseminating research findings. I see this today as one of the urgent priorities oeri has. We know a lot, but it’s not getting across. We need to make clear what we know, and bring it to much broader audiences.
I envision a dynamic program of developing videotapes, audiotapes, and interactive software, all the technology necessary to communi cate today. This is something we do not now have. The need is not to produce more reports, but to find other media to disseminate research findings. In the past, what was considered a success was to reach tens of thousands. I will consider it a success if we reach tens of millions. We’ve never had that goal.
The ability to do this depends on getting an increase in funding. It is not presently in our budget. I can’t say whether I can turn it around. But I will make the case, and say the purpose of additional money is for new research, and be visionary in how we communicate it to the general public.
Q. Is disseminating knowledge the major problem, or is there also a need to create new knowledge?
A. There is some knowledge that needs developing, but we have not had the funding to communicate it. There is a lot of knowledge here, in the public domain, but it has not been put in formats [in which] people can understand it and use it. There is also an ongoing commitment to develop new knowledge.
A version of this article appeared in the July 31, 1991 edition of Education Week as Question & Answer: New O.E.R.I. Head Sees Top Priority Ways To Marry Research and Practice