Study Finds Major ‘Dissemination’ Gap Between N.I.E. Research and Schools

By Charlie Euchner — February 01, 1984 3 min read
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Washington--An unpublished federal study has found that the National Institute of Education does a poor job of distributing its research findings to the educators who need them the most, leading the author to recommend an extensive restructuring of the research agency.

The 93-page study, prepared for the policy-making arm of the nie, said the institute’s 20 laboratories and research centers “could play a critical role in local educational reform” if the agency adopts a better strategy for conducting its research and distributing its findings.

A copy of the study was obtained by Emily C. Feistritzer, the director of an education-information firm in Washington.

Alan Wilson, acting deputy director of the nie, said the research agency would use the report’s proposals for reorganization when it develops procedures for holding competitive bidding for the labs and centers. The first stage of the bidding is likely to take place this summer, Mr. Wilson said.

Members of the National Council on Educational Research--the policy-making body of the nie that commissioned the study last August from the Center for Leadership Development in Los Angeles--received the report last week.

The new report concludes that the labs and centers, which were housed in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare before their move to the nie in 1974, have spent $540 million in the last 20 years but did not address the practical needs of educators at all levels.

“To their credit, the labs and centers have done very little research that could not directly be applied,” said Kendall O. Price, president of the Center for Leadership Development and director of the research project. “They are not doing the esoteric-type research. I’m pleased with that ... because education is an applied field.”

“It looks like there has been research that people want done, but people in the field don’t know it exists or how they can get it,” added Mr. Price. “There’s a real gap between getting the research done and getting it to the people.”

The report said that gap is caused by the “dissemination” process of the labs and centers. Most articles and reports written by the labs and centers are not circulated widely enough, the report said, and the reports are written in language that is difficult for many people to understand.

To correct those problems, the report recommends that the nie create a comprehensive strategy for printing and distributing abstracts of all research papers. The report also calls for the creation of a new databank listing all research projects undertaken by the nie and other public and private institutions.

The distribution of this information would be carried out through education associations and other private organizations, government agencies, and school districts.

Mr. Price said the nie will “never be effective” until its responsibilities are more clearly defined.

The researchers analyzed 6,900 reports and articles published by 17 labs and centers between 1965 and 1983. They also analyzed the survey responses of education leaders and political figures, the proceedings of meetings relating to nie labs and centers, and the various education reports published during the last year.

Among the proposals listed in the report is the establishment of 12 new research and development centers that would be evaluated and subject to competitive bidding every five years. Reagan Administration proposals to subject all of the current laboratories and centers to competition has encountered resistence from the Congress, but Mr. Wilson said he expects to start the bidding after this year’s elections.

The proposed centers would study issues more closely related to curriculum than the current 20 laboratories and centers, reflecting the demand by educators for more information about those areas, according to Mr. Price.

The new research centers would study postsecondary education; vocational and career education; teaching, learning, and development; leadership, management, and school effectiveness; English literacy; mathematics; science; technology; social studies; foreign languages and humanities; the fine and performing arts; and physical fitness and health.

Because the subjects the current labs and centers address do not correspond to the subjects listed in the report, Mr. Price acknowledged, some of the labs and centers would not be eligible to compete for nie grants without completely changing their missions.

Whether the nie would continue to support all of its centers and establish new ones would depend on the findings of annual “state-of-education” reports, the results of a “needs assessment” to be conducted every five years, and triennial evaluations of the centers--all proposals contained in the report.

A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 1984 edition of Education Week as Study Finds Major ‘Dissemination’ Gap Between N.I.E. Research and Schools


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