Connect Agenda for Federal Research To Practice, Advisory Board Advocates

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Moving research closer to students, teachers, and schools should be a top priority for federal officials, according to the first long-term agenda for federally sponsored school research.

An advisory board and Department of Education officials proposed that proven school practices, instead of new trends, should be the subject of federal researchers. That stance addressed critics who argue that the department too often funds research that follows political whims.

"We cannot afford hit-or-miss approaches driven by fad and fallacies," Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley said last month. "We need solid scientific evidence about what works, for whom, and under what conditions."

He pointed to vouchers as a strategy that may get more attention than it deserves.

The research agenda was mandated by Congress in 1994. Lawmakers asked the department's office of educational research and improvement to work with a new 15-member advisory board to set a biennial plan of national research priorities.

The board, composed of researchers and educators, was added to the process in the wake of charges that the OERI was too far removed from the schools it serves. ("Policy Board Discusses Labs and Centers, Research Agenda," April 12, 1995.)

Gerald Sroufe, the director of government and professional liaison for the American Educational Research Association, noted that the department often completely changes its focus each time a new secretary is appointed. He said he would like to see the priorities bring stability to the department.

"What's most important about [the priorities] is they exist," he said. "There are no exotic ideas buried within" the report.

Touching All Bases

The document, "Building Knowledge for a Nation of Learners," recommends that future federally funded education research focus on issues under seven broad categories.

Those categories are research that will help educators; improve early-childhood development; align curriculum, teaching, and assessments toward more analytical thinking; improve teacher training and boost recruitment and retention; motivate students to learn and take responsibility; prepare increasingly diverse student populations for all aspects of American life; promote tying out-of-school experiences to classes and academic achievement; and understand the nation's changing demographics and what students need to learn to succeed.

The research priorities report says that schools that can master all those categories will succeed in producing well-educated students.

Mr. Riley said that research guided by the new priorities should lead to better federal education policy.

"The very foundation for this effort surely has to be good research," the secretary said. "If we want smart kids we better have smart research."

Copies of "Building Knowledge for a Nation of Learners" are free from the National Library of Education, (800) 424-1616, or at the department's World Wide Web site at

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