School & District Management

Education Research Seeks a Faster Pace

By Sarah D. Sparks — December 30, 2010 4 min read

Education futurists predict massive shifts in the way children will learn as a result of new technologies and the global job market. Yet policymakers worry that education research is not moving fast enough to provide a foundation for truly effective innovations.

“We need to set up better facilities for doing [education research] pilots quickly and well,” Bror Saxberg, Kaplan Inc.’s chief learning officer, said at a Dec. 17 discussion on improving educational technology and innovation, held at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“Technology actually never solves a problem,” he continued. “Technology can take a really bad solution and make it work really quickly ... and it can take a really good solution and make it work incredibly efficiently and quickly as well. But notice you have to have the solution first.”

That’s why private and public education researchers have become increasingly interested in so-called “deep-dive, quick-turnaround” education research, which aims to find rapid, concrete answers to specific questions from educators and policymakers.

John Q. Easton, the director of the federal Institute of Education Sciences, said he plans to send someone from his staff to a training seminar in January on one of the models, developed by the Cambridge, Mass.-based Institute for Healthcare Improvement, or IHI.

The model provides short, intensive research into a specific problem—say, how to retain math teachers in a poor rural school district—to get usable results in a 90-day time frame.

The research team spends the first 30 days reviewing existing research and interviewing experts and organizations familiar with the problem, to develop theories on the problem, a proposed solution, and an annotated bibliography on the available evidence. In the next 30 days, the team develops and tests its theories and refines the best practices using a number of pilot sites. In the last 30 days, the team concludes its tests and produces a final report on the best solutions found, with information on how to implement them and areas for further research.

“The two biggest complaints about education research is it takes too long and it’s not relevant, and this is addressing both of those,” said James W. Kohlmoos, the president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based Knowledge Alliance, which represents research groups such as the federal regional education laboratories. The Knowledge Alliance co-sponsored the training on IHI’s model with the Alpharetta, Ga.-based education firm AdvanceED. Mr. Kohlmoos said about 30 national researchers would also attend the IHI training.

During the Brookings discussion, Mr. Saxberg and Marilyn Reznick, the executive director for educational leadership at the Dallas-based AT&T Foundation, said the private sector is already expanding its use of quick, intensive studies, particularly with the growing availability of online data.

For example, the New York City-based Kaplan, which provides testing and other education services for schools, districts, and parents, has an internal testing facility that provides quick-turnaround randomized controlled trials of online programs, according to Mr. Saxberg. The company recently conducted a study of 900 students during a four-week period to gauge the effectiveness of videos in a content program it was developing.

Funding Research

Yet many stakeholders argue this sort of research won’t catch on without a more substantive investment in research and development from both the public and private sectors.

James H. Shelton, the assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement for the U.S. Department of Education, said at the Brookings event that while industries in an innovative framework usually spend 20 percent to 25 percent of their budgets on research and development, and mature industries spend 3 percent to 5 percent on R&D, the education field spends just one-tenth of a percent on research and development.

“One of the telling aspects of this is education companies don’t even bother to report [research and development] in their accounting statements,” said Mr. Saxberg. “I mean, so many industries actually have an R&D line. Education companies don’t even think there’s a reason to talk about it.”

Stacey Childress, the deputy director for education at the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said the common-core academic standards that have been adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia may provide a common platform for education programs that could make small-scale research more broadly applicable. Current virtual schools and interstate education programs have been limited by the existence of differing curriculum requirements from state to state and district to district, she said.

Paul E. Peterson, the director of the Harvard University program on education policy and governance, agreed.

“Schools are tiny markets historically—neighborhood schools, for the kids in the neighborhood. It’s very difficult to innovate in small markets,” he said. “We have to find a way of moving from multiple small markets to regional markets, or ideally a national market.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 12, 2011 edition of Education Week as Education Research Seeks a Faster Pace

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Educator-Driven EdTech Design: Help Shape the Future of Classroom Technology
Join us for a collaborative workshop where you will get a live demo of GoGuardian Teacher, including seamless new integrations with Google Classroom, and participate in an interactive design exercise building a feature based on
Content provided by GoGuardian
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table With Education Week: What Did We Learn About Schooling Models This Year?
After a year of living with the pandemic, what schooling models might we turn to as we look ahead to improve the student learning experience? Could year-round schooling be one of them? What about online
School & District Management Webinar What's Ahead for Hybrid Learning: Putting Best Practices in Motion
It’s safe to say hybrid learning—a mix of in-person and remote instruction that evolved quickly during the pandemic—is probably here to stay in K-12 education to some extent. That is the case even though increasing

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management From Our Research Center How the Pandemic Is Shaping K-12 Education (in Charts)
Surveys by the EdWeek Research Center show how schools have changed during the pandemic and what adjustments are likely to stick.
Eric DiVito gives breathing instructions as he teaches a remote music class at the Osborn School on Oct. 6, 2020, in Rye, N.Y.
Eric DiVito gives breathing instructions as he teaches a remote music class at the Osborn School in Rye, N.Y., last fall.
Mary Altaffer/AP
School & District Management 'You Can’t Follow CDC Guidelines': What Schools Really Look Like During COVID-19
All year, some teachers have said that enforcing precautions to slow the spread of the virus in classrooms can be nearly impossible.
13 min read
Guntown Middle School eighth graders walk the halls to their next class as others wait in their assigned spots against the wall before moving into their next class during the first day back to school for the Lee County District in Guntown, Miss on Aug. 6, 2020.
Eight graders walk the halls on the first day back to school in Guntown, Miss., on Aug. 6, 2020. Teachers in several states told Education Week that since the beginning of the school year, enforcing precautions such as social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus has been nearly impossible.<br/>
Adam Robison/The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal via AP
School & District Management Opinion School Reopening Requires More Than Just Following the Science
Educators can only “follow the science” so far. Professional expertise matters too, writes Susan Moore Johnson.
Susan Moore Johnson
5 min read
Illustration of school and bus
Getty
School & District Management Why Teacher Vaccinations Are So Hard to Track
Teachers can now get the COVID-19 vaccine, but there’s no way of knowing how many are currently inoculated against the virus.
6 min read
Image of a needle and vaccine bottle.
iStock/Getty