School & District Management

Learning by At-Risk Students Tops List of Proposed Research Priorities

By Debra Viadero — July 12, 2005 3 min read
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Research aimed at improving academic achievement for minority students, those with limited English skills, and other students with disadvantages tops a list of proposed research priorities published by the Department of Education’s primary research branch.

The new wish list, which appeared in the June 16 Federal Register, offers the clearest vision yet of the kinds of studies the department’s Institute of Education Sciences hopes to support in the next few years. The institute is seeking public comments on the proposed list over the next two months.

While national education groups have yet to analyze thoroughly the content of the priorities, some said the fact that the department was able to lay out a succinct, clear hierarchy of the kinds of studies it prefers was an achievement in itself.

Read the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed research priorities.

“You may not love them,” said Gerald E. Sroufe, the director of government relations for the American Educational Research Association, a Washington-based group representing 22,000 education researchers. “But this is the best effort at setting priorities for educational research over the last two decades.”

Core Subjects Stressed

In its Federal Register notice, the department said it had three overarching, long-term goals. They are: identifying widely deployed educational programs, practices, and policies that can improve academic achievement; weeding out programs and approaches that do not work; and developing better ways to disseminate research findings to the field.

In its quest to improve achievement for students considered at risk of academic failure, the department is focusing on different areas within key periods in children’s development. For example, in the birth-to-preschool years, the department wants to give priority to studies that examine efforts to improve children’s readiness for school.

Enhancing academic outcomes in reading and writing, mathematics, and science is the proposed focus for the K-12 period.

And, at the postsecondary level, federal officials are focusing on efforts helping students enroll in and complete programs that prepare them for “rewarding and constructive careers.”

The department proposes concentrating, overall, on studying conditions that are under the control of the education system: curriculum, instruction, assessment, the quality of teachers and administrators, accountability systems, and school choice.

Some other proposed priorities include helping adults with low levels of education acquire basic skills and examining how individuals with cognitive disabilities can acquire independent-living skills.

Basic Research Slighted?

To build the field’s capacity to undertake such studies, the department proposes continuing its support for doctoral and postdoctoral training in education sciences and expanding some of the longitudinal databases it uses now.

If the AERA has a quarrel with the list, Mr. Sroufe said, it may be with its seeming emphasis on evaluation of specific programs over basic research.

“I think we would probably want to see more attention to the structure in which education takes place,” he said, “and the reasons why something works in one place but doesn’t work in another place.”

Other groups and individuals wanting to comment on the proposal can send e-mail responses to: Elizabeth.payer@ ed.gov. The deadline for comments is Aug. 16.

The department’s national advisory board, which is required by law to sign off on the priorities, will take up the proposed list and review the public’s reaction to it at its next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 6-7 in Washington.

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