School & District Management Opinion

Don’t Let Education Research Languish in Academic Journals

3 ways to move research into the real world of schools
By John Papay — January 18, 2022 3 min read
Illustration of woman using telescope.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Ensuring that research crosses the divide to practice has been a long-standing challenge in the academy. There is tremendous value in disseminating research broadly, as highlighted by the Edu-Scholar Rankings. To “move ideas from the pages of barely read journals,” as rankings creator Rick Hess writes, “into the real world of policy and practice” should be a goal of both scholars and educators.

An approach distinct from broad dissemination of research results—but complementary to it—is that of “research-practice partnerships,” where researchers and practitioners enter into collaborations with specific aims. By targeting particular policy dilemmas and providing timely and actionable evidence, such RPPs can influence local decisions directly.

Over the past decade, I have been part of and learned from partnerships with Massachusetts, the Tennessee Education Research Alliance, the Providence public schools/Rhode Island, and a group of teacher-professional-learning organizations (the Research Partnership for Professional Learning or RPPL). All these partnerships were robust—exploring a range of questions, not undertaking just a single study—and sustained over time. They relied on active engagement from policymakers and practitioners and built on some of the best thinking of leaders in this field, such as Nate Schwartz and Carrie Conaway.

I see several key lessons drawn from reflections on what has worked—and what hasn’t—in our work together:

  • Co-construct a living research agenda to build core knowledge in a single area. Such agendas should trace out a line of inquiry that builds on existing research evidence and tackles questions of central interest to policymakers and the research community. Building such an agenda is challenging but worthwhile. The RPPL partnership recently engaged in this process, articulating a learning agenda to structure our partnership work over the next several years. Such agendas can help ensure that long-standing partnerships build strong evidence in core areas while also allowing for nimble analysis of real-time challenges. Developing and then regularly revisiting this agenda ensures that all sides of the partnership have their needs met.

See Also

Illustration of magnifying glass and school buildings.
James Steinberg for Education Week

  • Conduct analysis to support policy decisions without the potential for academic publication. Research designs that support causal inferences and rich statistical descriptions of problems—the stuff of journal articles—clearly have a place in any strong partnership. But simple descriptive statistics that provide new insights can be equally powerful for policy impact. From a policy perspective, a statistic that illuminates an issue in a new way can be the most powerful part of an analysis. And sometimes policymakers need quick information that their internal research shops cannot provide. Doing smart analysis can provide timely data to inform key decisions.
  • Build dissemination structures that engage program staff and stakeholders beyond the research team. Many partnerships—including the ones I’ve worked with—began when academics engaged with state or district research teams. Bringing in program staff outside the research team and other stakeholders beyond the agency makes the partnerships more effective. For example, in Massachusetts, we now hold triannual briefings for a wider audience of internal stakeholders and have worked to develop evidence of interest to the state K-12 and higher education boards. A broader base of stakeholders helps increase the influence of research evidence and ensures that the work lives beyond a single champion.

The growing success of smart, well-funded RPPs has already led to new and innovative partnership arrangements. With adequate support, robust and sustained partnerships could play a major role in making evidence-informed policymaking the new normal for the nation’s schools.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 19, 2022 edition of Education Week as Build a Strong Foundation


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.
Classroom Technology Webinar
How to Leverage Virtual Learning: Preparing Students for the Future
Hear from an expert panel how best to leverage virtual learning in your district to achieve your goals.
Content provided by Class
English-Language Learners Webinar AI and English Learners: What Teachers Need to Know
Explore the role of AI in multilingual education and its potential limitations.
Education Webinar The K-12 Leader: Data and Insights Every Marketer Needs to Know
Which topics are capturing the attention of district and school leaders? Discover how to align your content with the topics your target audience cares about most. 

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 Explainer What Does a School Principal Do? An Explainer
Learn about the principal workforce, what makes principals effective, and how schools can retain the best leaders.
Image of staffing.
Andrii Yalanskyi/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Running for a School Board Seat? This Is the Most Powerful Endorsement You Can Get
New research shows that this endorsement in school board races is more influential than any other, with virtually no downside.
5 min read
People in privacy booths vote in the midterm election at an early voting polling site at Frank McCourt High School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City on Nov. 1, 2022.
People in privacy booths vote in the midterm election at an early voting polling site at Frank McCourt High School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City on Nov. 1, 2022.
Ted Shaffrey/AP
School & District Management High Pace of Superintendent Turnover Continues, Data Show
About one in five large districts lost a superintendent last year, researchers found.
2 min read
Image of exit doors.
School & District Management Finding the Source of PCB Contamination in Schools Just Got Easier
Researchers say they have found a promising method to determine where in school buildings the PCB contamination is greatest.
7 min read
Image of a brick wall and glass blocks.