Opinion
School & District Management Commentary

Focus Research on K-12 Practice Needs

By Karen Symms Gallagher — January 09, 2015 3 min read

Education Week Commentary asked three education school deans the following question: How Does an Edu-Scholar Influence K-12 Policy? Below is a response from the University of Southern California’s Karen Symms Gallagher.
Read more: Scholars’ Findings Must Be Part of K-12 Conversation | Academics Can’t Shy Away From Public Role

America is ill-served when promising or accomplished scholars and researchers are discouraged, by overt or subtle university practices, from public engagement in societal challenges, particularly those around reform in our K-12 schools. Whether the topic is the reauthorization of Title II of the Higher Education Act or the consequences of eliminating testing requirements on civil rights provisions within the No Child Left Behind Act, university-based scholars who tackle complex educational questions related to these federal policies need to be heard.

Faculty engagement must, of course, be tied to the scholar’s area of expertise. It must also be balanced by peer-reviewed engagement. While it is accurate to say that decisions of tenure and promotion tip heavily on a documented commitment to funded, peer-reviewed scholarship, in schools of education within research universities we should expect that documentation to include evidence of impact on the profession.

Faculty research that answers problems of practice in a variety of educational settings—K-12 schools, colleges, universities, and nontraditional learning environments—should be encouraged. Nevertheless, the main criterion for judging the quality of the publications must be impact.

The Rick Hess Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings highlight scholars who fit the definition of “translational researchers.”

I like to think of these scholars much like individuals who are fluent in two languages: They speak in the appropriate language for the appropriate audience, translating research-based evidence into the language of the public square, where policymakers and practitioners can implement that evidence for real impact in real-world situations.

University-based scholars need to engage in discourse that can influence practice and policy whether through public statements in newspapers or on blogs or testimony before elected officials. Senior academic leaders, including university presidents, provosts, and deans, can set a strong example for their universities when they speak out publicly on subjects that could shift society’s thinking toward problem-solving.

At the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, faculty members have studied current hot-button issues, including the Common Core State Standards, charter schools, technology and online innovations, and college access and affordability. They have disseminated their research results in print newspaper and online editorials, in blogs and on social media, as well as in high-impact, peer-reviewed journals and books. We have tenured, promoted, and given merit awards to these scholars.

In a recent example of the impact of evidence-based research, Rossier associate professor Julie Marsh earned media attention when, as a result of her research findings, the New York department of education ended a teacher-bonus program. Professor Marsh’s study, “A Big Apple for Educators: New York City’s Experiment With Schoolwide Performance Bonuses,” found that the New York City schoolwide performance bonus program had no effect on students’ test scores, grades, or the way teachers reported doing their jobs. The New York Times, certainly one of our most prominent “public squares,” was among the news outlets to feature the report.

I would hope that such examples of translational research could serve as a model for other research universities and as an incentive to support scholars who are striving to improve our K-12 schools.

A version of this article appeared in the January 14, 2015 edition of Education Week as Address Problems of Practice

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