Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

Scholars’ Findings Must Be Part of K-12 Conversation

By James E. Ryan — January 09, 2015 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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 Harvard’s James E. Ryan.
Read more: Academics Can’t Shy Away From Public Role | Focus Research on K-12 Practice Needs

In thinking about whether academics should be encouraged to participate more in the public conversation about K-12 education, it helps to begin by considering what they might contribute. There is no shortage of opinions about education, nor is there a shortage of pundits eager to share theirs. So it can’t be that academics are needed simply to keep the conversation going. Many insightful participants are already in the debate.

What academics can offer is their expertise. This, in turn, suggests that we ought to distinguish between academics, on the one hand, and their ideas and research on the other, and we should be mostly concerned that their ideas and research are part of the conversation. If academics personally want to take part in debates about K-12 education, they should be encouraged to do so when they can share their expertise faithfully. Given the distorting tendencies of the public square, however, this is not always easy.

The real challenge, as I see it, is that many higher-ed faculty members have neither the time nor the inclination to be full participants in the ongoing conversation due, in part, to the highly politicized nature of the conversation. As a result, the good research and creative ideas of academic experts are often left to languish in academic journals. This is a genuine problem, because it means that the opinions often formed and offered by those outside the academic walls are done so without reference to existing evidence about what works and what does not. This is also not a problem that faculty alone should be expected to solve.

Instead, commentators—both pundits and journalists—as well as academic institutions can and should play a role. Pundits could pay more attention to existing research and evidence, bringing informed ideas and knowledge into the conversation and distinguishing between strong and specious studies. Too often, education commentary is devoid of evidence, and education reporting, in an effort to appear balanced, presents evidence on both sides of an issue as if the research is in equipoise when, in reality, it is quite lopsided. This fuels the false impression that collectively we know little about education, gives perverse incentives to researchers, and cheapens all education research by treating weak studies with the same respect as rigorous ones.

Institutions of higher education can and should help by disseminating ideas and research produced by their faculties in a way that is accessible to nonacademics. At the Harvard Graduate School of Education, for example, we have created the Usable Knowledge website. It offers brief summaries of the key findings of faculty research, faculty Q&As, and relevant video demonstrations. Rather than place the responsibility for disseminating the work on the shoulders of our researchers, we have created a small team that helps our faculty translate its research for players in the K-12 field—teachers, principals, policymakers, and pundits—who may lack the time and expertise to wade through a long article in an academic journal. The hope, of course, is that the good work produced by our faculty will not only enter the public debate, but also influence it positively. That should be the goal of our role in the public square: to ensure that the work of researchers is included in the K-12 conversation.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 14, 2015 edition of Education Week as Make Research Accessible

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
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
From Chaos to Clarity: How to Master EdTech Management and Future-Proof Your Evaluation Processes
The road to a thriving educational technology environment is paved with planning, collaboration, and effective evaluation.
Content provided by Instructure
Special Education Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table - Special Education: Proven Interventions for Academic Success
Special education should be a launchpad, not a label. Join the conversation on how schools can better support ALL students.
Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.

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 Who Trains the Trainers in the ‘Science of Reading?’
How three districts help their principals learn, practice, and sustain the “science of reading” implementation in their schools.
5 min read
First grader Geniss Gibbs practices reading skills at Eastern Elementary School in Washington, N.C., on May 23, 2022.
First grader Geniss Gibbs practices reading skills at Eastern Elementary School in Washington, N.C., on May 23, 2022.
Kate Medley for Education Week
School & District Management Photos Six Years After Parkland Tragedy, Crews Demolish a Painful Reminder
The school building in Florida where a gunman killed 17 people is being pulled down. Victims' families have toured the site with lawmakers to push for change.
4 min read
Students, teachers, victims' families and passersby watch, Friday, June 14, 2024, as crews start the demolition of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School building where 17 people died in the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Fla. Officials plan to complete the weeks-long project before the school's 3,300 students return in August from summer vacation.
Students, teachers, and victims' families are among those watching on June 14, 2024, as crews start the demolition of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School building in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people died in the 2018 mass shooting. Officials plan to complete the weeks-long project before students return from summer vacation.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
School & District Management Download 'Science of Reading' Learning Walks: 4 Things for Principals to Look For
An instructional guide for school leaders to help implement shifts in reading practices.
1 min read
Photograph of a Black male teacher in the classroom with clipboard observing elementary students.
E+
School & District Management Opinion 4 Things School Leaders Should Do Before Setting Priorities
Sweeping language doesn't offer a road map for the school community. Here's why.
Peter DeWitt & Michael Nelson
4 min read
Screenshot 2024 06 12 at 7.16.56 AM
Canva