Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

The 5 Urgent Questions Ed. Researchers Can Help Answer Right Now

As COVID-19 derails ed. research, researchers must pivot
By Sara Kerr & Paige Kowalski — May 14, 2020 4 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE

One less obvious byproduct of the coronavirus pandemic: Education research agendas have been severely disrupted as schools have closed, assessments have been canceled, and on-site access to students, teachers, and administrators has become impossible. At the same time, states and school districts find themselves confronted with new questions and decision points—ones they never imagined they would have to consider let alone answer—and without much data or research to guide them.

This is a moment when education researchers are critical—they can help educators and policymakers ask and answer important questions about how to “do school” in our rapidly shifting environment by drawing upon their expertise, translating the existing body of academic research into practitioner-friendly guidance, and designing new studies.

In February, just weeks before schools and states started to shutter to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Results for America asked two dozen state education agency leaders what questions they would need research to help them answer to better serve their students. Agency leaders wanted to know how to best support career academies, recruit and retain a more diverse educator workforce, and what conditions could lead to greater buy-in and use of evidence in schools.

What state education agency leaders weren’t thinking about was how a global pandemic might force them to close schools on a dime with no time to prepare for the continuation of classes and the provision of all the other supports students receive from school.

Some researchers are finding projects that began before the COVID-19 pandemic are no longer relevant."

Many education researchers—including those funded by the U.S. Department of Education and its Institute of Education Sciences (IES)—are finding themselves in a similar position, seeking new ways to build evidence and data as more than 55 million students and 124,000 public and private schools have been affected by the shift to remote learning. Some researchers are finding projects that began before the COVID-19 pandemic are no longer relevant to the immediate needs of educators and education policymakers.

Recognizing this predicament, IES has provided some flexibility to its current grantees and has offered possible avenues for additional funding through its Statistical and Research Methodology in Education program and its Using Longitudinal Data to Support State Education Policymaking competition. In addition, philanthropies such as the W.T. Grant Foundation and the Spencer Foundation are offering grants to support rapid-response research.

With some additional government and philanthropic funding available, education researchers should turn their focus to helping state leaders find answers to their most pressing questions about supporting the needs of students, teachers, and local school leaders during this crisis. There are many urgent questions to answer, but some that keep rising to the top in our conversations with state leaders include:

1. What levels of learning loss are our students likely to face? Some students were learning online shortly after their schools closed. Other students are living in homeless shelters with limited access to food let alone the devices or the Wi-Fi necessary to connect to class. How might these issues manifest differently in terms of learning loss for different student groups?

2. What are the best strategies to mitigate learning loss? Schools urgently need to know what research evidence exists about accelerating and condensing multiple years of curriculum, what systems or practices enable successful implementation of accelerated curriculum, and how to best differentiate learning for the varying levels of loss that occurred during school closure.

3. What are the right mental-health supports to offer students? Students are living in homes with increased stress levels, heightened unemployment, and possibly abuse and trauma. Schools need to know what the evidence says about the kinds of programming or support these students need.

4. Did schools make the right choices about technology during this pandemic? Schools made fast decisions—devices, Wi-Fi, platforms—to support their teachers and students during closures. What does the evidence of the last few months show about whether they picked the best options? Are the selected options the best ones for use during the course of a normal school year or future disruptions? What indicators should school, district, and state leaders look at to evaluate their technology choices?

5. How do we prepare teachers differently? One thing this closure has shown us is that our teachers had much different levels of comfort with technology and remote learning, which have become necessary skills. What does teacher preparation need to look like going forward to ensure new hires are prepared for this new reality?

Education researchers and state and local education leaders need to coordinate with each other to answer these and similar questions. One way state and local education agencies can quickly define and seek evidence-based answers to their most pressing COVID-related questions is through research-practice partnerships. In these partnerships, researchers and education leaders can come together, accessing state data systems to research and answer the important questions they highlight. Continued federal investments combined with states clearly defining their questions to guide policy work will allow leaders to understand how to productively move forward during the crisis and throughout recovery efforts.

Now is the time for education researchers to help us define and ask better questions, collect the right data, dig into the evidence, and help the education community understand how it can best help students move forward and thrive.

Follow the Education Week Opinion section on Twitter.

Sign up to get the latest Education Week Opinion in your email inbox.
A version of this article appeared in the June 03, 2020 edition of Education Week as The Urgent Questions Ed. Researchers Can Help Answer Right Now

Events

School & District Management Live Event Education Week Leadership Symposium
Education Week's Premier Leadership Event for K12 School & District Leaders.
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
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
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
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama 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 Wanted: Superintendents to Lead Districts Through the End of a Pandemic
Former superintendents say there are signs when it's time to move on. Their replacements are more likely to be greenhorns, experts say.
4 min read
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner speaks at a news conference at the school district headquarters in Los Angeles on March 13, 2020. Beutner will step down as superintendent after his contract ends in June, he announced Wednesday, April 21, 2021.
Austin Beutner, the superintendent of Los Angeles Unified, will step down after his contract ends in June.
Damian Dovarganes/AP
School & District Management Has COVID-19 Led to a Mass Exodus of Superintendents?
This year has been exhausting for superintendents. Some experts say they're seeing an unusually high number of resignations this spring.
5 min read
Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Janice K. Jackson, right, speaks on Feb. 11, 2021, during a news conference at the William H. Brown Elementary School in Chicago. In-person learning for students in pre-k and cluster programs began Thursday, since the district's agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union was reached.
Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Janice K. Jackson, right, announced earlier this week that she would depart the school system. Jackson, who assumed the superintendency in 2018, has worked for more than 20 years in CPS.
Shafkat Anowar
School & District Management Most Schools Offer at Least Some In-Person Classes, According to Feds' Latest Count
A majority of 4th and 8th graders had at least some in-person schooling by March, but inequities persisted.
3 min read
Image shows empty desks in a classroom.
Chris Ryan/OJO Images
School & District Management Opinion Education Researchers Should Think More About Educators: Notes From AERA
Steve Rees, founder of School Wise Press, posits AERA reflects a community of researchers too focused on what they find interesting.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty