School & District Management Letter to the Editor

The Role of Public Scholarship

February 12, 2019 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

I read the recent Commentary collection on public scholarship (“Want to Be a Public Scholar? Here’s What You Need to Know,” January 16, 2019). After 50 years in public education, I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that education-research findings have little effect on the development of education policy. There are several reasons why this is the case.

Most of the research in education is not very compelling. Too many empirical studies are never replicated, and there are numerous insignificant findings on many educational topics. Studies are also often based upon small populations, and few would be impactful for policy considerations.

I’ve also come to realize that policymakers consider more than just research findings when arriving at educational policy. Research often loses out to cost or lack of community acceptance to change. As Cornelia Dean noted in her insightful 2017 book Making Sense of Science: Separating Substance from Spin, the public arena is ruled by emotions, ideology, and sometimes prejudice.

Policymakers also assess new information based on their prior perceptions and tend to value information dismissing facts that don’t fit their views. Still, I’d like to believe that increased engagement between researchers and key policymakers can make a difference in students’ lives.

However, researchers who travel this path need to be aware of potential drawbacks. Overhyped research findings based upon a weak foundation of studies can easily slip into advocacy, thus public release of findings before they are carefully vetted can be problematic. Some professional journals have long refused to publish any research article whose contents have substantially been made public before publication in the journal, which may be a serious disincentive for researchers.

William J. Price

Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership

Eastern Michigan University

Ypsilanti, Mich.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the February 13, 2019 edition of Education Week as The Role of Public Scholarship


Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

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 This Intensive Internship Helps Principals Get Ready For the Job
A two-year program in Columbus City Schools gives aspiring principals the chance to dive deep into the job before actually taking the reins.
10 min read
Sarah Foster, principal of North Linden Elementary School, talks with Katina Perry in Columbus, Ohio on November 30, 2021. Columbus City Schools has a program that lets principal “test out” the principal role, before actually fully taking it on. Through the program, they work in a school for two years under a mentor principal and fill in as principal at different schools during that time.
Katina Perry, right, principal of Fairmoor Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio, meets with Sarah Foster, principal of North Linden Elementary School and Perry's mentor in a school leader internship program.
Maddie McGarvey for Education Week
School & District Management Q&A School Libraries and Controversial Books: Tips From the Front Lines
A top school librarian explains how districts can prepare for possible challenges to student reading materials and build trust with parents.
6 min read
Image of library shelves of books.
School & District Management Opinion ‘This Is Not What We Signed Up For’: A Principal’s Plea for More Support
School leaders are playing the role of health-care experts, social workers, mask enforcers, and more. It’s taking a serious toll.
Kristen St. Germain
3 min read
Illustration of a professional woman walking a tightrope.
Laura Baker/Education Week and uzenzen/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Letter to the Editor Educators Must Look to History When They Advocate for Changes
Educators and policymakers must be aware of the history of ideas when making changes in education, says this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.