More Hints on Future Directions for the Department’s Top Research Agency

By Debra Viadero — September 14, 2009 1 min read
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Empirical Education, a blog run by a consulting group based in Palo Alto, Calif., offers a nice summary this morning of a talk that the U.S. Department of Education’s top research official gave in July to a meeting of the federal regional education laboratories.

At the meeting, John Q. Easton apparently laid out a five-point agenda outlining his plans for the department’s Institute of Education Sciences, which is the main research arm for the department. Some of Easton’s points you’ve heard before: He wants to retain the agency’s focus on rigorous research, for example, yet at the same time produce work that is relevant and usable for practitioners.

The director also talked, though, about moving away from the “top-down dissemination model in which researchers seem to complete a study and then throw the findings over the wall to practitioners” and engage practitioners more in using the research evidence the agency produces.

Empirical Education also reports that Easton wants the agency to “take on a stronger role in building capacity to conduct research at the local level.” To some extent that’s already happening. With support from the feds, many states are building longitudinal data systems that could help them answer a wide range educational questions for themselves. What’s still needed, according to this blog post, is help in framing research questions, applying the right study design, and choosing the right statistics, and that may be where the department—and the regional laboratories—come in.

In fact, Easton probably could not have picked a better audience before which to lay out his plans for the agency. The 10 labs are due to be recompeted soon, which means they may well turn out to be the frontlines for any changes that the research director plans to put into action.

UPDATE: I mistakenly labeled Empirical Education as a consulting group. It is, in fact, a research organization.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.