Opinion Blog

Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Policy & Politics Opinion

What Do Leading Edu-Scholars Think About DEI, Reading, and Research?

Researchers weigh in on research, practice, and policy
By Rick Hess — April 01, 2024 3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In January, I ran the 2024 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings, identifying 200 of the nation’s most influential education scholars. In recent years, I’ve followed up by reaching out to the Edu-Scholars with an informal query soliciting some thoughts and insight regarding research, practice, and policy. As always, I found the results instructive and thought I’d share a few highlights.

I asked about the most illuminating academic article they’d read on education last year and the study that had the biggest impact over the past decade. Raj Chetty’s work was the most commonly mentioned; other responses mostly alluded to broad themes, like research on teacher labor markets and reading. Notably, when asked what research had the biggest impact on the past decade, the most common answer was: “nothing.” This either reflects admirable humility on the part of the researchers or constitutes a rather damning indictment of the educational research enterprise today (or perhaps a bit of each).

Asked what advice they might provide to young researchers, one scholar offered a particularly striking bit of advice: “Follow the truth—there are too many ideologues out there and you’ll stand out just by being an honest broker.” That resonates with me. As I’ve noted to Pedro Noguera, our current level of distrust has profound consequences: “People are reluctant to reach out in good faith because they fear that, at best, they’ll be wasting their time and, at worst, they’ll be attacked or vilified.” Pedro and I have called for combating that tendency by extending each other the benefit of the doubt, dealing in good faith, avoiding “whataboutism,” and engaging deliberately and reflectively. “Following the truth” is a terrific addition to that list.

In light of the broiling debates around diversity in education, I asked the Edu-Scholars whether they supported or opposed colleges requiring DEI statements for hiring and promotion. Most respondents endorse the use of DEI statements in principle but say they have concerns about how those have been implemented. Smaller numbers of scholars wholeheartedly endorsed or flatly opposed DEI requirements. Perhaps the modal take was offered by the scholar who wrote, “I support DEI. But the statements are too vague. Plus, stop deferring to a statement. We already get faculty members’ CV, syllabi, and course evaluations. Take some time to actually review those materials. That way, we can see if they actually do work that encourages DEI, not just a statement saying they do.” Articulating the concerns about DEI, one skeptic explained, “In my experience, DEI statements are tools primarily for screening people out of searches using vague criteria. Most colleges don’t require similar statements on other important aspects of higher education, so requiring them implicitly puts DEI on a pedestal as the most important thing we do.”

I also asked the Edu-Scholars about their views on state efforts to adopt “science of reading” laws. Asked whether they supported or opposed these, respondents were pretty evenly split. Several noted either this isn’t their area of expertise or that their views depend on the particulars of the law. Supporters tended to emphasize concerns about academic achievement and current practices, while skeptics pointed to the need for educators to have discretion to address student needs and circumstances. Some of the particular takes were telling. A nominally supportive scholar wryly wrote of the laws, “I support them but will educators implement them? Doubt it.” One skeptic explained, “I just don’t think this is something that state governments should mandate. And I worry about establishing new loyalty oaths around a hotly contested subject!”

I find this annual exercise enlightening, if only to resurface familiar themes and provide a temperature check on where the education professoriate stands. It can be useful to recognize that those regarded as education oracles can be as conflicted and uncertain as the rest of us.

Please note that answers were lightly edited for grammar and spelling.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Your Questions on the Science of Reading, Answered
Dive into the Science of Reading with K-12 leaders. Discover strategies, policy insights, and more in our webinar.
Content provided by Otus
Mathematics Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Breaking the Cycle: How Districts are Turning around Dismal Math Scores
Math myth: Students just aren't good at it? Join us & learn how districts are boosting math scores.
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.
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga 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

Law & Courts Oxford School Shooter's Parents Were Convicted. Holding District Liable Could Be Tougher
The conviction of parents in the Oxford, Mich., case expanded the scope of responsibility, but it remains difficult to hold schools liable.
12 min read
Four roses are placed on a fence to honor Hana St. Juliana, 14, Madisyn Baldwin, 17, Tate Myre, 16, and Justin Shilling, 17, the four teens killed in last week's shooting, outside Oxford High School in Oxford, Mich., on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021.
Four roses are placed on a fence outside Oxford High School in Oxford, Mich., honor Hana St. Juliana, 14, Madisyn Baldwin, 17, Tate Myre, 16, and Justin Shilling, 17, the four teens killed in the Nov. 30, 2021, shooting at the school.
Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP
States Is Tutoring at Risk? States Stretch to Keep Funding in Place
States are using a variety of ways to ensure that tutoring programs can continue.
6 min read
Vector illustration tutoring concept of online learning with teacher and students.
Law & Courts Oklahoma Supreme Court Weighs 'Test Case' Over the Nation's First Religious Charter School
The state attorney general says the Catholic-based school is not permitted under state law, while supporters cite U.S. Supreme Court cases.
5 min read
Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond is pictured Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, during an interview in Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond, pictured in February, argued April 2 before the state supreme court against the nation's first religious charter school.
Sue Ogrocki/AP
Federal Electric School Buses Get a Boost From New State and Federal Policies
New federal standards for emissions could accelerate the push to produce buses that run on clean energy.
3 min read
Stockton Unified School District's new electric bus fleet reduces over 120,000 pounds of carbon emissions and leverages The Mobility House's smart charging and energy management system.
A new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency sets higher fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles. By 2032, it projects, 40 percent of new medium heavy-duty vehicles, including school buses, will be electric.
Business Wire via AP