Even though the federal No Child Left Behind Act requires the use of scientific evidence in making a wide range of school-related decisions, a study suggests that policymakers don’t put much stock in that research.
The study, commissioned by the William T. Grant Foundation of New York City, is based on six conversations that took place between the fall of 2008 and spring 2009 in focus groups made up of education leaders at the local, state, and federal levels. Participants included, for example, congressional staff members, state and local superintendents, state legislators, and school board members.
Asked to name factors that influence changes in education policy and practice, education leaders did not mention any “breakthrough research,” nor did they cite any findings they felt had had a dramatic effect on policy or practice. When they did talk about research, the report goes on to say, participants expressed skepticism about findings or noted the limitations of studies.
Focus-group members also said information gleaned from academic research could be more useful if it were packaged in easy-to-read briefs, discussed the sustainability of the interventions being tested, and took into account local political and educational contexts. The study also points up the role that intermediaries from professional groups, research organizations, or coalitions can play in sorting out research findings for education leaders.
The study was produced by Education Northwest, a Portland, Ore., research group that was formerly known as the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory.
A version of this article appeared in the September 30, 2009 edition of Education Week as Policymakers Find Little Value in Studies