National Board Considers a Place for Educators in Research

By Sarah D. Sparks — October 01, 2010 3 min read
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Concerns about researcher-educator partnerships bubbled up at Wednesday’s meeting of the National Board for Education Sciences, the group that advises the Education Department’s research arm.

With several new members still waiting for Senate confirmation, the group tabled its vote on new research priorities for the Institute of Education Sciences, but members did discuss Director John Q. Easton’s revised plan. While members generally seemed inclined to approve the priorities at the next meeting (tentatively set for November 1), several voiced concern with Mr. Easton’s greater emphasis on making studies relevant to educators by fostering partnerships between researchers and practitioners.

“I for one am not going to argue against relevance,” said Jon Baron, the board’s vice chairman and the executive director of the Washington-based Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy. Yet he cautioned, “How well it works is going to depend on how well it’s implemented, what role practitioners are asked to play and at what stage.”

New member Bridget T. Long, an education and economics professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, agreed, adding that when IES published the first draft of the priorities in July, it “sent a lot of shock waves over whether all grants would be required to have partnerships.”

Both Ms. Long and member David C. Geary, the curators’ professor at the University of Missouri, Columbia, said that while researchers should reach out to educators “where appropriate,” IES should not make it seem that studies are open to discussion or debate. “Practically, you could have a situation where you have districts working with researchers, but then the partnership evolves into a situation where the district or policymaker wants them to solve local problems that might not be generalizable,” Mr. Geary said.

“The partnerships are important too, but we need to be clear that this is about rigorous scientific research,” Ms. Long agreed.

Yet the conversation highlighted the limited educator representation on the board. Nominated member and Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly L. Hall had not been confirmed by the meeting date, but the only school practitioner at the table, new member Margaret R. “Peggy” McLeod, relished having a more concrete requirement for researchers to consider the needs in the classroom.

McLeod, the executive director of student services and special education in the Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia, said while there has been a lot of research on hot education topics like teacher quality, “We have a lot of difficulty finding research that’s actually usable,” Ms. McLeod said. “There’s nothing that brings all these pieces of research together in a whole that makes sense for me as a practitioner.”

Mr. Easton pointedly avoided members’ repeated calls for more detail about how the partnerships would work, saying the plan was still in development. “I agree that there are different people you want to talk to when you are developing the research questions and when you are determining research methods,” Mr. Easton acceded, but he said IES has not yet decided how input from educators would be incorporated into different types of research projects.

Considering how big a role these district-research partnerships have played in the Education Department’s Investing in Innovation fund grants&mdashand how much Mr. Easton, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and even President Obama have praised partnerships in i3 and other stimulus-related grants &mdash it’s unlikely Mr. Easton will back off much from a strong focus on educators and administrators in IES’s work going forward.

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