What Made Research Relevant in 2010?

By Sarah D. Sparks — December 28, 2010 3 min read
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It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster year for the education research field. The $650 million Investing in Innovation grants brought a massive influx of both money and district interest to applied research and evaluation, but in the ensuing discussions, education researchers have caught a lot of flack, from policymakers and within their own ranks, that most research takes too long and provides too few results immediately usable by educators.

It’s been interesting to listen to the conversation percolating in comments and emails, about the recent research conference on developing more accurate and nuanced measures of whether students are ready for life after high school. There’s been a lot of frustration on the part of researchers like Keith MacAllum of Westat on the short memory about previous research in the college and career readiness arena: “Wasn’t anybody taking notes during the ‘90s when all that School to Career research was going on?” he wrote in an email that spurred a lively group exchange on Monday. “I thought we had established that dependability, work ethic, teamwork, perseverance, and maturity were as important as academic achievement? Did NCLB really erase all of that progress? How are we ever going to fix education if it takes the EXPERTS (that’s us, right?) 10 to 20 years to BEGIN?”

I’ve heard a lot of similar frustration this year, in research conferences and policy meetings alike, over how to ensure research actually gets used.

Fellow blogger and American Enterprise Institute President Rick Hess just unveiled a list of the “most influential” education researchers of 2010 based on the premise that while scholars gain renown &mdash and tenure &mdash for publishing research, they rarely get credit for working to translate that research into policy and practice. As he puts it, “The extraordinary policy scholar excels in five areas: disciplinary scholarship, policy analysis and popular writing, convening and quarterbacking collaborations, providing incisive commentary on topical questions, and public speaking. After all, it’s the scholars who are skilled in most or all of these areas who can cross boundaries, foster crucial collaborations, and bring research into the world of policy in smart and useful ways.”

I don’t have those metrics, but I did look back on the most widely read research posts this year, and they give an interesting perspective on the research that catches our readers’ attention. The posts ranged pretty widely, but for the most part, it was the nuances—the “why?” and “how?"—that intrigued more than the “what?” and “how much?”

One study gave concrete evidence of real trauma inflicted in overly aggressive gym classes that has been the stuff of books and Hollywood movies for generations. Another went beyond the common knowledge that high-need schools tend to hire more teachers after the start of class, but that those teachers never catch up, even years later. Others showed that principal experience and effectiveness is just as important as that of teachers, and that a principal’s instincts tend to align with value-added and other measures of a good teacher during hiring.

And the most popular research post of the year came from a London study that likely lies close to many educators’ hearts: It found that a classroom focused on knowledge and love of learning had students who achieved more than did a class focused on preparing for the latest assessment. A lot of educators shook their heads and said “duh!” to that one, but perhaps a key part of making research more relevant to practitioners is providing clear evidence of which long-held education truisms really deserve support.

For a trip down memory lane, here’s the whole list of the top research blogs this year:
1. Studies Show Why Students Study is as Important as What
2. Study Finds NAEP Scores Rise When Students Are Paid
3. Study: Teaching Credentials Still Matter
4. IES Targets Reading with $100 Million in Grants
5. Kindergarten Program Boosts Students’ Vocabulary in 1st Grade
6. Researchers Say Gym-Class Humiliations Last a Lifetime
7. A Bad Month for Education Research
8. Experience Matters for School Principals, Says New Study
9.Teachers Hired Late Never Catch Up, Data Show
10. Principals Tend to Pick the Best Teachers, a Study Finds

Readers, what sort of research would you like to see in the next year? Send me an email or leave a comment below.

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