A NEW STUDY REVEALS

Good news for education researchers. Your work is influencing district and school leaders and helping to guide their decisions.

Countering criticism that education research is often irrelevant to practice, a newly released national survey has found that the majority of education leaders value research and use it regularly.

It’s a moment for education scholars and research institutions to relish — and then ask, “So what’s next?” Can these findings trigger a wider push for evidence-based solutions? With increased collaboration between researchers and practitioners, can education research — like research in medicine or case studies in business — shape the way school leaders approach emerging needs or the toughest problems of their daily practice?

THE RESEARCH

The survey was produced by the National Center for Research in Policy and Practice(NCRPP), a collaboration among the University of Colorado Boulder, the Harvard Center for Education Policy Research, and the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. It gathered information from 733 education leaders in 485 school districts across 45 states. The respondents were superintendents, principals, curriculum supervisors, and directors of federal programs, in mid- to large-size urban U.S. districts.

The survey was careful to define research as “an activity in which people employ systematic, empirical methods to answer a specific question” — not just the practice of examining data from a specific district, school, or classroom.

Following that definition, the survey asked about the ways in which participants had used research in their work, about individual pieces of research they had used, and about the culture of research use in their department.

The results?

  • Almost all education leaders are using research to inform their decisions. Nearly 80 percent of respondents indicated that they use research “frequently” or “all of the time” to support the choices they make in their work.
  • Fewer educators are using research more broadly to develop their perspectives. While 72 percent of respondents said they use research to expand their understanding of issues, most of those only did so only “frequently” or “sometimes,” not “all of the time.”
  • Responses indicated that research was most likely to come up in conversations about instruction and curricula and least likely to come up in discussions of parents or community issues.
  • Only a little more than half — 59 percent — of respondents could name a specific piece of research or study that had been useful to their work.
  • While nearly all respondents agreed that researchers provide valuable service to educators, attitudes were more mixed on the credibility of research, with over a third indicating that researchers could be biased, framing their results to make a certain point.
  • Very few respondents said that they ever contact researchers directly.