IES To Seed New Methods For Studying Schools

Translating evidence into action in education research is a challenge. School administrators may search through academic journals and vendors’ materials for effective reading programs, but even if a program is recommended by the federal What Works Clearinghouse, there is no guarantee that it will be successful in every district. In order to enhance the knowledge base, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is developing a new research program called "continuous improvement research in education" that goes beyond simply identifying what works and provides more context to educational findings.

John Q. Easton, the director of IES, explains that knowing what works is crucial for improving schools, but it is not enough on its own. There are other factors to consider, such as how to implement effective strategies and how to measure and adapt to changes. The new research program, set to launch in 2014, will offer four-year grants of up to $1.5 million each. The IES is interested in researchers focusing on supportive school climates, high school transitions, or access to postsecondary education.

This initiative will draw on various research models, including "design-based implementation research" being developed at Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Scaling Up Effective Schools and SRI International’s Center for Technology in Learning. It will also incorporate the "rapid prototyping" models tested at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. In these models, researchers collaborate with districts over a period of time to identify and test solutions for specific problems.

Bridget T. Long, a Harvard University education economist and the president of the National Board for Education Sciences, describes this new research approach as iterative and collaborative. It involves developing solutions together and not knowing the exact outcomes or time frame. The focus will be on cycles of improvement, where interventions are developed, tested, and refined in classrooms or school contexts. Hirokazu Yoshikawa, an academic dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, shares his experience using rapid prototyping to adapt a teacher professional-development program in Chile. This method allowed for buy-in and local ownership, as well as a deeper understanding of the improvement process on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis.

The projects funded by this initiative will also examine systemwide interventions and how different components interact to produce desired outcomes. Previous federal research has highlighted the importance of considering local context when scaling up successful educational interventions. Longitudinal studies have shown that district policies and support can make a significant difference in the success of school improvement efforts.

Overall, this new research program aims to bridge the gap between evidence and action in education research by providing more context and focusing on continuous improvement. It encourages collaboration between researchers and practitioners to develop, test, and refine interventions that address specific education challenges.

Ruth C. Neild, the commissioner of the National Center on Education Evaluation, which is a part of the IES, expressed the immense difficulty of the task at hand, stating that it requires a lot of hard work. She further added that maintaining engagement over a long period of time is challenging for both researchers and districts/states involved in the process. However, despite these challenges, she believes that the rewards will outweigh the difficulties.

Robert Granger, a member of the NBES and the president of the William T. Grant Foundation based in New York City, pointed out that if the initiative is successful, it has the potential to create a new and exemplary model for education research. This model would be equivalent to the IES’ original focus on randomized controlled trials but with a different approach. Rather than prioritizing running trials, the gold standard for this initiative would be achieving consistent results across various conditions.


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    Jayce Adams is a 27-year-old blogger who loves to share educational content on her website. She has a passion for helping others improve their lives, and she hopes to do so through her writing.