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Why Don't Schools Use Education Research? New Center Aims to Find Out

It's a perennial complaint of education researchers and politicians alike: Even the most helpful study findings rarely translate into real, practical changes in teaching and learning. Now, the federal Institute of Education Sciences has launched a new $5 million research center to figure out how to make research work for schools.

William Penuel, a professor of educational psychology and learning sciences at the University of Colorado-Boulder, will lead the new National Center for Research in Policy and Practice under a five-year federal grant to "develop and validate measures to document research use in schools, understand the conditions under which research is used and the factors that promote or inhibit research use in schools, and identify and examine researcher practices that are associated with greater use of research in schools and school districts."

The center has pledged to build a website to present research studies and working papers in easy formats for superintendents and principals (Taking a page from the What Works Clearinghouse, maybe?) It will also conduct three new studies on how school districts and individual school leaders use (or don't use) research when making decisions about reading and math instruction, and will present a research conference in 2019 on the findings.

Finally, the center will provide information and advice via its website for new researchers and graduate students—hopefully, on ways they can conduct and publish educator-friendly research studies and still make tenure. 

There's already been a lot of reporter and researcher ink spilled on why researchers often don't choose topics or write articles in ways that make them easy for schools to use, but there's not many signs of solutions coming. Journals still generally don't publish studies that find no or negative effects. University tenure committees generally don't give points for how well a researcher works with schools. Reporters (mea culpa) don't often cover studies that don't provide a new angle, even if there is value in presenting existing information in a more relevant format. If the new center can identify new ways to work with or around these barriers, it would be a valuable bridge between researchers and educators.

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