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AERA Opens Centennial Meeting With Look at Research's Political Impact

By Sarah D. Sparks

Washington

Some 16,500 education researchers are expected to descend on the capital this weekend for the centennial meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

This year's theme, spanning more than 2,500 research sessions, symposia, and roundtables, focuses on "Public Scholarship to Educate Diverse Democracies." It's a nod to both the rapidly changing demographics in American schools and the still-nebulous role of education policy in this election year.

"We have a bipartisan problem in education," said Pedro Noguera, education professor at the University of California Los Angeles, at a lively forum this afternoon on the education implications of the 2016 presidential race.

Noguera argued that politicians, particularly Democrats who have been supported by education groups, have not laid out clear education policy platforms. "I'm concerned by the silence. I often feel teachers are like African Americans to the Democratic Party; they just assume you have to vote for us, because you have no other choice."

By contrast, John Jackson, the president and chief executive officer of the Schott Foundation of Public Education, argued it may be better not to raise education as a major debate issue during a fractious election year. "The more political an issue is, the less we pay attention to the evidence," Jackson said. "To me it's more important to have a substantive discussion among teachers, researchers, practitioners ... around what are the right supports to build around our young people to make sure we are educating the whole child ... [and] around how do we transform education. ... Those conversations won't happen in the political sphere."

Judith Browne-Dianis, civil rights attorney and co-director of the Advancement Project, cautioned that the public will to support public education has dwindled as it has become more politicized: "We have demonized teachers, criminalized students, and colorized and racialized public education so that people think of public education as education of the 'other.'"

Jackson said growing parent and teacher opposition to standardized testing under the No Child Left Behind Act has come because accountability systems test students, but do not audit the inequities in resources and supports available to them. He suggested that the Every Student Succeeds Act "offers the opportunity to move from the standards-based accountability we've all lived with to a supports-based accountability."

Research Focus Can Guide Policy 

The researchers acknowledged that education scholars have not been active in speaking up for equity issues in education politics. "Researchers are just like everyone else; we can be political too," Noguera said. He argued that particularly tenured scholars should do more to speak up against policies that evidence says would hurt disadvantaged students in their areas.

What researchers decide to study can affect the policy discussion, Jackson said. He warned that scholars too often keep "sampling the same tracks," re-creating data that is already known rather than filling gaps in information for policymakers.

For example, Jackson noted he can easily find data on racial disparities in suspension rates in a city's schools, but cannot easily find rates of schools using alternative discipline techniques that have evidence of effectiveness.

Later this afternoon, Linda Darling-Hammond, education historian and founder of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Learning Policy Institute, will lay out her vision of how public researchers can contribute to the design and framework of the "new accountability" states and districts will explore under the Every Student Succeeds Act. 

Education Week at AERA 2016 

Education Week will be on hand all weekend, too. I'll be a commenter this Saturday for the launch of AERA's new convention Ed-Talks, five sessions in which top researchers discuss their findings and the potential implications for policymakers and the public. It will start with a discussion by Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania, Russ Rumberger of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Amy Stuart Wells of Teachers College, Columbia University on how research can help ensure education policy leads to equitable results. The sessions will be held in the Convention Center level 2, 207B.

Scholars interested in submitting opinion pieces can also meet with Education Week Commentary Editor Elizabeth Rich, Education Week Teacher Editor Anthony Rebora, and other staff members to learn more about the process at the Convention Center's West Overlook on Saturday from 2:45 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. And my colleagues will also be interviewing researchers at the meeting on their thoughts about the centennial and hot topics in education today.


Want more research news from AERA 2016? I will be blogging throughout the conference this weekend and next week. Get the latest studies and join the conversation.

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