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Teachers Want Education Research. The Feds Spend Millions on It. So Why Can't It Get to the Classroom?

Washington, D.C.

The initial results of the Institute of Education Sciences' listening tour on teacher priorities highlight both an urgent need for new studies—in areas like technology, student trauma, and educational equity—and better outreach on existing research. 

"In the field research sessions ... IES representatives were not allowed to talk. They were just there to listen. And it was fascinating to hear the teachers and administrators say, 'Someone should research this,' and the IES people are biting their tongues saying, 'We spend $50 million researching that! We have that answer!'" Bart Epstein, chief executive officer of the Jefferson Education Exchange, today told a ballroom full of teachers and leaders from more than 50 professional organizations, from the American Federation of Teachers to the Military Impacted Schools Association. "This is a big problem, but it's a good problem to have."

The meeting is part of an ongoing effort to understand what IES Director Mark Schneider calls the "last mile problem," moving from completing and publishing education studies to ensuring their practical implications are communicated to the teachers and administrators who can use them.

"It's not just a disconnect, it's a contradiction," said David Griffith, the senior director of advocacy and government relations for ASCD, a nonprofit focused on curriculum and professional development. "We say we want teachers to use research and evidence, but then we want you to think outside the box and try new things and be brave to fail—but you better be using stuff that has been proven to be effective."

In addition to the listening tour, IES and the University of Virginia's Jefferson Education Exchange, a nonprofit that collects teachers' perspectives on ed-tech implementation, surveyed 510 K-12 educators about research use in their teaching practice, as well as special focus groups in Omaha, Neb., and Raleigh, N.C. The survey is still open to other educators who want to participate, but preliminary data show fewer than 1 in 4 teachers had used any of IES' research programs except ERIC ., which allows users to search for academic studies by keyword. More to the point, fewer than half of the teachers had even heard of the What Works Clearinghouse, or the regional education laboratories that specialize in practical research on local issues:

IES chart on teachers' research use.JPG

"This is not a dislike of these sources," said Emily Barton, the exchange's director of implementation research. "This is just unawareness. ... They don't know this as a source they can trust." In fact, 87 percent of the teachers said they wanted to participate in a study, and 77 percent wanted to co-direct a study with an academic researcher.

In one working session, representatives of the professional groups argued teachers need more Webinars, podcasts and similar conversations around research, rather than simply better access to research journals. 

IES, the Education Department's research agency, hopes to use the results of the survey and listening tour to shape its future research priorities and plans for disseminating research.

Chart Source: IES and Jefferson Education Exchange

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