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Tackling That Stubborn Research-Policy Divide

Just spent the past couple days with a top-shelf group of young researchers that I hosted in a partnership with my good friends at the Fordham Institute. Together, we held the first gathering of the Emerging Education Policy Scholars (EEPS), which brought to D.C. about two dozen young scholars and thinkers to discuss how research does and should impact ed policy. Visiting with the fellows was a pretty neat roster of policy mavens, ed journalists, and reformers that included USA Today's Greg Toppo, Bellwether's Andy Rotherham, DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, Ed Week's Deb Viadero, ace Hill staffer David Cleary, former IES chief Russ Whitehurst, Department of Ed's Judy Wurtzel, ConnCAN's Marc Porter-Magee, and the Gates Foundation's Ebony Lee.

I was struck by two things. One, I was again reminded of just how little universities do to help aspiring scholars understand the ways research is digested or used and how to communicate their findings to the broader world. It's always fascinating to see the reactions when young researchers--who already kind of know it--hear first-hand just how haphazard, personality-dependent, and politically shaped is the consumption of their careful scholarship.

Two, it was gratifying to see the degree to which important questions around merit pay, collective bargaining, school choice, accountability, and cost-cutting have moved into the mainstream of ed research. Just a decade ago, my interest in such questions marked me as a bizarre outlier in the world of ed schools. Such questions were the province of a limited circle of scholars, many of them dead-set on proving that reforms like school choice or merit pay were bad ideas. Today, the worm has started to turn--thanks in no small part to Whitehurst's remarkable tenure at IES. While ed schools are still broadly hostile to such ideas, fair-minded ed school research on these topics is no longer unusual, and the ranks of talented researchers wading into these questions is heart-warming.

In the meantime, for those interested in making sense of these questions, I'd suggest checking out the terrific essays and analyses by savvy thinkers like Jeff Henig, Dan Goldhaber, Dom Brewer, Ken Wong, Richard Ingersoll, Martin West, Lance Fusarelli, and Jimmy Kim in my 2009 Harvard Ed Press book When Research Matters.

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