A new, sweeping national study of educational research use among school and district leaders finds generally positive attitudes toward the value of research and frequent use of research for decision-making.
The report was published by the National Center for Research in Policy and Practice (NCRPP), which is funded by Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education and housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.
“It is encouraging to see that education research is informing education practice,” said Thomas Brock, commissioner for the National Center for Education Research at the Institute of Education Sciences in Washington, D.C. “As the Every Student Succeeds Act is implemented, education researchers and practitioners will need to work together even more to identify barriers to student success and develop and implement effective solutions.”
The study is the largest survey yet of educational research use. A nationally representative sample of 733 school and district leaders from 485 school districts and 45 states completed the survey.
Nearly 80 percent of respondents indicated they use research frequently or all the time, and almost no respondents reported never using research.
Educational leaders said they often relied on research to inform decisions on what programs to offer and how to allocate resources, and they also depended on research to inform their understanding of an issue. For instance, 71 percent indicated that research had expanded their views of an issue. Another 68 percent reported they used research to convince others of a particular point of view.
“We wanted to know how educational leaders are currently seeking and using research,” said Bill Penuel, NCRPP principal investigator and CU-Boulder professor of learning sciences and human development.
“As researchers ourselves, we are encouraged that leaders say they value and use research often. What is surprising is the variety of ways that leaders use research beyond selecting programs with evidence of success. Leaders are using research to design professional development for teachers and to monitor implementation of programs. We need to figure out how best to support these kinds of research use.”
When asked to name research that was useful in their work, more than half of the respondents named specific studies, most often focused on instructional practices. The majority of respondents named books, followed by reports and peer-reviewed journal articles. Their professional associations were the top source of research information.
Overall, respondents reported positive attitudes towards the value of educational research, with nearly all endorsing the idea that research can address practical problems and that researchers provide a valuable service to educational leaders. However, respondents indicated that the time lag between conducting and publishing research can decrease its usefulness. And while over three-quarters of respondents agreed that research findings are trustworthy and objective, respondents were split over whether researchers are unbiased.
“The bias respondents note should be of concern to researchers. At the same time, it may signal an awareness that researchers—like all of us—hold values and opinions that shape what we study and what conclusions we draw,” said Penuel.
Next steps include investigating research use case studies and further collaborating with school districts.
“As researchers, ultimately we want to produce research that is in partnership with and informed by our colleagues in the schools and districts,” added Heather Hill, NCRPP co-principal investigator and Jerome T. Murphy professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “This national snapshot provides a picture of current research use as well as possible avenues for better connecting researchers and practitioners.”
For more information, view the executive summary, full technical report, and survey instrument on this NCRPP website. The survey instrument is available for non-commercial use by others with an interest in educational research use.
NCRPP is funded by the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education through Grant RC305C140008. Launched in 2015, the center is housed at the School of Education at the University of Colorado Boulder, in collaboration with the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University and the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.
Caitlin Farrell, CU-Boulder, NCRPP director, 917-673-4476
Heather Hill, Harvard, NCRPP co-investigator, 617-495-1898
Hannah Fletcher, School of Education, 303-492-9019