Educators Need and Want Better Research—and Better Research Access
Since 2015, federal education policy has been guided by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which emphasizes a necessary but often misunderstood element of learning: research.
More specifically, ESSA guidelines encourage local and state-level education agencies to use “evidence-based interventions” to help ensure students and teachers can access strategies solidly rooted in research. As outlined in this document, ESSA was intended to go a step further than its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act.
Building upon No Child Left Behind, which advised school officials to use “scientifically based research” to inform instructional practices and policies, the ESSA asks that any strategies under consideration come with a robust track record in addition to being scientifically or research-based. In other words, anyone tasked with introducing a new intervention or plan should be able to point to research that documents its effectiveness.
However, many teachers report having trouble accessing and using education research.
Examining the challenge of access
In a 2019 piece exploring the topic of research access challenges, Education Dive contributor Linda Jacobson cited an as-yet-unpublished study from the Jefferson Education Exchange, a nonprofit supported by the Curry School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia. According to Jacobson, survey participants indicated that they “prefer research that they can act on and that is presented in a way that applies to the context in which they work,” yet a majority reported not having easy access to such material. Moreover, nearly 85% of a separately surveyed teacher cohort said they did not use evidence-based practices at all.
The report's findings illustrate what Institute of Education Sciences Director Mark Schneider has termed “the ‘last-mile’ problem—how to get information into the hands of the people who need it the most.” After taking the helm at the nonpartisan research, evaluation, and statistics wing of the federal Department of Education in 2018, Schneider posted a mission statement of sorts that outlined his desire to make education research “useful, usable, and used.” He went on to offer a detailed look at why teachers don’t find education research useful, which included the following points:
Many teachers negatively associate the word “research” with—as Schneider phrased it—“a search for bright shiny objects pushed by administrators.” Needless to say, educators with this mindset are less than enthused by the prospect of digging into researchers' latest findings.
Although teachers hope to see their personal challenges and insights reflected in research, they are often disappointed. This can lead them to regard education research as impractical, irrelevant, and removed from their everyday experience.
Similarly, teachers tend to view research as abstract, tough to access, and more reminiscent of their days in graduate school than of their current working lives.
Breaking down access barriers
Schneider identified the access barriers that contribute to what he termed a “yawning chasm between research and educators” through his partnership with the Jefferson Education Exchange, as well as by speaking with teachers in Nebraska and North Carolina. Drawing upon the resultant insight, he began to formulate strategies for making research more practical and purposeful, such as:
Overhauling antiquated research websites. Schneider was dismayed to learn that many teachers have little awareness of government-sourced education websites that could help inform their instructional practices. In a bid to address this issue, the IES overhauled its Education Resources Information Center—an online library of education research and information more commonly referred to as ERIC—to remove access barriers by improving user-friendliness.
Encouraging teachers to teach teachers. According to Schneider's findings, teachers typically prefer to get their research from their peers (especially those who have implemented evidence-based practices) than from the ivory tower. When data, research, and evidence is “translated” by those who are actually doing the work of education, teachers can get a better sense of how, when, and why to apply this information in their classrooms.
Prioritizing communication. In previous years, IES was more focused on conducting research than on sharing it with an audience of practicing teachers—an approach that, Schneider acknowledged, may have compromised the user-friendliness of the research. Entities that conduct and publish research would be wise to keep in mind that many teachers report a preference for information that is presented in shorter, more accessible formats.
For her part, Education Dive's Jacobson called attention to the work being done by the American Educational Research Association to strengthen the connection between research and practice. As association representative Tony Pals told Jacobson, the objective of these efforts is to more nimbly turn research into “actionable solutions for schools and school districts.”
How Lexia can help
For those in search of solid, teacher-focused research, Lexia’s website presents the findings of easily navigable, evidence-based studies conducted in real school settings. To eliminate guesswork regarding effectiveness, the site goes a step further by highlighting how Lexia research meets ESSA’s most rigorous standards. From this vantage point, teachers are better equipped to embrace research as applicable and relevant, as opposed to a dry, confusing jumble that is best left untouched.
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