I recently received a message from a reader asking me identify the specific "research" referred to in an article so she could read it for herself. While it was a fair question, the fact that she put the word in quotes implied that she thought this was another author blowing educational smoke, and no such studies existed. While I was quite sure that the reader's goal was to make a point and that she had no intention of accessing original research, I referred her to studies supporting the article and didn't hear from her again.
But I knew why this reader approached me with a chip on her shoulder. As important as it is to equip administrators with objective information to guide policy and program development in K12 districts, educational research is one of the most controversial and least understood forces in schools. Research can be found that supports almost every educational theory and practice imaginable, so writers and conference speakers glibly spout, "Research shows ..." before presenting whatever they think. And on the other side, critics commonly rail against developments they oppose by asking, "What research supports this?" That, of course, can be asked fairly about anything that happens in K12 schools, but it is used primarily as a weapon. Administrators have to be research-savvy.
Enormous resources have been targeted to research-based goals for improving education, from federal sources such as the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institutes of Health, and private organizations including the Carnegie Corporation, the Hewlett Foundation and the Mott Foundation. Educators therefore need to take advantage of scholarship that supports, defends and improves teaching and learning in their districts, and to promote the dissemination and application of educational research. As is commonly said, "Without data you are just another opinion."
In addition to presenting relevant research in the articles and reports in DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION, this issue marks the fifth anniversary and 50th article of our popular research department, now renamed the Research Center. To celebrate that milestone, this month we look back at the broad variety of insights gleaned from past research topics, including "Learning a Second Language," "K8 Math Strategies," "Turning Around Low-Performing Schools," "Fighting Obesity," "Ability Grouping" and "Demystifying Dyslexia." The full columns are available on the DA Web site, and they may be copied and distributed for educational purposes.
Odvard Egil Dyrli