Educational research has changed under COVID. Here’s how the feds can catch up


The last two years of the pandemic have not been favorable for research in education. Data collection and studies were halted as schools and universities closed and moved away. Today, research priorities have fundamentally shifted to the urgent need to help schools and students recover from prolonged disruptions.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which calls for structural and thematic changes in research funded by the Institute of Educational Sciences, the Department of Education research agency.

“When research is grounded in the needs and experiences of communities, the district and educators in that community are more likely to use research findings in their day-to-day work,” said Academies Committee Chair Adam Gamoran. national authorities who wrote the report.

Among other things, the report calls on the IES to focus more research on areas of pressing concern over the past two years, including education technology, teacher training, and workforce development. , as well as civil rights policies and practices in schools. It also asks the IES to provide a clearer process to support grants, to improve the diversity of educational researchers.

Education Week spoke with Gamoran about how federal education research can adapt to changing needs. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How do you think the past two years have changed educational research priorities?

Gamorian: I think the pandemic has both sharpened our focus on existing inequalities and exacerbated inequalities that already exist in our education system. Inequality has always been the number one problem in education in the United States, and the pandemic has made that clearer than ever. And it has compounded inequalities through disrupted learning and stress and trauma for students, parents, and educators. This is therefore the first major consequence of the pandemic with implications for research. And then, technology has always been a major focus of IES, but we’ve seen the use of technology in education during the pandemic, and that has heightened the need for new research on technology and education. . We know that administrative data collections have been severely disrupted and we know that opportunities to conduct research in the classroom have been greatly disrupted during the pandemic.

The National Academies report notes that although teacher education has long been a research priority, the IES has funded only a handful of studies explicitly devoted to teacher education. Why do you think he slipped through the cracks?

Gamorian: The research topics offered by the IES are very broad and practically anything related to research in education can be offered. But in fact, some don’t. to have offered because of the way the project types and topics overlap. One example is teacher training. It is very difficult to study the effects of teacher education on student achievement because it is so downstream. Therefore, the focus on student achievement as the primary outcome makes teacher education less likely to be successfully offered as an IES research study. So one change we recommend is to expand the outcomes that are allowed to allow for outcomes at other levels: teacher level, class level, school level as the primary outcome. Relaxing restrictions like these will help foster research in areas that are already possible but rarely done and will get research where it is needed.

What kinds of outcomes can we study now that we couldn’t have studied five or ten years ago?

Gamorian: Administrative data is increasingly available, accelerated by the Evidence-Based Policymaking Act, which encouraged government agencies to make such data available to researchers inside and outside of government. And of course, the availability of state education data—which is a direct result of funding for the IES National Longitudinal Data System—is certainly new in the past decade. We have new approaches to artificial intelligence, new approaches to data collection, new approaches to using big data that are constantly improving, and we need both research that uses these techniques and research on the techniques themselves.
IES has long recognized the importance of understanding not only what works, but also what works for whom and under what circumstances. But the way the research unfolds is first, the question of what works is asked, then the questions of heterogeneity – what works for whom, where, under what circumstances – are added later. And our committee recommends that this attention to variation be built in from the start, so that it’s not an afterthought, but rather the heart of the matter.

National academies have found a lack of diversity when it comes to who is supported to study education. Where do you think the pipeline is down?

Gamorian: The committee is also very interested in this question, but we do not have the answer. We don’t have the data. The IES has released a bit of data on who is being funded, but we don’t have data on who is applying, so we’re not able to discern at what point in the pipeline inequities are introduced. This is why we call on [a] full [grant funding] review.

Many of the National Academies’ recommendations, such as more frequent research application cycles and increased scrutiny of funding equity, require manpower. Do you think IES has the staff capacity to make these changes?

Gamorian: Some of the recommendations could be implemented with few additional resources. However, all will require staff time, and that is a scarce resource at IES. We recommended to Congress that it reconsider the budget of the IES, recognizing both that it is modest compared to other scientific research agencies and that it is not sufficient to allow the implementation of all the recommendations of this report. Indeed, staff resources are essential for the implementation of these recommendations.


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