AERA Member Troy Sadler Discusses His Experience Advocating for Education Research with the 2018 AERA Hill Delegation
AERA Member Troy Sadler Discusses His Experience Advocating for Education Research with the 2018 AERA Hill Delegation

May 2018 



AERA Member Troy Sadler

AERA Member Troy Sadler Discusses His Experience Advocating for Education Research with the 2018 AERA Hill Delegation

AERA advocates for supporting federal funding for education research, safeguarding the integrity of education research and statistics, and advancing the field of education research. As part of these efforts, AERA invites a small delegation of education researchers to come to Washington, D.C., in March each year to visit key congressional offices as the appropriations process begins.

The delegation participants are personally invited based on a combination of considerations, including having received federal funding, living in strategic congressional districts, and working on topics of particular interest to congressional leaders.

This year’s delegation included Troy Sadler, who is a professor of education and associate dean of research at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG).

  1. What was your reaction to the invitation to join this year’s AERA Hill delegation? What drew you to participate?
  1. I was excited to receive the invitation. For many years, I have recognized the need for the education research community to take a more active role in communicating our work and findings to broader audiences and policy makers, in particular. However, as an individual I have struggled to find ways to contribute to this goal of bridging research and policy. Participating in the AERA Hill delegation was an ideal opportunity to take concrete action toward the broader goal of promoting the use of research within the processes of policy making.
  1. Tell us a little bit about your experience in the AERA Hill delegation.
  1. I found the experience to be very educational. I appreciated the opportunity to learn from the AERA staff, the other delegation participants, and the various staffers and agency officials with whom we met. We spent two days on Capitol Hill meeting with staffers from the individual offices of representatives and senators as well as staff from several congressional committees (e.g., the House Committee on Education and the Workforce). We also had a chance to meet with representatives from the Department of Education, the Institute of Education Sciences, and the National Science Foundation. It was an intense two days but very rewarding.
  1. How did you prepare for the meetings?
  1. The AERA staff provided delegation members with extensive resources that helped immensely with the preparation. The resources provided information about AERA’s legislative priorities, who we would be meeting, and how the process would work. A pre-delegation webinar created an opportunity to ask questions, and a brief planning session at the AERA office on the first morning of the delegation allowed us to meet the other delegation participants and strategize about individual meetings. By the time we started meeting with congressional staffers, I was ready for the conversations and had been well prepared for the kinds of questions that emerged.
  1. What was the most interesting meeting that you had?

A.    Prior to this experience, I had not met with congressional staffers and did not realize how many of   these kinds of meetings take place throughout the House and Senate offices. Staffers hear from many stakeholder groups on a daily basis, and I was in a few meetings in which a staffer, not surprisingly, was less interested in our messaging than I would have preferred.

At the end of a full day of meetings, I had an opportunity to talk with Lakeisha Steele from Rep. Suzanne Bonamici’s office. In contrast to the situation I described above, Ms. Steele expressed genuine interest in the ideas and topics we shared. I talked about some of our work from an IES-funded project in which we are using gaming and virtual environment technologies to teach science, and she discussed ways in which innovation in education aligned with Rep. Bonamici’s priorities. I felt that this meeting had the greatest likelihood of making an impact.

  1. Would you encourage AERA members to visit their members of Congress?
  1. I strongly encourage AERA members to visit their members of Congress. Congressional offices are inundated with constituent concerns and special interest groups. If we want research to be a part of the dialogues behind legislation, then we, members of the research community, need to be some of the voices Congress is hearing.
  1. What advice would you give to education researchers who want to visit congressional offices on Capitol Hill or in their states?
  1. I recommend that researchers reach out to the legislative affairs or government relations offices on their campuses. I reached out to our government relations director at UNCG to let them know about the visit. I was pleasantly surprised by the wealth of information that they were able to share with me about the North Carolina members of Congress, their legislative priorities, and suggested messaging strategies.

[Editor’s note: The AERA government relations team is also happy to provide information and guidance to members making congressional visits. E-mail] 

  1. What would you recommend to help craft a message about research to policymakers?
  1. As researchers, we work on complicated problems. We tend to focus on intricate details and nuances; it is through details that we gain perspective on the complex questions that we explore. However, the pace and scope of legislative activity do not align well with the nuance that often characterizes our work.

If we want our research to have a chance of informing policy, we have to recognize the important differences between norms and expectations in our familiar communication venues (like journals) and the kinds of conversations that we might have with policymakers. Simplifying our messages, highlighting personal connections, and being responsive to current issues and trends are strategies that may prove helpful.