AERA 2022–2023 President Rich Milner Encourages Attendees to Pursue Consequential Research in Education
AERA 2022–2023 President Rich Milner Encourages Attendees to Pursue Consequential Research in Education

May 2023

With standing room only in the ballroom, AERA 2022–2023 President Rich Milner gave his presidential address, “Consequential Research in Education,” providing a thought-provoking evaluation of the scholarly community’s role in pursuing research that informs and intersects with “deeply consequential decisions and outcomes that bear on and shape the lives and experiences of young people, educators, families, policymakers, and communities.”

Drawing from his own research over the years and that of others which he classified as consequential, Milner showcased research-to-practice initiatives that have made an impact in education and society. For instance, Milner highlighted two examples where young people helped design with him cross-community dialogues to address social challenges of consequence. He offered these instances as exemplars that could shed light as researchers consider moving their research in policy and practice beyond traditional modes.

“Far too many policy recommendations and agendas are moving forward without benefit of education research,” said Milner. “But not only must we be concerned about the lack of research guiding and informing education . . . we must also be vigilant in knowing more about researchers themselves in this work.”

Milner asked the audience to ponder four pressing questions: “Where is the research in consequential decision making that leads to consequential outcomes? Where is the researcher in consequential decision making that leads to consequential outcomes? What is consequential research in education? What are essential tenets or principles that lead us to consequential research that improves lives, experiences, and outcomes for marginalized communities?”

Throughout his lecture, Milner stressed two points: that consequential research for equity requires researchers to be firmly committed to working with the most marginalized communities, and that the research conducted in education is consequential.

“My point here is that our research aims, and our commitments, should be focused on improving the human condition,” said Milner. “We have an ethical and moral responsibility to interrogate consequential decisions and outcomes while reinvesting in interventions, policies, practices, tools, and mechanisms.”

The crowd at Rich Milner's Presidential Address

Researchers must also consider “consequentialism” in their work, said Milner, fundamentally asking themselves, “Who am I as researcher” and “How do I enter into the world and work, with whom, on whose behalf, and why?” Consequentialism calls on scholars to understand: (1) the potential good and bad of a process or outcome, (2) why they do what they do, (3) power and people in knowledge construction, (4) their own subjectivities in decision making, (5) challenges of objective aims in human science, and (6) with whom they share their lives and prioritize their work.

Milner stressed the importance of making an “epistemic reinvestment” in consequential research by building knowledge that co-creates policies and practices that recognize strengths of and solve problems with those most marginalized.

“To make an epistemic reinvestment in consequential research, we must leave our offices and labs, and work with the people,” said Milner. “The work of ‘the consequential’ is not necessarily behind a computer screen in the walls of the ivory tower but in the community with those suffering the most.”

Milner also noted that while education researchers often look outward—critiquing people and communities for political and policy views—they must also interrogate their own worldviews, misconceptions, and counterproductive beliefs in the work of “the consequential.” This includes their role in addressing and disrupting consequential decisions and outcomes in relation to issues such as the over-referral of Black and other minoritized students to the office for “misbehavior,” the effects of poverty on student outcomes, the marginalization of LGBTQIA+ students, and inadequate funding, among many others.

“Even when we do not endeavor to improve, change, reform, or transform some aspect of education, we are engaging in a form of ‘the consequential’ through our avoidance,” said Milner. “I am proposing that we make an epistemic reinvestment in the work of equity and justice with marginalized communities. Young people are dying, literally and metaphorically, even as I speak, and epistemic reinvestment in the consequential demands that we make a difference beyond our own lives.”

Milner shared six principles for what he believes is necessary in the work of epistemic reinvestment in the consequential. Researchers engaged in epistemic reinvestment amplify their positionality, learn from history, understand the dangers of polarization, prioritize marginalized voices, broaden their view of what counts as legitimate knowledge and dissemination, and reframe institutional expectations for what is considered scholarship and thus consequential. To illuminate, Milner analyzed AERA journals since their inception, and highlighted trends of dissemination, calling for more attention consequential issues focused on marginalized communities in these outlets.

“Rather than walking around this conference and the walls of our prestigious universities lauding our accomplishments, yearning for more and more recognition for the work we have done, consequential research would demand that, in fact, we measure the success and impact of our work by the lives we help to transform,” said Milner.

Milner concluded his address with an inspiring personal anecdote from when he was in graduate school and shared with his grandmother his frustrations with the inequities in society and education.

“After I finished sharing my analyses and critiques with her,” Milner said, “my grandmother would intently stare at me—looking me firmly in my eyes—and simply say, ‘Keep pressing!’”

Milner’s presidential address is available for on-demand viewing on the 2023 Annual Meeting online platform and mobile app for conference registrants. It will soon be available publicly on the AERA website.