National Academies Symposium Amplifies Recommendations for the Future of Education Research

September 2022

On September 20, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) held a full-day hybrid event, “The Future is Now: Advancing and Sustaining an Equity-Oriented Science.” The event included several panels that highlighted recommendations from the March 2022 report The Future of Education Research at IES, and the application of those recommendations to the broader education research field. The NASEM report is a result of a study commissioned by IES (Institute of Education Sciences) to inform the agency on critical problems that call for new research, new methods or approaches for conducting research, and new types of research training investments.

Na’ilah Suad Nasir, AERA past-president and president of the Spencer Foundation, spoke during the first panel on the need for an equity-centered lens in education research. In her remarks, she described three angles through which equity can be pursued: content—what to study and how to frame it; process—how to conduct research in equitable ways; and impact—how to best support equitable change.

John King, former education secretary and current president of the Education Trust, highlighted the overall need for increasing funding for education research, including through supporting evaluation work. He described four topic areas where he would like to see more evidence that can inform policy and practice: the exacerbation of inequities and the general disruption to students’ lives brought by COVID-19, discipline reform, teacher diversity, and school diversity. 

Jordan Matsudaira, who serves as the deputy undersecretary and chief economist at the U.S. Department of Education, also addressed the need for research and data to better understand the impact that policies have in addressing inequities. He pointed specifically to siloed data and lack of data on student loans that contribute to the lack of a well-articulated theory of disparities in student outcomes in postsecondary education.

Sean Reardon (Stanford University) discussed the need for equity to be seen as a feature of the education system. As part of this, he called for a systems-level approach beyond individual interventions. Reardon also amplified the need for data to measure equity in fine grain and data on the conditions of school districts.

Additional sessions throughout the day focused on the report’s recommendations on knowledge mobilization, heterogeneity, and grounding research in the needs of communities.

In discussing knowledge mobilization, William Penuel (University of Colorado Boulder) detailed the role of research-practice partnerships in facilitating the use of evidence. Penuel noted that language matters in describing the way that evidence is developed, suggesting referring to “joint work” as opposed to “translational” work. As part of a breakout session, Elizabeth Farley-Ripple (University of Delaware) spoke to the factors that increase the likelihood of evidence use, including local conditions, relationships with researchers, role of knowledge brokers, and the relevance and fit to what educators are using.

A panel on heterogeneity featured comments by Beth Tipton (Northwestern University) and Carrie Conaway (Harvard University). Several themes emerged from this conversation, including shifting the focus on “what works” to “for whom, and under what conditions,” developing a broader definition of equities, and considering infrastructure that is interdisciplinary and transparent to highlight promising evidence.

The final panel, focusing on grounding research in needs of communities, included comments from Ruth López Turley (Rice University), who described her experience with working with Houston-area schools and the benefits of deep relationships with school districts through the Houston Education Research Consortium. She also discussed how the more traditional way of research training does not lend itself to truly authentic partnerships.

As part of the panel, Megan Bang (Northwestern University) discussed the importance of community-engaged research; Douglas Watkins (Denver Public Schools) highlighted his experience in a research-practice partnership and in informing science instruction in the district; and Gudiel Crosthwaite (Lynwood Unified School District) provided the perspective of district leaders in evaluating research requests and protecting the time of teachers and students.

In addition to this event, AERA featured a session on the NASEM Future of Education Research at IES report at the 2022 Annual Meeting in April.

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