More Used, More Useful
Researching Toward Real-World Results

Education research has a problem: there is a disconnect between schools and the research that is conducted to help them improve. We have exponentially expanded our knowledge, in recent years, of how people learn best, and of how school can be rethought to empower and engage learners, but the findings are not making the impact in classrooms that some—myself included—believe they could.

As the LEAP Innovations Senior Director of Research, I was honored to represent LEAP at a Nov. 27 convening to address this problem. Held by the Institute of Education Sciences in partnership with the Jefferson Education Exchange, it gathered leaders from over 50 educator organizations to discuss how we can make research more relevant for the teachers it’s supposed to serve.

I very much appreciate IES’s commitment to making teacher voice its priority, and I agree that this is both a complicated and pressing problem. As I voiced at the convening, I believe that dealing with the issue will require more than just communicating our findings more effectively—that we need to rethink the way we formulate our questions, and how we go about testing our hypotheses. For our research to become relevant for teachers, teachers need to be there every step of the research process.

IES is right that part of the problem is communication. A lot of useful research is not being used, and we researchers need to deliver our findings in more accessible, actionable ways. We should explore novel formats like instructional videos, practice guides and teacher-conduit systems, as IES CEO Mark Schneider suggests, where teachers help explain findings to other teachers. We should also rethink our approach to prose in reports, pushing toward making it as pithy and jargon-less as possible.

Communication, however, is only part of the equation. The other part is the research itself. Lots of findings, right now, are meant to be universal. They’re geared toward what works in the average classroom, with the average teacher. The problem with this is that, just as there is no average learner, there is no average classroom. Every situation is different, with unique needs and people at play, and in a field as complicated and context-driven as education, it makes sense that findings that don’t integrate context—that show what works but don’t include when things work, or how to make them work—are rarely useful to educators. The issue, I firmly believe, is not just that our research is not not being used enough—it’s also that it isn’t useful enough.

Luckily, this is a two-birds-one-stone situation. The key to making research both more used and more useful is for researchers to actively listen to and collaborate with teachers. Teachers know what questions they want answered, and what else they’ll need to know for the answers to matter. Working with teachers as our questions are developed, as our data is collected and as our findings are packaged will allow us to properly account for context, and to thereby bridge the gap between the theory of what works and the practice of making it work. Teacher involvement—not just focus groups, but true collaboration—bridges the gap between research and the real world.