Research and practice, meet the state education agency

Phi Delta Kappan
EdResearch for Recovery

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State agencies still vary tremendously in their capacity to facilitate research use. Some are just beginning to build the necessary infrastructure and relationships that this work requires, while others are cutting a new trail for the future of research use in SEAs. But the language in ESSA defining an “evidence-based activity, strategy, or intervention” and requiring its use has forced all states to get better at using and interpreting research, especially when it comes to helping their lowest-performing schools, where these requirements are most stringent. And organizations such as Results for America and the American Youth Policy Forum have created networks of SEA research staff who are learning from one another as they expand their research portfolios. I’m optimistic that these investments of time and resources will spur innovation in states as they ramp up their use of research for systems improvement.  

I am particularly enthusiastic about the efforts I’ve seen in a few states to establish networks of districts that work together with researchers to design studies and interpret findings. In Rhode Island, for example, a group of districts has come together with the Annenberg Institute at Brown University to pilot specific research-based pandemic recovery strategies in ways that improve individual district implementation and build researchers’ and practitioners’ knowledge about the strategy over time. Tennessee has launched a similar effort, the COVID Innovation Recovery Network, which is led by Tennessee SCORE and the Tennessee Education Research Alliance. This sort of embedded, networked approach is likely to be effective in building research literacy and promoting research use in districts as well as the state agency itself.  

Most importantly, state-led efforts to connect research and practice have gained momentum, and we know more than ever before about how to do this work well. State agencies are becoming increasingly adept at building, using, and sharing research to improve their school systems, and I’m excited to see where they take this work next.   

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