Where does the research come from?

According to the study, the most commonly mentioned source of external research information was the federal government; specifically, offices within the U.S. Department of Education and federally funded centers.

The second-largest external source of research advice was professional membership associations. These included:

  • Associations focused on specific subject matter, or teaching and learning more generally, such as state and national reading, mathematics, and technology organizations, and ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development).
  • Occupationally-focused organizations, such as the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) or state-level associations representing superintendents, principals, and federal program administrators.
  • Regional organizations, such as the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB).

Staff in all three SEAs, however, reached out primarily to national, not state, professional membership associations for research advice.

Perhaps surprisingly, “fewer SEA staff sought research from institutions of higher education or research organizations,” notes the report.

However, the report emphasizes that variation in the states’ external research networks reflects the SEAs’ differing stages of policy development, internal capacity, and prior partnership histories.

For instance, State A’s school improvement system has been in place for many years and is more likely to pull in a range of external partners on an as-needed basis to co-develop very ‘discrete and specific’ tools and resources.”

In contrast, State C was “bracing for more and more schools to come within its purview for not meeting state or federal accountability standards in the midst of a very spare and declining SEA workforce,” explains the report. “With limited research capacity and expertise in school improvement, SEA staff turned to the CII, as well as their own regional assistance center and a state professional membership association, to help them redesign their supports and create a research-based infrastructure of tools to monitor and assist schools.”

Outside of external organizations, the study found that much of the research came from personal connections and prior work histories.

“While a few of the SEA staff who we interviewed suggested they used a range of internet and academic resources, many turned to their existing network of academics…to access research and new ideas,” says the report. One of the SEAs “sought much of its practitioner advice from its districts and district networks.”

All three SEAs created their own original research by undertaking both formal and informal evaluations of their school improvement policies and programs.

(Next page: Who collects research, and how is it used?)