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Research & The Internet: What You Missed This Morning At AERA

Some quick highlights from this morning's AERA panel where Richard Lee Colvin (Hechinger), Jenny Medina (NYT), Andy (Ed Sector), and I talked and answered questions about education research and the Internet: 

ImagesJenny highlighting the "sifting" role that education blogs play in helping reporters figure out what people are talking about and what to write about.  Andy making the claim that all education research is the same -- whether it's from a think tank or a research institution -- and that there's no real difference between advocacy-oriented think tanks like his and research-oriented think tanks like Brookings or the Urban Institute.  Richard pointing out that journalists are now filing mini-stories to be used online even before they've written out what will show up in the paper the next day.

We were all coming from very different places -- Jenny taking the most traditional journalistic view that talking to people and being in classrooms is as or more important to her reporting than anything going on online, Richard emphasizing the transformations going on in journalism like audio and video reporting packages, and Andy  and I jousting over whether researchers should find more effective ways to push their way into the journalistic and political fray (my view) or hold off and stand back in order to stay within the bounds of their findings and not get discredited (Andy's view).

More on this later. Thanks to everyone who came and for Joe and Paul and everyone else for organizing the session. 

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I enjoyed the session. You mentioned a blog around AERA activities during your talk - can you provide a link?

Not being there I don't know precisely what was said, but if what Alexander wrote above is correct, I see a disconnect between Andy Rotherham's first and second statements.

If "all education research is the same... and... there's no real difference between advocacy-oriented think tanks like his and research-oriented think tanks like Brookings or the Urban Institute" then why shouldn't all researchers "push their way into the journalistic and political fray?"

Moreover, it is worth noting that most think education policy tanks exist to influence policy. They hardly tell their funders, "we are in Washington or visit Washington strictly because we like the climate - talking with policymakers or their surrogates has nothing to do with it. Indeed, we do everything possible to keep our work out of their hands. We refuse to put these people on our mailing lists, we screen all of our events to be sure that they do not attend, we refuse to meet with them under any and all circumstances. Believe me Ms. Philanthropy Program Officer, our work is strictly limited to fellow eduwonks, and any breach of their nondisclosure agreements is investigated immediately and thoroughly. Long before they can get a cab back to the office, we've cleaned out the desk of any researcher who goes up to the Hill to testify, changed their computer pass codes, re-keyed our locks, and left a box with their personal effects and pink slip with the ground floor desk guard. I'll be damned if we inform policy."

O.k, there is some truth here, but not by their intent.

It's a false choice - researchers have been thrust into fray.

Readers interested in pursuing the first issue noted by Alexander - the difference between think tanks and policy marketing shops - might start with my mlti-post series starting here: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/edbizbuzz/2008/02/uberblogger_alexander_russo_as.html

Alex,

I don't want to bite the hands that feed me links to newspapers and think tank research, but I don't understand these complaints about journalists. That Boston Globe series, for instance, was wonderful - unless you want unambiguous endings. It recounted the efforts of both teachers and a specific student to raise standards. The girl did great but fell just short of the standards the school was requiring. The teacher finally stopped asking her about finishing the project. The article didn't tell how the story ended. I'm assuming that the teacher just went along and passed her, but who knows? The same ambiguity can be found in wonderful; coverage of violence in schools in Chicago and Philadelphia. Where do you find a discussion about that issue in the reasearch? For newspapers, its a great story. For academics or policy makers, the issue of safe and orderly schools is a career killer. Who in their right mind would tackle that issue?

Reread the old Baltimore Sun series on online tutorials and how poor systems were buying "teacher proof systems" that emphasize rote skills. I foreshadowed the outcomes of massive scientific studies that showed the disappointing outcomes of those programs. And the school related journalism in using the "thick desciption" methodology of the New Yorker and NYT Magazine are incomparable

Although comments on Eduwonk drive me up the wall, especially their characterizations of newspapers' articles that don't have a happy ending, I'd trust the Ed Sector research - which is submitted to the editorial process - as much as I would Brookings research (if I had the expertise to judge theirs). Perhaps my cavalier apporach comes from being a historian. Academics did not teach me how to make history, and I don't expect the relatively primitive socval science research of today to do any more. We study to learn. When were we guarenteed a road map to success?

I do wish that think tanks, newspapers, and other researchers would pony up the resources for scholars to live for a year in a school. One of many reasons that I still teach is that it provides a freedom that is rare for 50 somethings. I get to live with the honesty of teenagers. Its a great opportunity to enjoy the full human comedy, and not be forced to tailor me judgments to fit the constraints of the adult world.

Whoops! I just contradicted myself by praising the discipline of editors then rejecting the discipline of other adult institutions. Come and enjoy a few months in a urban school, and you'll see a lot of contradictions.

But back to the student who almost made it. It reminded me of an intense multi-hour discussion with a senior who just gave out at the end. We worked a deal with the last teacher who needed to pass her. She agreed to walk upstairs and and finish. But she turned down the wrong hall. I was tempted to chase after her and guilt- trip her upstairs, and it most circumstances I would have. But it would have betrayed the honesty of our communication. Today the rule is "whatever it takes" and even then I would have not allowed a lesser student to make the "wrong" turn. Things did not turn out well. The politically correct position is that I failed by respecting her choice to fail. I still don't know if I was wrong. Theories aside, once you go down the path of respecting your students as complex moral agents, you don't expect as many simple answers in journalism or social science or anywhere.

Sorry I missed your session, Alex, but I enjoyed your blogging comments on it. They bring to mind another disconnect between ed research and others out there who might use (or not know how to make sense of, or want to make sense of) ed research--lawyers. Some researchers I know were brought on as expert witnesses in a case about school consolidation in a rural state. What was interesting was that the lawyers on the pro-consolidation side hardly engaged with the research; they went after the traditional stuff, like who funded the research and have the researchers avoided conflicts of interest. And while in some senses that's a legitimate approach, the lack of real attendance to what the research (on either side) was suggesting was notable.

With you, I blame us (ed researchers), but I also gotta blame them (the lawyers).

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