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A Huffington Post (Or Freakonomics) For Education Research

There have been some small but important changes when it comes to coverage of education research -- traditional and otherwise, online or in print. More might be in the works.

As I noted at yesterday's AERA session, journalism still avoids dealing with education research as much as possible and struggles to deal with it when there's just no other escape.  Check here for lots of recent examples: Media Watch.

As a result, education research still isn't much of a player -- especially academic research, which has for better or worse been usurped by advocacy-oriented think tanks on both right and center. Some think tanks like Brookings and the Urban Institute come from a deep and strong research perspective.  Others, not so much. Too infrequently do you see top university-based researchers quoted in the papers or appearing in front of Congressional committees.   

That seems like a shame. And yet, there have been some small but important changes in recent months, including a few new folks on the scene who are pondering education research and bringing it to the rest of us.  In education, this includes  the arrival of AERA conference darling eduwonkette, NYU historian Diane Ravitch, and Kevin DeRosa at D-ED Reckoning.  Outside of education, there's the Freakonomics blog at the NYT, Malcolm Gladwell's blog, and the one maintained by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (authors of big research-heavy magazine articles on children lying and sleep and praise, among other things).   On the political front, FactCheck.org does a decent job of refereeing candidates' claims and proposals, including some that are education-related (Richardson Flunks Two Subjects).   

These sources all bring research to us and help us digest it.  And the Spencer, Lumina, and Knight foundations are all funding efforts to improve the quality of education writing and its connections to research in the near future.  (More about this later.)  There's still a clear need for more.  Perhaps it should come from the journalism side -- a Columbia Journalism Review website reviewing education research and journalism like they have for science (Watchdogging Education News).  Beefed-up (and free) coverage from EdWeek and the Chronicle.  A "grown-up" version of FactCheckED.org.  Or it could come from the research side -- a broader and more balanced version of the Think Tank Review Project, a forum created by AERA to bring the best research forward for scrutiny and discussion, a Freakonomics-inspired ed research blog.

I don't think the answer is to try and turn journalists into researchers, or vice versa.  In most cases, neither does the job well.  But there is room for a strong intermediary effort, and I'm mysteriously hopeful that we'll hear more about high-quality education research in 2008 online and in print than we did during the past year.

See my post about last year's AERA here:  A Global Warming Initiative For AERA.

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The Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU) at Arizona State also does quite a bit of think tank review and rapid response. Their roster of contributing researchers is pretty impressive.

http://epsl.asu.edu/epru/thinktankreview.htm

right, but EPRU is mostly scrutinizing right wing affiliated groups at the state level. there's no one (to my knowledge) helping people understand what is and isn't rigorous about studies that come out of center and center-left think tanks by way of research -- or for that matter, what is strong and weak research-wise of studies that come out of university based research.

In the past, there has been some discussion about setting up an education resource similar to Science In the Public Interest (SIPI), which directs journalists on a deadline to sources. Need a vulcanist when a volcano goes off? The discussions never got to the proposal-writing stage because ed research is so volatile and unreliable that any referral would eventually become a political statement. Maybe things will change.

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