WestEd's Neal Finkelstein on Using Research to Inform Policy and Practice

SREE Question and Answer Session

How do we know what works – and what doesn’t – in education? This question is increasingly addressed by a growing body of rigorous research. Yet challenges remain in effectively communicating compelling educational outcomes within the collaborative community of researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. Neal Finkelstein, Co-Director of WestEd’s Innovation Studies program and Program Committee Chair of the 2018 Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness conference, discusses some of the opportunities and challenges facing those attempting to apply evidence-based research to a diverse and complex array of education settings.

Please tell us about the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness (SREE), and the emphasis of this year’s conference: the adoption and implementation of effective research-based practice. How did that theme come to be?

SREE has served as a “north star” for education researchers for nearly 15 years, helping them learn about and improve in conducting the most rigorous types of studies, including randomized controlled trials. It is a national research organization that, among other things, is helping to generate knowledge and facilitate the application of that knowledge in new contexts and across new fields in education and beyond. This year’s conference theme emphasizes the use and application of evidence in our field. We’re hoping that conference attendees raise and discuss the following types of questions:

  • Where has policy and practice been particularly responsive to the interpretation of
    evidence-based research, and what can we learn from these outcomes?
  • How can the research process impact the utility of the research?
  • Is it meaningful to distinguish between the intervention assessed, research methods employed, and ways to communicate findings with stakeholders?
  • How should we address the limitations of the generalizability of research findings while supporting practical and scalable interventions in complex educational settings?

What do you think are the most important considerations for bridging research to practice?

To bridge research and practice, we must consider how the information “fits” in the education systems we work in. That is, researchers need to focus on questions that are of current and pressing interest to communities of practitioners or policymakers. It also is important to understand that the bridge is built not only through what we learn, but also how it is communicated to particular audiences.

In what ways do you think the education research community is poised to support the adoption and implementation of effective research-based practice by state and local policymakers, practitioners, and so on?

To be relevant in fast-moving policy discussions, there is work to do on both crafting and delivering messages. In addition, the development of repositories of evidence and evidence-review methods in education have expanded significantly over the past 15 years. This allows us to be sharper with our syntheses of research and more deliberate in how we assess the applicability of findings to state and local stakeholders. At the same time, we need to continue to build on what we know by studying implementation and outcomes carefully and offering templates for new data collection and research opportunities. We also need to help our colleagues think about cost implications and the reach of new education technologies. The research evidence is one critical piece of what we can share; how that fits into the broader system is important, too.

How can WestEd build upon the theme of this conference more broadly?

WestEd has an important role to play in helping our partners make the very best use of evidence. As an organization, we have a wide variety of connections to the field. Our work enables us to collaborate with individual teachers, school districts, County Offices of Education, state education agencies, and countless professional networks. We are all increasingly interested in using evidence in decision-making, and we can support important conversations about how to choose strategies that “fit” local contexts.

What do you anticipate that WestEd researchers will bring back from this conference to share in our work/region?

SREE provides an opportunity for conference attendees to hear about research across many areas in education, from across the US and internationally. The conference also offers a series of professional development short-courses (one led by a WestEd team) that enable ongoing study in new and emerging areas of research and research methods. My hope is that, above all, WestEd staff come back with examples of how their research colleagues helped education practitioners benefit from research. How was the information useful and how was it communicated? What were exemplary models of research applied to practice, where evidence was held in high regard?

Join WestEd at the 2018 SREE Conference by attending one of our sessions!

Wednesday, February 28

Workshop: Practical Measurement in Improvement Science
Time & Location: 12-3pm / Dumbarton Room, Fairmont Hotel
WestEd Participants: Sola Takahashi, Jonathan Dolle

Thursday, March 1

Panel: Strategies for Increasing the Utility of Research
Time & Location: 10:30am-12pm / Gallery 1, Park Hyatt Hotel
WestEd Participant: Nikola Filby

Invited Panel: Evidence-Building, Implementation, and Adaptation: Theory and Running Errands in the Context of Enduring Research-to-Practice Partnerships
Time & Location: 2-3:30pm / Gallery 1, Park Hyatt Hotel
WestEd Participants: Neal Finkelstein (Moderator), Jason Snipes

Panel: How States Work with Districts to Use Evidence Under the ESSA
Time & Location: 2-3:30pm / Salon 2, Park Hyatt Hotel, Ballroom Level
WestEd Participants: Sylvie Hale (Moderator), Lenay Dunn (Discussant)

Poster Session: Improved Generalizability through Improved Recruitment: Lessons Learned from a Large-Scale Randomized Trial
Time: 4-5pm / Colonnade, Fairmont Hotel
WestEd Participant: Bryan Matlen

Friday, March 2

Paper Session: Word Learning Strategies Supplementary Curriculum: Preliminary Findings Related to Research and Practice
Time & Location: 3pm / Gallery 2, Park Hyatt Hotel
WestEd Participants: Kylie Flynn, Linlin Li, Cathy Ringstaff

Panel: Putting Research into Practice in Local Education Agencies: Supporting English Learner Students with Learning Disabilities
Time & Location: 3pm / Drawing Room 1, Park Hyatt Hotel
WestEd Participant: John Rice (Moderator)

Leave a Comment

*

  1. Tony Moss says:

    Hello Neal,

    As a researcher within a State Education Agency, I believe two steps are needed before we can truly make research a steady driver of educational improvement:

    1. Governments and others funding education have to require real program evaluations, and
    2. Evaluations should be designed to improve and use regular program administrative data for continuous evaluation of program effectiveness.