Research Alert / The Studies We Really Need - ASCD
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May 1, 2021

Research Alert / The Studies We Really Need

Key takeaways from the 2021 article, "Making Education Research Relevant," by Daniel Willingham and David Daniel in Education Next.

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Educators often have a hard time finding research that's relevant to their needs. But what if the problem lies not in their search techniques or lack of time and resources, but rather in the methods of education research itself?

In a spring 2021 issue of Education Next, Daniel Willingham and David Daniel, both noted researchers, suggest that a kind of methodological revolution in education research needs to occur for educators to get what they need from scholars—namely, more clearly defined guidance on which interventions or methods might work best in their classrooms. After looking at a sample of intervention studies over multiple years, Willingham and Daniel found that 91 percent of the studies employed a "better than nothing" approach, where the new intervention was compared with either a control group that changed nothing or a control group that used an intervention that wasn't expected to change anything.

These types of studies, Willingham and Daniel argue, don't really help educators make decisions because their conclusions are often weak. "There may well be ‘research-based' interventions in the marketplace, but educators have no basis on which to compare the alternatives," the authors write. "They have all been shown to be ‘better'—but better than what, exactly?"

The article asks researchers and research consumers to instead imagine "that the common research design started with whatever trusted intervention is considered the current ‘gold standard' for the desired outcome and used that as the control group," and that "the criterion of the comparison would be that a new intervention should be at least as good as the gold standard." If research studies were done this way, a group of proven interventions would surface, and educators could select the one that "best fits their school context, skills, and personal preference."

For such change to occur, however, foundations and government agencies that fund research, as well as journal editors who publish research, must change their focus and encourage research that provides more meaningful comparisons and useable results.

Source: Willingham, D., & Daniel, D. (Spring 2021). Making education research relevant. Education Next, 21(2).

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