Lookin’ for Edu-R&D Sugardaddies

For years now, we have heard IES Director Russ Whitehurst lament the dirth of funding for education research and development.  Compare the U.S. Department of Education’s research budget with that of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it is embarrassing (even if you do it as a percentage of the total agency budget).

The good folks over at Knowledge Alliance (formerly NEKIA) have waved a similar banner.  If we expect a scientifically based educational experience, we need to invest in scientifically based research.  If we are going to do what works, we need to investigate it.  And if we are going to drive the squishy research from the K-12 kingdom, we need to make meaningful investments in the strong, scientific, longitudinal research we are seeking.

Yet education R&D still seems to be feeding from the scraps of practice.  We have few industry leaders that are funding R&D the way we see it in the health industry.  And that view becomes even more acute today, when the Howard Hughes Medical Institute announces a $600 million grant to fund the research of 56 top medical researchers.  The Washington Post has the full story here — http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/27/AR2008052701014.html?hpid=topnews.

It has all got Eduflack thinking of the impact such an investment could have on education. Just imagine if a philanthropy offered up $200 or $100 or even $50 million to education’s top researchers to develop major findings in how to improve public education.  Science and math instruction.  ELL.  Teacher training.  Effects of technology.  Charters.  The list of possible topics is limitless.  In reading alone, you can take a look at the list of potential research subjects offered by the National Reading Panel in 2000.  Today, most of those still haven’t been pursued.

But we all recognize that such sugardaddies are few and far between in education reform.  We put our money on educational practice.  We fund practitioners.  R&D is an add-on, often used just to test the ROI for funders, be they philanthropic or corporate.

Yes, we have significant education investment from groups like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They have made a significant contribution to funding education reforms, particularly in our urban areas.  But the focus is not on R&D, it is on classroom practice.  Valuable indeed, but it doesn’t mean we don’t need a similar investment on the research side.  In fact, such R&D investment can ensure Gates’ money is being wisely spent.

Without question, the money available in the education industry is at levels never imagined in generations past.  Somewhere among those growing pots, there must be a potential sugardaddy (or a collection of sugarbabies) who can do for education what the Hughes Institute is doing for medicine.  

As we struggle with the definitions of SBRR and the findings of the WWC, just imagine the impact we can have with a nine-figure investment in education R&D, particularly if it is led through a public-private partnership.  

Today, education reform is kinda like filling a lake with teaspoon.  We’re adding some drops here or there, but we can’t necessarily see the impact.  With stronger R&D, we have the option of at least adding water by the barrel full, if not more.  And that’s the only way to raise the opportunity boats of the kids who need it most.
 

2 thoughts on “Lookin’ for Edu-R&D Sugardaddies

  1. Eduflak–can you name a single area in eduation that has not been researched ad nausea. I cant believe that we will know anything more about any of the areas you cite with more federal or foundation investment. Wont we end up with pablum like the new Lumina Foundation reports????

  2. Unfortunately, you couldn’t be more wrong about the state of research in education.  I wish that we had effectively researched every corner of the field.  Instead, we have mostly a collection of action research, qualitative analyses, and squishy research that meets a specific need but does not provide long-term contributions to the field.We need more quantitative research.  We need more longitudinal studies.  We need hard data that clearly shows us what works, and what works with particular groups of students or with students of particular needs.  THis is true in virtual all areas, especially in the core subjects, ELL, special ed, etc.  Too often, we mistake good research for glossy reports with pretty pictures.  We’re looking for data here.  Good data that can be used to guide federal, state, and local decisionmaking and budget setting.  You don’t get that from action research and case studies.

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