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Scientific Research in Education (2002) / Chapter Skim
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6 Design Principles for Fostering Science in a Federal Education Research Agency
Pages 127-157

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From page 128...
... Rather, we relied on data we have collected from a sampling of federal social science research agencies and programs including OERI about how they support their science missions.2 In short, while we reiterate that we did not evaluate OERI, we clearly could not avoid learning about it or discussing it, especially in a comparative way, to address our charge effectively. Thus, Specifically, we collected data from OERI, the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences and Education and Human Resources Directorates at the National Science Foundation, the Child Development and Behavior Branch at the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development, and the Social and Behavioral Research Program at the National Institute on Aging.
From page 129...
... The participants discussed the federal role in education research and related social sciences across several agencies with an eye toward the future of a federal education research agency (again, OERI was one of several agencies represented and discussed)
From page 130...
... Furthermore, the use of definitions of methods as a tool for improvement fails to recognize the crucial role of theory and, as we emphasize, a strong, self-regulated, skeptical community of researchers that pushes the boundaries of knowledge. It is in this spirit that we focus on scientific culture in approaching the design of a federal education research agency.
From page 131...
... Our vision is that the fundamental mission of a federal education research agency would be to promote and protect the integrity of scientific research in education with the goal of generating knowledge that can inform policy and practice decisions.4 To achieve this mission, the agency needs to develop and nurture a scientific culture, and to do so, it must have an infrastructure, supported by sufficient resources, that enables a cadre of experienced staff to make decisions flexibly and to interact continuously 4Although our focus is on scientific research, we believe that the federal government should also fund related activities, such as development and demonstration work, a statistics function, a national library, other forms of educational scholarship (e.g., history and philosophy) , and a research dissemination and implementation structure.
From page 132...
... Attracting and retaining an adequate number of qualified leaders and staff is so critical to a healthy federal education research agency that we believe without it, little else matters. There is no substitute for leadership and human capacity.
From page 133...
... Providing ongoing professional development opportunities for research staff is also critical to allow continuing and sustained interaction with the broader research community. How can a federal education research agency attract and retain such human resources to develop and maintain a scientific culture that fosters and protects the integrity of scientifically rigorous research in education?
From page 134...
... These appointments also help build the capacity of future leaders in the research field. Another way for a federal education research agency to cultivate scientific norms in its staff is to engage in collaborative research efforts with other agencies to encourage interaction with staff who have traditions of supporting related scientific work.
From page 135...
... A key task of this board would be to develop the research agenda. No matter how strong its science, if the agency does not carefully develop and maintain its agenda in close collaboration with researchers, policy makers, and practitioners and in alignment with available resources, it will fail to DESIGN PRINCIPEES FOR FOSTERING SCIENCE IN A FEDERAL EDUCATION RESEARCH AGENCY 135
From page 136...
... that the progression of science is jagged and often unexpected. Standing Peer Review Panels Peer review is the single most typically used mechanism for nurturing a scientific culture within and outside federal research agencies, and one that should play a feature role in a federal education research agency.
From page 137...
... When researchers join peer review panels that have a life over a period of years, panel members strengthen their knowledge and the panel as a whole develops an integrated, communal expertise. Members then communicate this knowledge to their colleagues through their review of proposals and interaction with colleagues, and they also demand that, in the proposals DESIGN PRINCIPEES FOR FOSTERING SCIENCE IN A FEDERAL EDUCATION RESEARCH AGENCY ~137
From page 138...
... As a result, we believe that policy makers and practitioners should not have responsibility for judging the scientific merit of research proposals; they should have opportunities for ongoing collaborations in the agency, but not as part of peer review panels (see "Governing Board," above)
From page 139...
... DESIGN PRINCIPLE 3 Insulate the Agency from Inappropriate Political Interference A federal education research agency must be designed to prevent inappropriate political criteria from entering into the agency's agenda for research, its choice of research studies, its selection of grantees, and its scientific norms. Ensuring that political interference is minimal will foster a scientific culture, protect the scientific process, and prevent research from being sacrificed to the policy passions and practice fads of the day.
From page 140...
... By contrast, how OERI's roughly $130 million research budget will be spent is largely determined by requirements in its current authorizing statute. This legislation requires that at least 25 percent of the annual appropriation for research fund field-initiated studies and at least 15 percent fund research centers.6 Our review of a sample of research agency authorizing statutes showed that no other research agency is subject to such legal requirements 60fthe approximately $130 million in research funds in fiscal 2000, roughly $85 million is managed through five internal institutes, and the remainder is embedded in the regional laboratory structure and other improvement activities.
From page 142...
... . A federal education research agency must have the freedom to go beyond the short-term view and make long-term investments in promising lines of research that have reasonable probability of helping to solve important practical problems and generating new and refined theoretical frameworks.
From page 143...
... , there is a clear progression of education research findings. For example, the Office of Naval Research began funding studies on advanced educational technology DESIGN PRINCIPLES FOR FOSTERING SCIENCE IN A FEDERAL EDUCATION RESEARCH AGENCY 143
From page 144...
... Perhaps more importantly, a federal education research agency should systematically conduct research syntheses as part of their program work in order to build scientific consensus by supporting thorough, balanced reviews of research selected from studies that meet scientific criteria. As we describe in Chapter 2, these syntheses provide a mechanism for the accumulation of research-based knowledge.
From page 145...
... We view the critical issue of research utilization as not only a role for a federal education research agency, but also as an area much in need of sustained scientific study itself. In addition to developing coherent programs, infusing new, cuttingedge, innovative lines of inquiry into a research portfolio also should be an important function of a federal research agency.
From page 146...
... Given our assumption that the agenda of a federal education research agency will be roughly comparable to what it has been in the past, coupled with the obvious recommendation that resources be aligned with the scope and expectations of the enterprise, it follows that we recommend increased appropriations to ensure that the agency can adequately meet its mandate. For background on these recommendations, we briefly review available data and literature related to the federal investment in education research.
From page 147...
... The report argued that OERI's limited resources had been spread"so thinly that mediocrity was almost assured. Only a few lines of research have been sustained for DESIGN PRINCIPEES FOR FOSTERING SCIENCE IN A FEDERAL EDUCATION RESEARCH AGENCY ~147
From page 148...
... Increases in funding must be targeted to important problems and attract the best researchers in the country to work on them. Thus, funding should increase as other design principles are institutionalized in a federal education research agency.
From page 150...
... Collaborations with professional associations might feature training and fellowship programs for young scholars (e.g., the Statistics Institute at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association tAERA] , funded jointly by OERI and the National Center for Education Statistics tNCES]
From page 152...
... , oversight groups that review all federally funded research involving human participants to ensure their ethical treatment. It is important to recognize that education research, including evaluation studies, rarely presents any true risk to the participant so long as care is taken to protect identities and that researchers understand and are responsive to the needs of individual participants.
From page 154...
... tion of research findings into practice is not a straightforward affair, and indeed, many have rejected this common metaphor outright (see e.g., Willinsky,2001~. The effect of social science on practice is typically indirect, affecting change incrementally through"knowledge creep" (Weiss, 1980, 1991a, 1999~.
From page 155...
... , makes the case that education research would have a stronger impact on practice if it were supported by an infrastructure that promoted ongoing collaborations DESIGN PRINCIPEES FOR FOSTERING SCIENCE IN A FEDERAL EDUCATION RESEARCH AGENCY 155
From page 156...
... We suggest that a federal education research agency invest in an infrastructure that builds connections between researchers and practitioners because we see the potential to enhance the research itself. Sustained collaborations between researchers and practitioners could strengthen field-based scientific education research by incrementally infusing a deeper knowledge of the complexities of educational practice into theory building, empirical testing, and methods development in a number of ways.


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