The most recent convening of the Student Experience Research Network (SERN) scholarly community focused on the policy implications of research across disciplines and methodologies that speaks to how practices, policies, and norms shape students’ experience of feeling respected as valued people and thinkers in school.
Currently, policymakers are considering decisions about curriculum and instruction, school discipline and policing in schools, the diversity of the education profession, access to postsecondary education, supports for students’ well-being and academic learning, and more. These structures are rooted in the systemic inequities that have always resided at the foundation of our education system.
Policy-relevant research is essential to understanding the complex ways these practices, policies, and norms systematically and differentially shape students’ experience of school—and how they can be changed. But this type of scholarship is not incentivized within academia, and few formal feedback loops exist between research and education policy and practice.
To that end, SERN invited Heather Hough, the executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE), to present at the convening about PACE’s work to improve education policy and practice and advance equity through evidence.
Heather’s presentation, “COVID-19, the educational equity crisis, and the role of research in decision-making,” discusses how PACE has responded to the pandemic and informed decisions in California around school funding; measurement of student well-being, engagement, and learning; distance learning; and organizing schools to support students’ diverse needs through the Reimagine and Rebuild initiative.
Heather also offers generalizable lessons for researchers to engage with policy audiences. These include starting with a research question of interest for education leaders, focusing on outreach and communications and partnering with organizations who hold relevant expertise and relationships, and centering the voices of those closest to the work.
SERN’s Spotlight Series, which also features PACE, documents additional examples of cross-sector collaboration and research-based change. These examples – one in the context of K-12 education practice and the other in postsecondary education policy – offer insights about the types of conditions and relationships needed to enact change.
Francesca López, a professor at The Pennsylvania State University and another presenter at the event, also noted that researchers can find support and infrastructure for engaging with the education sector from organizations that bridge research, practice, policy, and media. The non-exhaustive list below offers a few starting points for scholars interested in expanding their public impact.
AAAS has a communication toolkit for researchers and information about public engagement more broadly. They also offer periodic workshops and run a summer fellowship that places undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate level scientists, engineers, and mathematicians at media organizations nationwide.
Research4Impact offers matchmaking for informal collaborations with practitioners and policymakers. They also offer workshops on building relationships for social impact.
Through the Research-to-Policy Collaboration, scholars can receive policy training and coaching, join a rapid response network that is tapped to engage with policy opportunities related to their expertise, and build long-term relationships with policymaking staff.
The Scholars Strategy Network offers targeted resources for communicating with media and policy audiences. They also offer trainings and accept applications to join their nationwide network of scholars who partner with journalists, policymakers, and civic leaders.
The OpEd Project offers writing workshops, private editorial coaching, and runs the Public Voices Fellowship at select universities, a one-year program focused on supporting scholars to expand their public influence.
The Public Engagement Project has guides for writing op-eds, media messaging, policy messaging, science communication, and social media toolkits, as well as articles and panel recordings related to public engagement among scholars.
One of the William T. Grant Foundation’s focus areas is improving the use of research evidence. They have a number of reports and blog posts on this topic, as well as several sample syllabi for teaching about the use of research evidence.
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