How do educational leaders use research?

The US National Center for Research in Policy and Practice has released a study examining how school and district leaders use research to inform their decisions.

Respondents were advised that the term research should be considered as action taken to answer a specific question (for example, how standardised test results in primary school relate to GCSE results) as opposed to solely looking at data (for example, to determine which students need extra help in a subject).

The survey was distributed to a nationally-representative sample of 14,276 leaders involved in making decisions about teaching in elementary or middle schools, where there is the most research available on effective programmes and great variety in teaching materials.

Instrumental research, used to guide a specific decision, was most often used in activities regarding the use of professional development programmes and directing resources to programmes. 70-88% of respondents said they use this type of research either frequently or all the time.

Conceptual uses of research, used to solve problems in schools and districts, were also widely reported, mostly when leaders needed clarification of an issue (61% frequently or all the time), or needed information to guide reform efforts.

Symbolic research, used for political purposes, was used most often to convince other people to join their point of view (68% frequently or all the time) or to rally support for a programme (67% frequently or all the time).

Respondents identified the most useful types of research resources as books, research and policy reports, and journal articles that were peer reviewed. When leaders were questioned about the relevancy, value, and credibility of research in education, they stated they felt research was relevant to practice, useful to the field, and valuable to educators, but its usefulness decreased with the time lag between the research itself and its publication.

Leaders’ ability to interpret research results varied. Although most understood how to interpret effect sizes and the reason for purposeful sampling in qualitative research, few could draw accurate conclusions from a case study, and more than half could not name any advantages of random assignment.

Source: Findings from a National Study on Research Use Among School and District Leaders (2016), National Center for Research in Policy and Practice

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