Our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Work Matters

David Bamat, EDC researcher and former middle school/high school teacher, has a keen interest in advancing knowledge of effective strategies to promote education equity and reform. Bamat, a doctoral student at Boston College, is currently contributing his quantitative and qualitative research expertise to several Regional Educational Laboratory-Northeast & Islands studies. With Principal Investigator Clare Irwin, he co-authored a report, "Patterns of Classroom Quality in Head Start and Center-Based Early Childhood Education Programs," that presents findings from a study that explored whether multiple measures of diverse aspects of classroom quality can be used to classify early childhood classrooms into classroom quality groups. He and Irwin presented findings from the study at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. During this post, he reflects on that experience and how it reinforced the importance of the REL's strong emphasis on researcher-practitioner partnerships to ensure that research responds to practitioners' needs and priorities.

Those of us in the education research community want to know and understand how useful our work is to the field. However, for many reasons, this is not always easy. Much of our work is done at a computer screen, cleaning datasets and analyzing numbers, and then published in academic journals or other publications that are frequently read by other education researchers, but not always by policymakers and practitioners. As a result, while some findings may be disseminated widely across scholarly channels, the same findings may never reach the desks of state lawmakers, district superintendents, or school principals, or become manifest in the pedagogy of teachers.

Understandably, this failure to connect our research to those who need it most weighs heavily on many of us. We look for ways to create and share knowledge both with peers and stakeholders, and we hope that our research efforts will have a tangible and positive impact on the lives of teachers and students. We at the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northeast & Islands are working closely with the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education in our current contract to make sure this happens.  

During a presentation at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference in San Antonio, my EDC colleague and fellow REL Northeast & Islands researcher Clare Irwin and I found ourselves grappling with this need to create and share knowledge both with peers and stakeholders. We were presenting our recently published REL Northeast & Islands study “Patterns of classroom quality in Head Start and center-based early childhood education programs,” as part of a session focused on sophisticated statistical approaches to measuring features of early education. As the various research studies and statistical approaches were discussed, there was an opportunity to discuss with audience members their interest in making practical use of the findings. Audience members wanted to know the practical utility of our research—how would it improve the early education experiences of children?

We used the audience’s interest as an opportunity to elaborate on the distinct collaborative nature of our work at REL Northeast & Islands. Funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the nationwide Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Program is charged with supporting researcher-practitioner alliances and partnerships by conducting research studies and providing technical assistance around the use of data and research. Our study’s lead author, Clare Irwin, explained that key stakeholders (e.g., policymakers, practitioners) in these alliances and partnerships identify their priority concerns and then work with REL researchers throughout the various stages of the research process, from the design and development of the research question to providing feedback and insights during data collection and analysis and, finally, participating in the dissemination of findings.

This type of stakeholder engagement with research is intrinsic to the REL mission. As a result, we can feel assured that our work is finding the most important consumers—those with the direct ability to enact change that improves the development and learning experiences of children. At the session’s end, a college student from Kansas and aspiring education researcher approached us to enthusiastically share her admiration for the nature of our work at REL Northeast & Islands. She expressed that she hoped to make meaningful contributions to the educational experiences of teachers and students through research.

As researchers working under the REL contract, we are fortunate to work with stakeholders who are deeply invested in our work for reasons that stretch beyond curiosity about the research findings. They share responsibility for the research process themselves. When teachers and principals and policymakers are involved in the entire continuum of the research process, the result is more useful—applicable findings will actually impact the field. As an education researcher, I can’t think of a better way to use my skills.


Friday, July 28, 2017 - 8:00am