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Research Use by Federal Policymakers on Student and School Success

Project Dates: 
Summer 2012 - Winter 2014
Madlene Hamilton
Contact Email: 
Project Researchers: 
Madlene Hamilton
Linda Darling-Hammond
Prudence Carter
Project Funders: 
William T. Grant Foundation

The Research Use by Federal Policymakers on Student and School Success study examines whether, why, and how research will influence upcoming reform efforts. By tracking what research gets included in policy talks and public discourse, the study aims to reveal the ways in which elite policymakers perceive and utilize education research as they formulate new ideas. Specifically, it aims to investigate several key questions as federal legislation evolves:

1. How do theories of action shape the ways in which policymakers gather, use, synthesize, and mobilize research as new policies develop?

2. What social differences do we find among those who hold either similar or different theories of action/ideologies?

3. What are the main knowledge fields that congressional aides, Department of Education officials (including Institute of Education Sciences staff), White House staff, and think tank and policy center staff draw on as they draft legislation and convey information to lawmakers?

4. How do theories of action and the knowledge fields in which policymakers are situated work together to influence what research they deem either useful or noteworthy of mention in the policy hearings and political debates?

The study also entails a discourse analysis of how education issues and policies are discussed, framed, and portrayed in top mainstream and education-focused news outlets before, during, and after the 2012 presidential election. The ways in which the media portray education issues, relevant research, and policy solutions powerfully shape how both the public and policymakers understand effective education reform (e.g., Henig, 2008a). Tracing how education research and theories of action are represented and disseminated in the media will enable researchers to further characterize some aspects of the knowledge ecology in which policymakers operate. To do so, researchers will track the frequency and content of theories of action and types of education research prevalent in mainstream, national news outlets, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal; education-focused outlets, such as Education Week; and political outlets, such as Ed Next, National Review, and Politico. To be included in our sample, news articles must: be printed during the time frame of our study (January 1, 2011-June 30, 2013), discuss particular keywords related to student and school success, and be published in that particular news organization (e.g., cross-references to articles from other publications or reprints will be excluded).

The first paper emerging from this study will be presented at the 2014 American Educational Research Association annual meeting and is titled "Heroes and Villains in Media Coverage of Teacher Quality, 2011-2013." Additional papers and policy briefs will be released in the coming months.