Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Why Research Literacy Matters

Teachers can benefit from having research literacy and at least a little knowledge of research design. How much one needs depends on personal goals.

A lot of teachers are feelers. They're intuitive types – sometimes very effective ones. They listen to their kids read and watch as they move up levels. They notice when kids start making connections and applying their knowledge. They're sensitive to these ‘aha moments’ and sensitive, too, to signs that kids aren’t understanding. They have an intuitive sense about what conditions promote their student’s learning from teaching practices to social dynamics. In short, they know what works in their classroom, even if it can’t be replicated by all teachers or with all populations. And they’re not going it alone. They share ideas with colleagues in the teaching lounge and attend trainings on new best practices.

So why research? One problem is that decisions that impact education are often made by those far removed from the classroom; public opinion is swayed by those outside education. Being more comfortable with research can mean being better able to take part in the dialogue.

Research literacy is part of what allows a person to respond in constructive ways to misconnection. Teachers may, for example, find themselves reading a lay person’s emphatic statement that there's no proof for the existence of learning disabilities. It can be helpful to know the facts and fallacies that statements are based on. People outside education may not distinguish between two scenarios: 1) a jurisdiction that allows diagnosis of learning disability without proof and 2) there being a lack of evidence for the existence of learning disability itself. True, diagnoses may be made without proof, and cost is one of the factors in determining how diagnoses are made. Still, there is ample evidence from neuroscience that basic skills reflect complex and specialized neural processes and that developmental abnormalities selectively impact particular skills.

Then there are the debates on reading that stretch across decades – sometimes termed reading wars. The John Hopkins University College of Education Best Evidence Library places programs as different in approach as Reading Recovery, Success for All, and Targeted Reading Intervention under the ‘strong evidence’ category ( Though there are bodies of research to back up different strategies and approaches, here again one may hear people oversimplify opposing ideological views, minimize evidence, and say, "There's no research" – essentially stating that those with other views are acting on a belief system for which there is no body of credible research.

Basic Resources for Using Educational Research

The National Education Association NEA has provided annotated links to a number of sites that can boost teacher’s research skill and comfort level (

From the House of Commons Library in the UK, comes a statistics guide focused on spin: one focused not on research collection but how it’s used. More goes on than just ‘cherry picking’ of studies. Examples include citing facts without adequate context, drawing conclusions that overstep the facts presented, and using statistics and language for dramatic effect. Something as simple as expressing risk reduction as a percent can have a big effect on readers’ perceptions. When the data is small those percentages may not mean a lot.

The NEPC Think Twice Think Tank Review Project reviews research: what is sound and what may mislead policymakers (

Research literacy helps professionals respond to hot button issues. The NEA has provided a link to an older professional development course ( Teachers can explore research through a perennial issue: class size. The data goes back about 35 years. Still, teachers get to move from awareness that class size affects their own morale to a consideration of the validity and impact of different types of research.

This is of course an area of continued debate. The National Education Policy Center has pointed to major methodological flaws in some class size research; a number for example, control for per-pupil costs when supposedly comparing the effects of different class sizes, even though staffing is responsible for the majority of costs school systems incur ( The NEPC notes that certain types of research (e.g. cross-national studies) are less predictive of the results of policy change.

Qualitative Research

Some teachers have more of an affinity for qualitative research than quantitative research: research that takes into account actual classroom data that is too complex to reduce entirely to figures.

Action research may be of particular interest to practitioners. Action research is focused on generating quick solutions to problems close at hand. Teachers may already be engaged in it to some degree, but coursework can improve the ability to collect and analyze data.

Graduate Study

Teachers have many reasons to further their education – and many things to consider when selecting their programs. Those extra semester hours may boost their salary as well as allow them to increase their knowledge. One thing a teacher generally gets more of in a master's program than in an endorsement program: research.

The following are among the research-related courses that may be offered through a College of Education:

  • Introduction to qualitative and quantitative research methodologies
  • Surveys of research in particular sub-disciplines (e.g. literacy)
  • Survey design
  • Introductory, intermediate, and advanced statistics
  • Independent research/ thesis

Programs of study that are heavy on research methodologies are generally designed for teachers who are considering primary careers outside the classroom (whether for a public school system or outside organization). They might, for example, have strong interest in research analysis or program design.

Even a master's program that is designed to deepen or broaden practitioner knowledge may include multiple research courses. One may, for example, complete a course in research trends in the particular discipline, an overview of research design, and a thesis or capstone project. Some programs that lead to initial licensure even include a thesis.

Colleges sometimes publish graduate student theses, offering potential students a glimpse of the diversity of issues and practices they can explore.

The following are from California State University-Northridge (

The following are from the Moravian College Master of Education program: (