Choosing the Right Battles

Education researchers play an invaluable role in formulating policy, from preschool to grad school, Secretary Arne Duncan told the attendees of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting in San Francisco this week where he laid out a vision for where assessment is going, and engaged researchers on the role they play in improving education. “You are the experts. You are the independent truth-tellers,” he said.

Duncan’s speech to AERA examined the major issues facing students, educators, policymakers, and other stakeholders in today’s education environment. Duncan noted that the role of the independent expert is not at odds with asking hard questions about the practical implications of research, as well as assisting practitioners to improve education outcomes. “Rigor is necessary but not sufficient. Relevance matters,” Duncan said.

In an effort to make education research more relevant, Duncan challenged the research community to consider two items:

  1. To do a more complete job of asking comparative questions in research and evaluation.
  2. To remain open to findings that contradict or compel a rethinking of the conventional wisdom.

Secretary Duncan also addressed standardized assessments, saying they are still a needed tool for transparency and accountability. “We should never, ever return to the days of concealing achievement gaps with school averages, no-stakes tests, and low standards,” he said. “A new generation of high-quality assessments must be a cornerstone of America regaining its educational leadership. And researchers, with rigor and relevance, must help lead forth that effort.”

Read the full text of Duncan’s speech: Choosing the Right Battles: Remarks and a Conversation.