How the Primer Works
Why a Research Primer?
Goal of the Primer
The goal of this Policymaker’s Primer on Education Research is to help policymakers and other interested individuals answer three big questions:
- What does the research say?
- Is the research trustworthy?
- How can the research be used to guide policy?
- Make evidenced-based decisions about education policies
- Gain a better understanding of research methods
- Become more informed consumers of research.
- Applied Quick Primer
- How Do I Know What the Research Says?
- How Do I Know If the Research Is Trustworthy?
- How Do I Know If the Research Warrants Policy Change?
- Understanding Statistics Tutorial
- Analyzing Research Flowchart
- Searching ERIC Tutorial
- Glossary of Education Research Terms
- Primer Map
How Do I Know What the Research Says? How Do I Know If the Research Is Trustworthy? How Do I Know If the Research Warrants Policy Changes? At the heart of the Primer are these questions. The discussion in these sections is meant to provide a basic understanding of education research and its relation to policy.
The Understanding Statistics Tutorial explains basic statistical concepts commonly used in education research. It includes several dynamic components intended to give the reader a more graphic understanding of the concepts discussed.
The Analyzing Research Flowchart is a dynamic, interactive tool that guides the user through many of the important questions that need to be asked about a research study in order to determine its strengths and weaknesses. It guides the user through a more complete and rigorous analysis of research than does the Applied Quick Primer. After completing the flowchart, the user can print out a copy of the entire path as a reminder of the sequence of questions asked.
The Searching ERIC Tutorial shows the user how to locate research studies and other publications listed in the U.S. Department of Education’s ERIC database. ERIC, which stands for Educational Resources Information Center, is one of the most powerful and comprehensive sources available for locating education-related literature that can be useful to policymakers and others.
The Glossary is an alphabetical list of terms used in education research that provides user-friendly definitions. The glossary terms are highlighted in blue text throughout the Primer. The reader can see a “pop-up” definition of the term by holding the cursor over the word or can link directly to a more complete explanation in the glossary by clicking on the term. The glossary is also accessible independently.
The Appendices include discussions of concepts included in the main body of the Primer but covered here in more detail.
- A Research Typology explains different kinds of methods education researchers use and the relationships among the various methods
- NRC’s Principles of Scientific Research in Education is a discussion of the six principles the National Research Council (NRC) believes should guide education research. The NRC is one of the most highly respected scientific institutions in the United States, and its statement of the six principles is widely recognized by researchers.
USING THE PRIMER
The Primer is intended specifically for the user who knows nothing about education research. It does not require an understanding of science or sophisticated mathematical skills. The only prerequisite for using the Primer is some familiarity with using computers and the Internet.
The Primer is designed so that any part of it may be used independently. It is not necessary to read the “How Do I Know” sections of the Primer in sequence or to read those sections before using the glossary, the tutorials or any of the other Primer tools. On the other hand, reading the “How Do I Know” sections in sequence, and prior to using the other components, is likely to be beneficial, especially for users new to education research.
Many of the sections of the Primer are also designed to give the user a choice whether to go into the material in greater depth. There are a number of examples throughout the discussion the user can link to or skip. The user can access the glossary definitions while reading through the main text (by clicking on the highlighted terms) or go to the glossary independently. The user can explore the Understanding Statistics Tutorial, the Research Typology or NRC’s Principles in the course of reading the “How Do I Know” sections, come back to these at a later time or choose to ignore them altogether. The navigation for the Primer allows the user to skip to any other section at any time.
For those individuals who want an abbreviated but logically and practically sequenced introduction to the material in the Primer, the Applied Quick Primer will prove useful.
An understanding of research can help policymakers make evidence-based decisions about education. Information from research is more reliable than information from other sources such as stories, personal experiences, opinions or logical arguments because research is based on systematic gathering of empirical information. For example, how should a legislator decide whether state funds should be used to reduce the size of classes in K-12 schools?
A legislator might make this decision based on the following:
- An anecdote about how a neighbor’s child performed better after transferring to a school with smaller class sizes
- A perception that the legislator’s own performance was better in smaller classes
- A school board member’s opinion that smaller class sizes are better for student learning
- The logical argument that smaller classes are better for student achievement because students can receive more attention in smaller classes
- A research study showing that students in small classes make larger gains on achievement tests than students in large classes.
Because not all research is created equal, policymakers can become better consumers of research by understanding research methods and principles. For example, which of the following research studies provides better support for a decision about reducing class size?
- A study of student achievement in small classes compared to large classes in one urban school district
- A study of student achievement in small classes compared to large classes in 10 rural school districts.
- How were students assigned to the small and large classes?
- Did teachers cover the same curriculum in the small and large classes?
- How was student achievement measured?
- The best ways to assign students to different types of classes in a research study
- The importance of measuring what and how teachers instruct in different types of classrooms
- The most effective ways to measure student outcomes in a research study.