How educational researchers should communicate with policymakers
- When it comes to working with policymakers, Michael Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education, recalls his experience working on state's common core standards. He explained during a speech at the American Educational Research Association conference this week that educational researchers ought to remember creating change "takes a lot patience, persistence to stay with your lines of policy and making it holistic, and you have to proceed with humility."
- In terms of finding success, Kirst said he learned it was best to strategically "look for policy gaps, conflicts around policy and instances where there was lack of depth," and address these areas specifically, making sure that "you are addressing every piece of the pie," rather than suggesting numerous conflicting policy approaches.
- Kirst said that focusing on context in policy discussions was key in California because there was a "complexity issue," in that "[Congress] does not understand California's complexity or policy overload risk." This is an example, he said, of why researchers working with policymakers ought to "proceed with more humility," and take more incremental steps toward change.
In creating positive change across the education pipeline, a familiar piece of advice always comes up — that policymakers, educators, industry and researchers should form collaborative partnerships and communicate strategic initiatives. But what often ends up happening is that simply too many ideas and initiatives are thrown into the mix, which makes change less scalable — which is why, as Kirst warned, policy researchers need to understand the context of what they are proposing.
For example at the U.S. News & World STEM Solutions conference, Brian Fitzgerald, CEO of the Business-Higher Education Forum, said all too often a "too many partnerships are too fragmented and narrow."
And specifically on how researchers are trying to engage with policymakers, it's not just that what's being brought to the table may not be the right fit, it's also that researchers may be approaching problems with more arrogance than an open mind. And sometimes, what hinders success is simply complex jargon that clouds the importance of the research.
It's for these reasons, said California Community Colleges Chancellor Eloy Oakley during a panel hosted by The Atlantic at its "Higher Education at a Crossroads" last year, that stakeholders expect leaders to speak up in a responsible, nonpartisan way to communicate the industry's needs and values.
Kirst also suggested researchers work with local community advocacy groups to lobby with policymakers, noting "there isn't a lot of scholars working on this type of grassroots politics," which can be helpful because "it is cheaper to work with an advocacy group to lobby the capital." This is important, he said, because "the narrative is shifting" around how policy approaches should be happening, and it is "down to the sort of radical choice alternatives" — though he added the pendulum is seeming to shift more to the center again.
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