Education researchers seek to bridge gap between scholarship and policy

Faculty researchers Francesca Lopez, Royel Johnson, Ashley Patterson and LaWanda Ward. Credit: Photos providedAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A group of researchers in the Penn State College of Education has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation, which they will use to help scholars who study educational equity issues to bridge the gap between research and policy.

In collaboration with Penn State’s Research to Policy Collaboration (RPC), the faculty members will invite a group of 10 scholars whose research addresses urgent issues in education inequity to participate in a conference that will be held in fall 2021 in Washington, D.C.

RPC, which provides a scientific home for the study of translating scientific evidence for decision-makers, will furnish participating scholars with evidence-based formal training and experiential learning around policy engagement that improves policymakers’ application of research evidence.

“The biggest push for us from the very beginning is that it’s very rare to see policy specific to education be implemented in ways that is actually informed by research evidence,” said Francesca López, Waterbury Chair in Equity Pedagogy in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, who is principal investigator for the project.

“It’s always assumed that whatever we’re researching has policy implications. There’s rarely, if ever, explicit training on how to make research relevant to policymakers," added López.

López, along with co-principal investigators Royel Johnson, assistant professor of education (higher education) and research associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education (CSHE); LaWanda Ward, assistant professor of education and research associate in the CSHE; and Ashley Patterson, assistant professor of education (language, culture and society), were awarded funding by the Spencer Foundation for their project, “Translating Critical Race Research for Evidenced-Based Policymaking.”

The foundation’s Conference Grant Program provides support to scholars to organize small research conferences, focused symposia or other forms of convenings around important issues in education research.

López said that an overarching theme of the conference is the need to harness the power and potential of Critical Race Theory (CRT) across methodological and disciplinary divides.

CRT is an academic movement made up of civil-rights scholars and activists in the United States who seek to critically examine the law as it intersects with issues of race, and to challenge mainstream liberal approaches to racial justice.

“This work is incredibly important and timely,” said Patterson. “Across the country at the federal, state and local levels of policy and educational policy in particular, critical race theory is under attack.”

In addition to the $50,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation, the faculty members received resources from the College of Education through a Research Initiation Grant that will “allow us to study the experiences of BIPOC  (Black, Indigenous, people of color) scholars who participated in the training and what was their experience interacting with policymakers,” Johnson said.

Additionally, the team has a proposal under review with the Spencer Foundation to do follow-up research on the BIPOC scholars who attend the conference.

“For the convening, participants will develop research fact sheets and briefs. We are now seeking funding to test effective strategies for communicating and disseminating their work to legislative offices,” Johnson said.

In addition to helping researchers communicate more effectively with legislators, he added, the convening will address racial inequity in the education field in the sense that “BIPOC scholars have inequitable opportunities to have our work seen, used and taken up by policymakers.”

López added, “If you look at gatekeeping mechanisms in research and whose voice gets used, it doesn’t often come from researchers from marginalized communities. You don’t see Indigenous, Black, Latinx populations typically at the table and there’s a lot of mechanisms that create this.”

Last Updated April 27, 2021