In place of this month’s Lead the Change (LtC) Interview, Alex Lamb, LtC Editor posed this key question to leaders of several professional organizations in education. Below, we share Lamb’s introduction, her question, and the responses she received. Lamb is a postdoctoral researcher in the Learning, Leadership, and Education Policy program at the Neag School at the University of Connecticut.
Note from Alex Lamb, LtC Editor: This month, we decided to pause our regular format to better respond to the wave of recent Supreme Court rulings deeply impacting the daily lives of millions of educators and school children specifically. These rulings have shaken many of those in our community and ushered in sweeping changes to the systems we rely on for care and learning.
As I read the news, I felt scared, rageful, demoralized, and dehumanized. I thought about
how we might use this platform and this community to build coalitions that move us to a better future. In these desperate times, how can we lean on our communities to find solace and energy for the path ahead?
In this issue, we hear from the leaders of professional organizations, AERA (American Educational Research Association), AEFP (Association for Education Finance and Policy), UCEA (University Council for Educational Administration), and our Educational Change SIG chair. In hearing from these leaders, we hope to provide guidance, solidarity, hope, and community. I asked them to respond to the following question:
Recently, there have been a rash of Supreme Court decisions that have fundamentally reshaped American society and schools including women’s rights to bodily autonomy, the use of public funds for religious schooling, and shifting rules regarding prayer in schools. What role do you see professional
organizations of education scholarship playing in helping scholars and practitioners navigate these tumultuous and dangerous times?
These leaders all generously offered ideas about how to best move forward in these trying times. I
hope you find something in this issue to support and sustain you. These responses helped me to
feel less alone, and I hope they can do the same for you. Take care of yourselves.
The Work of Consequential Education Research in Pursuit of Truth
H. Richard Milner IV, President, AERA,
Felice J. Levine, Executive Director, AERA
The questions posed to us by the editor of the Lead to Change Series are very timely and
complex. There is no single function or role that defines what we do. The American Research Association (AERA) as a scientific member association has multiple tools and approaches at our command consonant with our mission.
On matters of public policy and position taking, AERA has been enabled by a statement on Position Taking and Policy Processes Guidelines adopted by AERA Council in January 2005.1 That document overviews the range of ways that AERA as a professional research association can address significant social policy issues through research. The value of featured symposia, teach-ins, and professional workshops at the AERA Annual Meeting; research briefings to governmental agencies and holding public fora that bring together researchers, policy makers, and practitioners; special issues of journals elevating research and research directions; and professional development workshops to build capacity in the research community are just some of those ways.
When the issues are societally significant and the research is compelling, AERA with Council’s approval has prepared and led research amicus briefs or joined sign-on letters to communicate the scientific studies and scholarly bodies of work that need to be considered by courts or policy bodies. AERA has done so over two decades in a series of “affirmative action” education cases before the Supreme Court. The decision to do so is consonant with AERA’s mission to serve the public good and make accessible research when the education research is compelling, when the issues are of high social significance, and when distortion of research for advocacy ends may also be evident.2
As we at AERA see it, professional research organizations have an essential role in supporting and facilitating the advancement of knowledge, in building the capacity to do so and in fostering wide awareness of that knowledge to peoples around the globe. Especially in these deeply polarizing and political moments in the United States, our attention to salient issues of public significance needs to be more rather than less elevated, and we need to press for evidence-based decisions. Where there is germane education research, we also have an organizational responsibility to be sure that work is visible and accessible in policy and practice settings and that researchers in our field are encouraged to do so.
“Education research must be designed intentionally to bring to light when policy or practice formulations harm certain groups or the collective good.”
The work of professional organizations in response to Supreme Court decisions such as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and the decisions on religion and schooling bring to the fore all these issues. To be sure, members of AERA embody an enormous range of diversities and have various belief systems. Members also reflect a spectrum of political views ranging from ultra-liberal to highly conservative. They also approach their research and the problem spaces they probe from different epistemological orientations. They draw from divergent conceptual and theoretical tools. They construct different conjectures and support or are active in different forms of advocacy or mission organizations that reflect those interests and views. What binds us together, however, is our members’ commitment to our research mission—to advance knowledge in ways that embrace discussion and debate, that allow for and consider divergent questions and issues, and that arrive at research implications or applications based on the best of our knowledge at any point in time.
“The lives of many women will never be the same under this ruling, and our organizations must be responsive to these shifting times.”
In our view, this means that AERA must be steadfast in our emphasis on research—in naming, speaking out against, and building systems to dismantle injustice and inequity based on robust and sustained study.3 To be consequential – it should lead to evidence about education in relation to the potential deleterious effects of rulings and policies that have a real bearing on physical, psychological, and emotional health and wellbeing of our members as well as the communities in which we study. In this way, education research must be designed intentionally to bring to light when policy or practice formulations harm certain groups or the collective good. Moreover, education research must be consequential in making recommendations based on science— for what these moments of societal shifts might mean for the lives that education helps to shape.
As an organization, we hope we will as a community work to do the following:
- Listen to, be sensitive and empathetic toward, and work in collaboration with the people most influenced by oppressive policy and practice shifts. This means that expectations for research, knowledge production, teaching, and service in institutions such as higher education, think tanks, and other organizations must shift expectations based on needs of women.4
- Learn about and make recommendations on ways to co-construct communities of health and wellness and not operate from a business-as-usual framework. The lives of many women will never be the same under this ruling, and our organizations must be responsive to these shifting times.
- Focus our research, teaching, and service on matters that address intersections of the Supreme Court rulings and education. In short, educational organizations have a responsibility to work with communities to design research agendas of education consequences in theory, practice, praxis, and policy.
- Share what we know widely and often. What we learn and come to know from education research must be shared as widely as possible with communities inside and outside of the academy. As politicians make decisions about education, they should be able to rely on the world’s largest education research association to find answers to problems. Because those outside of our communities may not read traditional outlets with education research such as full-length books or journal articles, our work can be informative and shared through blog posts, poetry, data-rich opinion essays, social media commentaries, music, short films, YouTube clips, and newspaper articles.
Consonant with steps 1-4 above, AERA’s 2005 guidelines also provide for AERA’s speaking out in opposition to or in support of public policies that centrally affect our field (see 2005 guidelines on “mission-oriented policy and position taking”), including related to the education research workforce. The Dobbs decision is likely to have an adverse impact on women graduate students and professionals in education research. The implications of this situation for further actions by AERA, including with other scientific associations, is under active consideration.
AERA has not heretofore been silent in unparalleled times. But we reaffirm that our responses must be guided by the best of what we know from sound empirical research in pursuit of truth and the Association’s commitment to diversity and equity for all.
Jason A. Grissom, President, AEFP
The Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) is a professional organization for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners tackling the most important education finance and policy issues of the day across the spectrum from early childhood to postsecondary education. Our primary goal, stated in the AEFP mission statement, is to promote research and connections between researchers and policymakers/practitioners that can inform education policy and finance and, ultimately, improve educational outcomes.
The question of how professional organizations like ours can help scholars and practitioners navigate the current environment is one for which we have very incomplete answers right now. That’s why I start with our mission: when organizations face new questions, mission statements can provide direction. And ours highlights that two ideas sit at the center of AEFP’s work: research and connections. So, in thinking about how AEFP can help our members respond to the current moment, I start with those ideas.
Let’s start with research. An important way we can meet the current moment is by creating space and visibility for timely, high-quality research to inform the policies and practices that must respond to these big changes in our social environment, especially as they intersect with education. Our members care deeply about current issues and no doubt will be generating new evidence about these shifts and their impacts on students and educators. We can promote that evidence and help push it into public debate.
To this end, the last annual conference featured a special track for research on racial and other forms of educational equity and another for research on COVID-19. We organized “policy talks” (featuring researchers and practitioners in public conversation) that directly addressed these topics. We invited a keynote who spoke to the connection between research and advocacy around this “dual pandemic.” We plan for our next conference to similarly highlight research, policy, and practice around social and educational issues exemplified in Texas, given that Fort Worth is slated to host the event. This means directing attention toward research at the intersection between education and, for example, reproductive care or LGBTQI+ rights that are so salient in Texas and beyond.
The point is that AEFP members often shape their research in response to issues of the day, and we want the conference and our other events to be ready vehicles for sharing, discussing, and spreading that research. Professional organizations like ours are uniquely positioned to play this kind of elevating role.
“A more inclusive community is going to supply better answers to more complex problems of policy and practice.”
Finding new ways to build connections are just as important. A defining characteristic of AEFP has always been the sense of community among its members, and community feels more valuable now than ever. One of our major initiatives of the last year has been the creation of new “community groups” organized around different aspects of identity (e.g., scholars of color, LGBTQI+ members) to promote networking, reflection, and professional learning opportunities. In tumultuous times, a role of professional organizations is to build this kind of connective tissue, and indeed this year we are doubling down, investing new resources and starting new groups. Tighter connections to fellow travelers can be key sources of support and reinforcement.
They can also present new opportunities for collaboration around the research the field needs to address the challenges a rapidly shifting policy environment poses. That’s why it’s so important now that we strengthen connections not just among the kinds of researchers and policymakers who traditionally have made up AEFP’s membership but among a more diverse set of voices. A more inclusive community is going to supply better answers to more complex problems of policy and practice. The current moment should be (and in our case, at least, is) intensifying efforts of professional associations to become more welcoming and deliberately inclusive of a diverse membership.
David DeMatthews, President, UCEA
Education research societies, such as the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA), play a critical role in encouraging and supporting education research and preparing the next generation of researchers and practitioners. Education research societies provide important opportunities for training future researchers and practitioners, disseminating research findings, and incubating and testing innovations and new ideas. Over the past few years, the importance of these research societies has become even more critical.
“Over the past few years, the importance of these research societies has become even more critical.”
Perhaps more than ever before, education researchers and practitioners are working in a highly politically-divisive environment. Climate change continues to disrupt life on our planet and the work of education systems while many elected officials deny its existence. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted communities, families, students, and educators. The murder of George Floyd and ongoing calls for racial and social justice led many state legislatures to make it illegal to teach about racism or a true accounting of U.S. history. The Trump administration’s separation of children from families at the U.S.-Mexico border, the January 6 th attack on the U.S. Capitol, and a wave of recent Supreme Court decisions undermine American values, civil rights victories, and the separation of
church and state (e.g. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization; Carson v. Makin).
The current divisive political context is a serious challenge for education research societies and its members, but also serves as an important opportunity to reflect, build and strengthen relationships, and further advance knowledge for the public good. At this moment, education research societies are extremely important because they serve as powerful, formalized social networks able to speak to broad social challenges and offer the public evidence-based insights into complex issues. However, education research societies must be even more intentional about how they mentor aspiring and current researchers and practitioners, how they sponsor and disseminate research, and their approaches and opportunities for incubating new ideas.
Moving forward, education research societies can be more responsive and further their missions by:
- Investing in preparation pipelines that attract more diverse researchers and practitioners capable of drawing from different disciplines and experiences;
- Partnering and participating within other research societies and practitioner organizations to champion research, practitioner knowledge, and justice;
- Safeguarding academic freedom so researchers and practitioners can raise questions and new ideas without fear of retribution;
- Strategically investing into areas of research that can serve the public good and address pressing problems of practice;
- Mentoring researchers and practitioners to be more effective at communicating research findings and relevant information in nation, state, and local policy arenas.
These actions are not comprehensive but can bolster the impact of education research societies and their members as they seek to advance the public good. Many education research societies are already engaged in these efforts, so it is also important that researcher and practitioner members remain engaged, volunteer, participate in governance and oversight activities, and offer ongoing support within their respective societies.
Jennie Weiner, Chair, Educational Change SIG
As someone who considers herself an intersectional feminist and spends quite a bit of my professional life thinking about how to make educational systems more equitable and better places for adults and students to grow and learn, it is perhaps not a surprise I have recently been in conversation with a number of people, including some of my students, colleagues, friends, and family members trying to make sense of these court decisions and seeking advice of how to respond. Never have I felt so unable to provide comfort or really answers of any kind to myself or others. I feel gutted, I am despairing, and honestly, I don’t know what to do.
My paralysis is not due to a lack of affiliation or a failure of those in positions of power or leadership in our field to try to give comfort or purpose to our work. Rather, I am at a point where I think, just as our foremothers argued, that using the very systems that enabled these things to happen will not work to change them. I don’t think these are problems that can be solved with better research or doing more of the work we have always done (or even some of what we haven’t). The tools that I have as an educational researcher are insufficient to make the laws of this country treat me and other women, girls, and any other pregnant person as human beings with bodily autonomy and the right to live. No matter how good I am making my work accessible via social media or through op-eds, I do not believe I can make those in power reinstitute the separation of church and state or to stop the use of public funds for religious education and prayer in school.
So what to do? Well, I might suggest that there are lots of people who have been fighting for our rights and the rights of educators, communities, and children without it being officially sanctioned by those in power and that we should be looking to them and not to the academy for answers. I note here that some of these are folks are in our SIG and AERA more broadly and have worked hard to tell us that we would never get real transformation through the existing system. There are also community organizers, educators, parents, young people, and lots of others who have long been doing this work and know what to do and how to do it. We should ask them what to do and listen when they tell us. I’m trying to follow this advice and do all I can to listen deeply to them, learn from them, use my resources to uplift, bankroll, and promote their work.
“There are community organizers, educators, parents, young people, and lots of others who have long been doing this work and know what to do and how to do it. We should ask them what to do and listen when they tell us.”
This does not mean I am giving up on my work or educational research more broadly and what I believe it can do – move people to ask different and hopefully more thoughtful questions about change and school systems and equity. In this best cases, such efforts will then lead to new and better solutions. As such, I still plan to engage in my research, serve the larger education community, and teach and learn from my students. In my professional life, I will continue to make a stink that can push the academy, the professional organizations with which I affiliate, and my institution to be fairer and more humane.
As the Educational Change SIG, I would suggest too that we can do the same in our organization and respective institutions. We can push for policies and structures that challenge the status quo and evoke research ideas and methods that promote equity and justice. But I am also going to be honest with myself that while this work is important, it is not, in and of itself, my solution to how to navigate these times, nor do I expect it to be – and that makes me feel just a little bit better.
- American Educational Research Association. (2007, January/February). AERA position taking and policymaking processes guidelines. Educational Researcher, 36(1), 50-54. https://www.aera.net/Portals/38/docs/About_AERA/AERA%20Position%20Taking.pdf
- See, e.g., Levine, F. J., & Ancheta, A. N. (2013). The AERA et al. amicus brief in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin: Scientific organizations serving society. Educational Researcher, 42(3), 166–171. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X13486765
- Note that AERA adopted a social justice mission statement in 2004 reaffirmed in 2006. See American Educational Research Association. (2007, January/February). AERA social justice mission statement. Educational Researcher, 36(1), 49. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.3102/0013189X06299093
- The adverse impact of COVID-19 for graduate student and early career women and women of color was pointed out in Levine, F. J., Nasir, N. S., Rios- Aguilar, C., Gildersleeve, R. E., Rosich, K. J., Bang, M., Bell, N. E., & Holsapple, M. A. (2021). Voices from the field: The impact of COVID-19 on early career scholars and doctoral students [Focus group study report]. American Educational Research Association; Spencer Foundation. https://doi.org/10.3102/aera20211v
The LtC series is produced by Alex Lamb and colleagues from the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association. A fully formatted pdf of this month’s post is available on the LtC website.