Come out of your academic cave

On Capitol Hill “Academics often are not even let into the building. And even if they come in as Fellows, they are treated as incompetent and slow-moving interns.” Alexander Russo of This Week in Education drew on his experience as a former Capitol Hill aide to offer advice for getting more education research into public policy.

At this morning’s AERA session “From Research to Policy to Practice,” Russo urged researchers to acknowledge the clash between their culture of methodical long-term projects and that of harried legislative staff. He likened Hill staffers to hummingbirds: They’re “fluttery, fast, anxious, all over the place.” To get their attention you have to give them something relevant to pending legislation.

If researchers want to improve education policy they have to keep up with what is happening in the policy world, he said. “Come out of your cave and get up to speed on what policy people are doing.”

russo

When talking to legislators and their staffs, he emphasized, be really brief, and really practical. Phrase things in terms of “I think there should be an amendment.” “There should be a funding change of X dollars for X program.”

Even a five-page research summary is too long, he said. He suggested translating research into statutory language when possible.

If you’re not satisfied with the influence your research has, then study and imitate the strategies of media influentials, even if you may not agree with their point of view, Russo said. “Education policy think tanks are very effective with the media and policymakers, because their tactics include issuing embargoed reports, issuing preliminary findings, and setting up conference calls with reporters.”

“Think about the successes of the handful of academics who have broken through,” he said. “How have Diane Ravitch, Eric Hanushek, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Gary Orfield managed to get their work into the public arena? Steal their strategies.”

Russo said he had noticed “not a lot” of education journalists or policymakers here at this conference. “Is there a way to convince or cajole or invite those folks to be here? If there were current congressional staffers or state legislative staffers here that would be great.”

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