CU-Boulder, Harvard, and Northwestern Launch Center to Study How Educational Leaders Use Research

June 25, 2014

The Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education has awarded nearly $5 million to the University of Colorado Boulder, the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, and Northwestern University to create a new center that will study how educational leaders—including school district supervisors and principals—use research when making decisions and what can be done to make research findings more useful and relevant for those leaders.

“We know very little about how people in district offices and schools actually use evidence from research studies to inform their decisions,” said CU-Boulder School of Education Professor Bill Penuel, lead investigator for the project.

The new National Center for Research in Policy and Practice aims to change that by focusing on three areas: measuring current research use in schools, identifying what conditions affect when research is used, and determining ways that research could be made more meaningful for educational leaders through long-term partnerships between researchers and practitioners.

The total amount of the grant from the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, is $4,995,353, which will cover the full cost of the center.

Co-principal investigators include Derek Briggs, of the CU-Boulder School of Education; Cynthia Coburn, of the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Education; Heather Hill, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education; and James Spillane of the Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy.

“Research use is an incredibly timely issue as policymakers and funders increasingly call for school and district leaders to use research in their decision making,” said Cynthia Coburn, also a visiting professor at the Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy. “We see this as an opportunity to contribute to the national discussion of research use.”

The center’s approach will be guided by what little is known already about research use by educational leaders—that opportunities for leaders to interact with colleagues and researchers are critical, Penuel said. 

“Those interactions may take place when district leaders deliberate, when they attempt to persuade colleagues to a course of action or when researchers and practitioners collaborate on important problems of practice,” he said. “Learning about research use will require us to study those interactions.”

The Institute of Education Sciences grant number is R305C140008.
Learn more about the grant.


Bill Penuel, CU-Boulder, 415-269-0902
Laura Snider, CU-Boulder media relations, 303-735-0528