Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Safety Rewarded, Risk Needed

Knowledge-able Sourcerer Guest blogger Candice DePrang

Safety is rewarded. Risk is not. That is the message conveyed in an article that examined the National Institutes of Health's way of funding research.

Current studies, particularly one “asking whether people who are especially responsive to good-tasting food have the most difficulty staying on a diet,” are "likely to only produce incremental progress at best," says Dr. Robert C. Young, chancellor at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and chairman of the Board of Scientific Advisors. “…[medical researchers] are timid about taking chances on ones that might not succeed. The problem, Dr. Young and others say, is that projects that could make a major difference in cancer prevention and treatment are all too often crowded out because they are too uncertain. In fact, it has become lore among cancer researchers that some game-changing discoveries involved projects deemed too unlikely to succeed and were therefore denied federal grants, forcing researchers to struggle mightily to continue.”

So, at a time when the Obama Administration seeks a significant increase in funding for education research, development, and innovation, the burden of proof is on the research community– to convince the federal government with a preponderance of evidence, that investing in educational research is worth the risk. And not just for this round of appropriations.

State and local schools systems must take advantage of this unique occasion and apply the ARRA dollars in a highly affective way. They cannot simply respond, “Thanks, but it should have been done a long time ago,” or “It’s still not enough.” This opportunity is a chance to research with risk, to go beyond that which would make only incremental advancements at best, and instead invest in issues relevant to schools – not perceived problems or safe studies, but innovative initiatives that could truly break ground and take significant steps towards closing the achievement gap.

This sounds like research institutions communicating directly with districts about prominent problems, and looks like those districts being open to interpreting that data, translating it into usable knowledge, and utilizing that knowledge to impact their schools.

Accepting these funds - $3B for school improvement, $650M for technology, $200M for teacher incentives, just to name a few – with a commitment to honest dialogue that spurs transformative research, makes it possible to catalyze actual change. This change could uncover practices that work, mandate matched or increased federal funding in the future, and shift the way education r&d is perceived…as a necessary practice, that, as in other fields, leads to more targeted and strategic work.

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