Breaking Into Educational Research and Policy

Find out about cutting-edge jobs in educational policy and high-level educational research.

meeting on educational research and policy

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 is aimed at improving America's primary and secondary school performance by increasing school accountability. A lot of this improvement depends on educational research.

The act is one of thousands of policy changes that are made yearly at different levels of our education system. At the forefront of all of this educational decision making is the work of educational researchers and policymakers.

From sweeping federal laws like these to small curriculum changes in stand-alone schools, educational research helps to guide this nation's educational policy decisions.

You may be aware that the U.S. is currently struggling to educate its elementary and secondary students competitively in the world market, as study after study finds them falling behind in subjects like math, science and reading, while other countries continue to improve.

Educational policy professionals tackle problems like these by implementing changes in teaching methods, learning environment, curriculum, assessment and recognition, in order to improve our education system and raise success ratings.

What Is Educational Research?

Educational research is booming in America right now as we focus on getting our students back to the top of international education rankings amid NCLB's tightened accountability.

Whether you want to work as a curriculum administrator in a particular school, an outside-the-box investigator at a New York think tank or an applied research director for a state or federal agency, you can begin an educational research career with the right education and experience.

Universities often act as hubs of educational research activity in fields related to everything from health care to public relations, so they are naturally good places to find career opportunities. Common places that employ educational researchers include the following:

  • universities
  • non-profit organizations
  • local and national publications
  • think tanks
  • government agencies

These institutions use qualitative and quantitative methods to run studies and tests, observe interactions, conduct interviews, analyze data and evaluate results. They compile detailed reports and case studies that are often published in scholarly journals and government documents, and used extensively in educational policy decisions.

What Is Educational Policy?

Educational policy professionals take the reports provided by educational research firms and try to improve educational outcomes by proposing changes to current trends and practices.

In smaller institutions, educational administrators such as presidents or principals make most of their school's policy decisions based on guidance from their district and state school leaders. It's in those upper district or state level organizations where true educational policy career opportunities can be found, as well as in independent firms that work on contract with local, state and federal governments.

In general, educational policymakers evaluate how well a curriculum meets previously set goals for student performance. They research teaching methods and techniques and develop procedures to determine the levels of teacher performance and student achievement. Their job is very closely tied to, and often combined with, curriculum development.

However, at its highest levels, education policy encompasses much larger undertakings, such as the No Child Left Behind Act.

Is Educational Research and Policymaking Right for Me?

To excel as an educational researcher and policymaker, you have to truly thrive among figures, charts, graphs, briefs, legal documents and data-management tools. You must also be naturally inquisitive and enjoy a deep understanding of what you study. You probably find yourself attracted to hard facts and are most happy when the best possible educational methods are well-researched and used efficiently.

You might be an experienced teacher wanting to affect the direction of education today, or a talented academic who aspires to university-level research and policymaking. Either way, with the right education, you can use your skills to positively change the lives of our children and our nation.

How Do I Start My Education Research or Policy Career?

Many colleges and universities offer graduate-level degree programs in educational research and policy. However, there are a variety of names for the different degree programs that can lead you into this career:

  • Educational Research and Policy
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Educational Assessment and Evaluation
  • School Improvement and Leadership

These programs focus on the historical, social, political and economic aspects of education.

A typical curriculum will include classes such as "Policymaking and Education" and "The Evolution of Educational Assessment," and will help you successfully master research methods and familiarize you with policy analysis, development and reform at the local, state and national levels.

Most master's degrees and doctoral programs in educational research and policy culminate with a master's thesis or doctoral dissertation produced from original research. Graduates from these programs then go on to become the educational policy analysts, instructional coordinators, curriculum specialists, researchers and policymakers that shape the future of education in the U.S. and around the world.