The last two years of the pandemic have not been kind to education research. Data collection and studies were disrupted as schools and universities shut down and went remote. Now, the priorities for research have fundamentally shifted to the urgent need to help schools and students recover from the extended disruptions.

That’s the conclusion of a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which calls for both structural and topic changes to the research funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, the Education Department’s research agency

“When research is grounded in the needs and experiences of communities, then that community’s district and educators are more likely to use the findings of the research in his or her daily work,” said Adam Gamoran, the chairman of the National Academies committee that wrote the report.

I think the pandemic has both sharpened our attention to existing inequalities and exacerbated the inequalities that already exist in our education system. Inequality has always been the number one problem of U.S. education, and the pandemic has made that clearer than ever. And it has made inequalities worse through disrupted learning and through stress and trauma on students, parents, and educators. So that’s the first big consequence of the pandemic with implications for research. And then, technology has always been a major focus of IES, but we’ve seen the use of technology in education during the pandemic, and that has intensified the need for new research on technology and education. We know that administrative data collections were greatly disrupted and we know that opportunities to carry out classroom-based research were greatly disrupted during the pandemic.

The topics for research offered by IES are very broad and practically anything within the field of education research could be proposed. But in fact, some don’t get proposed because of the way the project types and the topics intersect. Teacher education is an example. It’s very difficult to study the effects of teacher education on student outcomes, because they’re so far downstream. Consequently, the full focus on student outcomes as the primary outcome makes it less likely that teacher education will be successfully proposed as an IES research study. So one change that we recommend is to broaden the outcomes that are allowed to allow outcomes at other levels: the teacher level, the classroom level, the school level as the primary outcome. Loosening restrictions like those will help to foster research in areas that are already possible, but rarely done and will bring research to where it’s needed.