New institute at the UO will focus on the science of education

Elementary school classroom

The College of Education is launching a new institute to equip educators and school leaders with scientific evidence about what works best in classrooms and schools.

The HEDCO Institute for Evidence-Based Educational Practice will assess the body of available research evidence on the most pressing issues in education and provide school leaders with guidance about the most effective policies, programs and practices to enable the success and well-being of students.

The approach mirrors similar initiatives in the field of medicine, explains Emily Tanner-Smith, the new executive director of the institute, Thomson Professor in the College of Education and associate professor in the Department of Counseling Psychology and Human Services.

“Educational practice should be based on science, just like we expect in medical practice,” Tanner-Smith said. “And there is a huge appetite among school leaders to know what the scientific evidence says about what works in schools and classrooms.”

The HEDCO Institute will partner with a network of local, state and national school leaders to identify the most pressing issues in education so they can focus their work on providing evidence on topics that schools care about the most. It will also partner closely with the nationally recognized faculty at the College of Education to inform the research reviews that will be a core pillar of the institute.

The goal of the institute is to conduct rapid evidence reviews that can be conducted more quickly than a typical research review. That will help schools make decisions about immediate, time-sensitive issues, like when school leaders were faced with the challenge of implementing effective remote learning practices after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools.

“Sometimes schools don’t have time to wait for the results from a full-scale systematic research review that could take researchers months or years to complete,” said Tanner-Smith, who specializes in the conduct of large-scale research reviews for evidence-based decision-making. “Rapid evidence reviews can help schools address these pressing issues faster.”

The institute will review the full body of research that exists on each issue and not just consult single studies, which will help ensure that they’re considering all the best available research and addressing different nuances that might exist between school districts. An example is regional applicability, where the research might show that a school in St. Louis would benefit from a different program than one in Los Angeles.

College of Education faculty members will be core partners for the institute’s research reviews. They will serve as content experts and help ensure that the institute is asking the right questions and examining the most relevant and cutting-edge research.

“The institute will benefit from its location within one of the highest-performing research university colleges of education in the world,” said College of Education Dean Randy Kamphaus.

The institute will address what Tanner-Smith calls the “whole health” of students and schools, so the issues they examine could include such diverse topics as suicide prevention, principal leadership styles, supports for bilingual students, and mental health supports for students.

She said schools need evidence not only about effective curricular approaches, such as how to teach geometry, but also evidence around how to best support the full well-being of students, from their mental and emotional health to their food and housing security.

“Students don’t show up to school as blank slates,” she said. “Context matters. Sadly, many students are facing housing instability, food insecurity, racism, discrimination, community violence or a range of other adverse experiences. That’s why our institute will conduct evidence reviews on broad-ranging topics about how to best support the success and well-being of students and the schools they attend.”

After each research review, the institute will work with stakeholders to identify what tools and programming could be most helpful for school leaders on the ground so they’re providing educators with content they can easily use in classrooms and schools. And it is planning to hire science communicators to help translate the research findings into guidance that is comprehensible and easily implemented by educators and school officials.

“The institute is designed to quickly close gaps between research and practice and meet the immediate decision-making demands of local, state and national school leaders,” Kamphaus said.

Thanks to the generosity of UO donors, the new HEDCO Institute plans to immediately start hiring its core staff so it can launch in the summer of 2022.

By Emily Halnon, University Communications