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The Role of Research in English Education

We endorse the recommendations set forth by the Research Strand from the 2005 Summit.  The 2007 research strand had a different mission from that undertaken at the 2005 Summit. The 2005 committee's task was to examine the relation between research and classroom practice. We recognize the importance of exploring this question from the perspective of CEE, given CEE's historic role of teaching the next generation of English/Language Arts teachers appropriate research, theory, conceptual understandings, and practices for instruction that will help their students in their literacy development, literary experiences, fluency with language, and other dimensions of the English/Language Arts curriculum. Like the 2005 Research Strand, we believe that teachers (K-16) are decision-making professionals whose complex, context-sensitive work is informed by their reading, critique, and conduct of research.

Building on the 2005 group's emphasis on connecting classroom practice and research, we broadened our scope to include attention to

  • the potential of diverse paradigms to provide useful knowledge for English educators
  • the role of research in CEE's influence on policy
  • the need for CEE to develop partnerships with other stakeholders in the research effort
  • the ethical conduct of research

Further, we provide a set of recommended actions that follow from the beliefs that we outline next about the role of research in CEE's work in the years ahead.

1. Research in English Education should continue to honor and draw from diverse paradigms to provide useful knowledge for English educators.

Various research communities have historically vied for methodological and paradigmatic supremacy in relation to other, seemingly "competing" approaches. The U.S. government has instituted a belief in "scientific," experimental and quasi-experimental designs when awarding funds. This belief assumes that such methods inherently yield more valuable knowledge than other approaches, particularly those of a qualitative nature. In turn, many qualitative researchers view experimental research as "positivistic" and therefore imbued with a spurious sense of validity and misguided by a futile search for eternal "truths."

Our discussions led to a more inclusive assumption: that no single research approach is intrinsically superior in its capacity to provide insights and understandings of value to English language arts teachers. Rather, the field is broad and dynamic, and researchers from different sites and paradigms pose questions that cannot be fruitfully answered using any single methodology. We thus assume that the field benefits from employing a variety of forms of inquiry. We are not saying that "anything goes." While we embrace a multitude of approaches, we believe that each must be responsive to the standards for rigor developed and practiced within the paradigm that it instantiates.

We thus offer the following assumptions regarding the conduct of research that serves CEE members and their questions well:

  • The type of research question posed should provide the basis for the method of investigation employed. From this perspective, the research method itself does not establish a study's value and trustworthiness. Rather, what is important is that researchers employ designs that are most likely to yield answers to the questions they seek to explore through their studies.
  • Different forms of inquiry proceed from different assumptions about what constitutes data or evidence. Useful research may draw on a variety of sources of data, depending on how questions are posed and how they are investigated. The reduction of performances to frequencies is highly appropriate for comparative studies designed to contrast the effects of different instructional methods, but is not necessarily appropriate for studies designed to investigate questions that are neither comparative nor informed by frequencies. Terms such as "soft" and "hard" to characterize data corpi are inappropriate when applied to a whole method; what matters is how a researcher working within a paradigm provides and interprets evidence in ways that are persuasive to those who accept that approach's assumptions and practices.
  • We recognize the trustworthiness of multiple modes of analysis. Just as we endorse a wide range of designs, we see the potential for value to follow from a variety of means of data analysis. Given the ways in which educational researchers have borrowed methods from anthropology, communication, literary criticism, history, and a variety of other fields to open up fruitful new avenues of inquiry, we assume that CEE researchers should remain open to the possibilities afforded by any perspective on the complex issues facing educators in the 21st century.
  • We believe that the knowledge that informs CEE's work may come from any site worldwide. Research that motivates CEE's teacher education mission may come from innumerable sites. Literacy researchers, for instance, have benefited from Scribner and Cole's (1981) work in rural African villages; Ballenger's (1999) classroom inquiry about her elementary school Haitian students' social practices; Cushman's (1998) research on indigent families' negotiations of the social welfare housing system; and research set in a variety of settings that could inform English educators' understanding of teaching and learning processes, social issues that affect achievement, and countless other factors that matter for effective classroom instruction and teacher education.

Further readings:

Beach, R., Green, J., Kamil, M., & Shanahan, T. (Eds.) (2005). Multidisciplinary perspectives on literacy research (2nd edition). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton.

Duke, N.K., & Mallette, M.H. (Eds.). 2004. Literacy research methodologies. New York: Guilford Press.

Hull, G., & Schultz, K. (2002). School's Out! Bridging out-of-school literacies with classroom practice. NY: Teachers College Press.

Smagorinsky, P. (Editor) (2006). Research on composition: Multiple perspectives on two decades of change. New York: Teachers College Press and the National Conference on Research in Language and Literacy.

2. K-16 literacy policy decisions need to be clearly informed by research regarded as sound within the field.

One resounding point made throughout the 2007 CEE Summit was the need for CEE to take a proactive role in infusing policy with the knowledge of the professionals who make up the membership. We believe that policy positions taken by CEE would have the greatest impact if they were undergirded by research, conducted both by CEE members themselves and by people who influence our thinking. CEE could and should, therefore, both serve to identify existing research that is relevant to literacy educators and support the conduct of new research on matters of importance to their work.

  • CEE would serve the profession well and contribute to policy discussions by sponsoring the development of thoughtful reviews of studies that hold particular relevance for classroom practice. Policies benefit from being informed by large bodies of research that might show consensus on particular issues or reveal that some questions remain open. CEE should make an effort to assist policy decisions by helping to support scholarship in which a corpus of research is systematically analyzed to produce a state-of-the-art review of topics of special importance to CEE members.
  • CEE leadership should identify topics that are under-researched that merit attention and investigation. CEE leaders have their ears to the ground in knowing what issues and topics are important to the CEE membership. Leadership teams should be particularly sensitive to topics on which there is an insufficient research base and provide incentives and resources for its members to study them.
  • CEE should promote research conducted by its diverse constituents. Given the importance of research in providing a scholarly basis for educational practice, CEE should support research conducted by and on behalf of its members. This research effort should include studies of teaching and learning, teacher education, inservice teaching and learning, classrooms conducted by both teachers and outsiders, and other studies on topics of interest generated by researchers within and beyond the U.S. borders.
  • CEE and other NCTE researchers have the knowledge, experience, and expertise to conduct needed research about schools. Many research grants awarded by policymakers are provided to people outside the community of practice most directly influenced by the results of the studies. We believe that researchers within the NCTE membership should continue to seek funding for their work as well as conducting cost-effective and trustworthy studies both individually and cooperatively across sites.
  • Given NCTE's commitment to having a greater effect on national policy, we believe that CEE should play a central role in efforts to ground positions with research. The 2007 conference produced a strong consensus that CEE and NCTE should be more heavily involved in policy discussions and decisions. CEE can and should more actively position itself as a research-driven organization and claim a greater, more urgent voice in NCTE's efforts to influence and make policies that produce better schools, teachers, and students.

Further readings:

Allington, R. (2002). Big brother and the national reading curriculum: How ideology trumped evidence. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Blackburn, M. V., & Clark, C.T. (Eds.). (2007). Literacy research for political action and social change. New York: Peter Lang.

Bunkum Awards in Education: The Bunkum Awards highlight nonsensical, confusing, and disingenuous education reports produced by think tanks. They are given each year by the Think Tank Review Project to think tank reports judged to have most egregiously undermined informed discussion and sound policy making.

Dudley-Marling, C. (2005b). The complex relationship between reading research and classroom practice. Research in the Teaching of English, 40, 127-130.

Kennedy, M. M. (2007). Defining a literature. Educational Researcher, 36(3), 139-147.

Marshall, C. (Ed.) (1997). Feminist critical policy analysis I: A perspective from primary and secondary schools. London: Falmer Press.

Plank, D. N., & Harris, D. (2006). Minding the gap between research and policymaking. In C. F. Conrad & R. C. Serlin (Eds.), The Sage handbook for research in education: Engaging ideas and enriching inquiry (pp. 37-51). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Retrieved June 28, 2007 from

Ruth, L. (1991). Who determines policy? Power and politics n English Language Arts education. In J. Flood, J. M. Jensen, D. Lapp, & J. R. Squire (Eds.), Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts (pp. 85-110). New York: Macmillan.

3. CEE should develop partnerships with other stakeholders in the research effort.
  • CEE can strengthen its ties with other conferences, forums, SIGs, foundations, and assemblies, given that the research we do is mutually enriching. NCTE has designated that the province of research be formally assigned to a set of subgroups: the Research Foundation (which awards grants), Research in the Teaching of English (which publishes research), the Standing Committee on Research (which oversees all research activity within NCTE and sponsors research programs at the fall conference), the Assembly for Research (which hosts an annual Midwinter Conference and fall conference workshop), and the James R. Squire Office of Policy Research in the English Language Arts (which serves as a national clearinghouse for demographic and descriptive studies of matters deemed critical to NCTE's mission and strategic objectives). Further, NCTE has an affiliation with the free-standing National Conference on Research in Language and Literacy, which sponsors programs and other activities at the NCTE and International Reading Association annual conventions.

The recently formed Research Forum of NCTE has served as a vehicle for articulation and collaboration among these groups, with additional representatives from CEE, the NCTE sections, and other stakeholders. CEE should investigate ways of collaborating with these groups in the funding of research, identification of important research questions, and general discussion about ways in which research activities may further the mission of NCTE.

Further readings:

Research Foundation:
Research in the Teaching of English:
Assembly for Research:
James R. Squire Office:

4. CEE should support the ethical conduct of research.

Above all, research conducted in the name of CEE should be ethically conducted. It should provide benefits to the people who are studied and do them no harm; should have methodological integrity; should be principled in its collection, reduction, and analysis of data; and should be unimpeachable in terms of the conclusions it reaches.

Further readings:

AERA. (1992). Ethical Standards of the American Educational Research Association. Washington, DC: Author. Available at

Kirsch, G. E. (1999). Ethical dilemmas in feminist research: The politics of location, interpretation, and publication. Albany: SUNY Press.

Mortenson, P., & Kirsch, G. E. (Eds.) (1996). Ethics and representation in qualitative studies of literacy. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Smagorinsky, P. (Ed.). (1994). Speaking about writing: Reflections on research methodology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Smagorinsky, P., Augustine, S. M., & Gallas, K. (2006). Rethinking rhizomes in writing about research. The Teacher Educator, 42, 87-105.

Zeni, J. (2001). Ethical issues in practitioner research. New York: Teachers College Press.


We propose the following steps as specific, action-based items that CEE might choose to pursue.

  1. CEE will make research easily accessible to members, teachers, constituents, and the general public accessible online and searchable by methodology, category, and theme for all NCTE members and perhaps a broader audience.
  2. CEE will sponsor the production of aggregated, distilled bodies of research to serve research, policy, and advocacy efforts.
  3. CEE will sponsor under-researched areas as targets for new and experienced researchers in the field to address in future research efforts and provide funding to initiate and support research in these areas as a means of strengthening and expanding the current research base.
  4. Research initiatives will require significant funding, some of which could come from the NCTE Research Foundation or grant source outside NCTE. In addition, CEE should explore innovative funding opportunities and endowments for research initiatives, preferably those that do not have the financial support of parties with explicit political ties. Untapped sources might come from philanthropists, authors who have set up endowments and other award systems, people who have financially benefited through writing and consulting as a consequence of their involvement in NCTE, and other benefactors.
  5. CEE will provide mentoring for newer researchers through such vehicles as the Ramon Veal Seminar and other initiatives such as support for scholars of color, mentoring through online vehicles, mentoring provided in concert with other NCTE research entities, etc.
  6. CEE will use research initiatives and results to advocate for rigorous and relevant English Language Arts instruction as part of its broader effort to influence policy. This influence might come from the issue of white papers, use of the CEE website to make research accessible, broader promotion of the journal English Education, and other efforts.


This report was created in part as a result of the 2007 Conference on English Education Leadership and Policy Summit, Don Zancanella, CEE Chair, and Dawn Abt-Perkins, CEE Leadership and Policy Summit Chair.
Participants and authors in the "What research would best serve the English education community?" thematic strand group of the CEE Summit included:

Co-Conveners: ¥Anne DiPardo and Peter Smagorinsky

Gina DeBlase, Wayne State University
Randi Dickson, Queens College, CUNY
Janet Emig, Emerita, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Heidi Estrem, Boise State University
Andy Goodwyn, Reading University
Sara Kajder, Virginia Tech
¥Janet Miller, Teachers College Columbia University
Amy Sanford, University of Georgia
David Schaafsma, University of Illinois at Chicago
¥Vivian Vasquez, American University
Carl Young, North Carolina State University

¥ Did not attend the CEE Summit but participated in online discussions.

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