What Makes Research Useful for Public School Educators?

  • Jennifer Watling Neal
  • Zachary P. Neal
  • Jennifer A. Lawlor
  • Kristen J. Mills
  • Kathryn McAlindon
Original Article


In this study, we explored the extent to which educators discuss and prioritize Rogers’ (Diffusion of innovations, The Free Press: New York, 1995) five attributes of innovations—relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, observability, and trialability—in the context of research use. Using a directed content analysis of 54 semi-structured interviews and exemplar quotes, we describe how educators mentioned compatibility most frequently, but also commonly invoked observability and complexity in their discussions of research use. Our results also revealed key differences between educators in executive and non-executive roles. We discuss the implications of our findings for closing the research-practice gap in school-based mental health services and psychosocial interventions.


Diffusion Innovation Research use Districts Schools Directed content analysis 



This study was funded by Officer’s Research Award (#182241) and a Use of Research Evidence Award (#183010) from the William T. Grant Foundation. Additional support for this research also came from an R21 research grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (#1R21MH100238-01A1).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors of this manuscript (i.e., Jennifer Watling Neal, Zachary P. Neal, Jennifer A. Lawlor, Kristen J. Mills, and Kathryn McAlindon) declare that they have no conflicts of interest. This research was approved by Michigan State University’s IRB (#x12-1011e, #x14-706e, #x14-1173e).

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Atkins, M. S., Hoagwood, K. E., Kutash, K., & Seidman, E. (2010). Toward the integration of education and mental health in schools. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 37, 40–47. Scholar
  2. Atkins, M. S., & Lakind, D. (2013). Usual care for clinicians, unusual care for their clients: Rearranging priorities for children’s mental health services. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 40, 48–51. Scholar
  3. Bartels, N. (2003). How teachers and researchers read academic articles. Teaching and Teacher Education, 19, 737–753.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barwick, M. A., Barac, R., Akrong, L. M., Johnson, S., & Chaban, P. (2014). Bringing evidence to the classroom: Exploring educator notions of evidence and preferences for practice change. International Education Research, 2(4), 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Behrstock-Sherratt, E., Drill, K., & Miller, S. (2011). Is the supply in demand? Exploring how, when and why teachers use research (revised Ed). Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research.Google Scholar
  6. Boardman, A. G., Argüelles, M. E., Vaughn, S., Hughes, M. T., & Klingner, J. (2005). Special education teachers’ views of research-based practices. The Journal of Special Education, 39, 168–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cappella, E., Frazier, S. L., Atkins, M. S., Schoenwald, S. K., & Glisson, C. (2008). Enhancing schools’ capacity to support children in poverty: An ecological model of school-based mental health services. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 35, 395–409. Scholar
  8. Carnine, D. (1997). Bridging the research-to-practice gap. Exceptional Children, 63(4), 513–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Coburn, C. E., Honig, M. I., & Stein, M. K. (2009). What is the evidence on districts’ use of evidence? In J. D. Bransford, D. J. Stipek, N. J. Vye, L. M. Gomez & D. Lam (Eds.), The role of research in educational improvement (pp. 67–86). Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.Google Scholar
  10. Coburn, C. E., Penuel, W., & Geil, K. E. (2013). Research-practice partnerships: A strategy for leveraging research for educational improvement in school districts. New York: William T. Grant Foundation.Google Scholar
  11. Coburn, C. E., & Talbert, J. E. (2006). Conceptions of evidence use in school districts: Mapping the terrain. American Journal of Education, 112, 469–495.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cook, B. G., Smith, G. J., & Tankersley, M. (2012). Evidence-based practice in education. In K. R. Harris, S. Graham & T. Urdan (Eds.), APA educational psychology handbook: Vol 1. Theories, constructs, and critical issues (pp. 493–525). Washington DC: APA.Google Scholar
  13. Corcoran, T., Fuhrman, S. H., & Belcher, C. L. (2001). The district role in instructional improvement. Phi Delta Kappan, 83, 78–84.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cousins, J. B., & Leithwood, K. A. (1986). Current empirical research on evaluation utilization. Review of Educational Research, 56, 331–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cousins, J. B., & Leithwood, K. A. (1993). Enhancing knowledge utilization as a strategy for school improvement. Knowledge Creation Diffusion Utilization, 14, 305–333.Google Scholar
  16. Cousins, J. B., & Walker, C. A. (2000). Predictors of educators’ valuing of systematic inquiry in schools. Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation, Special Issue, 25–52.Google Scholar
  17. Curtis, J. R., Wenrich, M. D., Carline, J. D., Shannon, S. E., Ambrozy, D. M., & Ramsey, P. G. (2001). Understanding physicians’ skills at providing end-of-life care: Perspectives of patients, families, and health care workers. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 16, 41–49. Scholar
  18. Dagenais, C., Lysenko, L., Abrami, P. C., Bernard, R. M., Ramde, J., & Janosz, M. (2012). Use of research-based information by school practitioners and determinants of use: A review of empirical research. Evidence & Policy, 8, 285–309. Scholar
  19. Everton, T., Galton, M., & Pell, T. (2000). Teachers’ perspectives on educational research: knowledge and context. Journal of Education for Teaching, 26, 167–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) 2015, 20 U.S.C.A. § 6301 et seq. (U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2015).Google Scholar
  21. Farley-Ripple, E. N. (2012). Research use in school district central office decision making: A case study. Educational Management Administration, and Leadership, 40, 786–806. Scholar
  22. Finnigan, K. S., Daly, A. J., & Che, J. (2013). Systemwide reform in districts under pressure: The role of social networks in defining, acquiring, using, and diffusing research evidence. Journal of Educational Administration, 51, 476–497. Scholar
  23. Gottfredson, D. C., Cook, T. D., Gardner, F. E. M., Gorman-Smith, D., Howe, G. W., Sandler, I. N., & Zafft, K. M. (2015). Standards of evidence for efficacy, effectiveness, and scale-up research in prevention science. Prevention Science, 16, 893–926.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  24. Greenberg, M. T., Weissberg, R. P., O’Brien, M. U., Zins, J. E., Fredericks, L., Resnik, H., & Elias, M. J. (2003). Enhancing school-based prevention and youth development through coordinated social, emotional, and academic learning. American Psychologist, 58, 466–474.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Hallfors, D., & Godette, D. (2002). Will the ‘Principles of Effectiveness’’ improve prevention practice? Early findings from a diffusion study. Health Education Research, 17, 461–470.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Hoagwood, K., & Johnson, J. (2003). School psychology: a public health framework I. From evidence-based practices to evidence-based policies. Journal of School Psychology, 41, 3–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hofferth, S. L. (2009). Changes in American children’s time. Electronic International Journal of Time Use Research, 6(1), 26–47.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  28. Hofferth, S. L., & Sandberg (2001). How American children spend their time. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 295–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Honig, M. I., & Coburn, C. (2008). Evidence-based decision making in school district central offices: Toward a policy and research agenda. Educational Policy, 22, 578–608. Scholar
  30. Hsieh, H., & Shannon, S. E. (2005). Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 15, 1277–1288. Scholar
  31. Hultman, G., & Hörberg, C. R. (1998). Knowledge competition and personal ambition: A theoretical framework for knowledge utilization and action in context. Science Communication, 19, 328–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Humble, A. M. (2009). Technique triangulation for validation in directed content analysis. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 8, 34–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Kena, G., Hussar, W., McFarland, J., de Brey, C., Musu-Gillette, L., Wang, X., Zhang, J., Rathbun, A., Wilkinson-Flicker, S., Diliberti, M., Barmer, A., Bullock Mann, F., & Velez, Dunlop, E. (2016). The Condition of Education 2016 (NCES 2016-144). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved October 11, 2016 from
  34. Kennedy, M. M. (1997). The connection between research and practice. Educational Researcher, 26, 4–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kratochwill, T. R., & Stoiber, K. C. (2000). Diversifying theory and science: Expanding the boundaries of empirically supported interventions in school psychology. Journal of School Psychology, 38, 349–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Latham, G. (1993). Do educators use the literature of the profession? National Association of Secondary School Principals Bulletin, 77, 63–67.Google Scholar
  37. Long, A. C. J., Sanetti, L. M. H., Collier-Meek, M. A., Gallucci, J., Altschaefl, M., & Kratochwill, T. R. (2016). An exploratory investigation of teachers’ intervention planning and perceived implementation barriers. Journal of School Psychology, 55, 1–26.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Lysenko, L. V., Abrami, P. C., Bernard, R. M., Dagenais, C., & Janosz, M. (2014). Educational research in educational practice: Predictors of use. Canadian Journal of Education, 37, 1–26.Google Scholar
  39. Miretsky, D. (2007). A view of research from practice: Voices of teachers. Theory Into Practice, 46, 272–280. Scholar
  40. Neal, J. W., Neal, Z. P., Kornbluh, M., Mills, K. J., & Lawlor, J. A. (2015a). Brokering the research-practice gap: A typology. American Journal of Community Psychology, 56(3/4), 422–435. Scholar
  41. Neal, Z. P., Neal, J. W., Lawlor, J. A., & Mills, K. J. (2015b). Small worlds or worlds apart? Using network theory to understand the research-practice gap. Psychosocial Intervention, 24, 177–184. Scholar
  42. Neal, Z. P., Neal, J. W., Mills, K. J., & Lawlor, J. A. (in press). Making or buying evidence: Using transaction cost economics to understand decision making in public schools. Evidence & Policy.
  43. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, 20 U.S.C.A. § p. 6301 et seq. (West 2003).Google Scholar
  44. Palinkas, L. A., Horwitz, S. M., Green, C. A., Wisdom, J. P., Duan, N., & Hoagwood, K. (2015). Purposeful sampling for qualitative data collection and analysis in mixed method implementation research. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 42, 533–544.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  45. Reinke, W. M., Stormont, M., Herman, K. C., Puri, R., & Goel, N. (2011). Supporting children’s mental health in schools: Teacher perceptions of needs, roles, and barriers. School Psychology Quarterly, 26, 1–13. Scholar
  46. Ringeisen, H., Henderson, K., & Hoagwood, K. (2003). Context matters: Schools and the “research to practice gap” in children’s mental health. School Psychology Review, 32, 153–168.Google Scholar
  47. Rogers, E. M. (1995). Diffusion of innovations (4th edn.). New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  48. Rones, M., & Hoagwood, K. (2000). School-based mental health services: A research review. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 3, 223–241.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Tseng, V. (2012). The use of research in policy and practice. Society for Research on Child Development Social Policy Report, 26, 1–23.Google Scholar
  50. U.S. Census Bureau (2014). 20102014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. Retrieved from
  51. U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division. (2016). Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2015. Retrieved from
  52. U.S. Department of Education, Safe and Drug-free Schools Program. (1998) Notice of final principles of effectiveness. Federal Register, 63, 29902–29906.Google Scholar
  53. Walker, H. M. (2004). Commentary: Use of evidence-based interventions in schools: Where we’ve been, where we are, and where we need to go. School Psychology Review, 33, 298–407.Google Scholar
  54. Wandersman, A., Duffy, J., Flaspohler, P., Noonan, R., Lubell, K., Stillman, L., et al. (2008). Bridging the gap between prevention research and practice: The interactive systems framework for dissemination and implementation. American Journal of Community Psychology, 41, 171–181.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Weiss, C. H. (1998). Have we learned anything new about the use of evaluation? American Journal of Evaluation, 19, 21–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Weiss, C. H., & Bucavalas, M. J. (1980). Social science research and decision-making. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Williams, D., & Coles, L. (2007). Teachers’ approaches to finding and using research evidence: An information literacy perspective. Educational Research, 49, 185–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Wisdom, J. P., Chor, K. H. B., Hoagwood, K. E., & Horwitz, S. M. (2014). Innovation adoption: A review of theories and constructs. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 41, 480–502. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer Watling Neal
    • 1
  • Zachary P. Neal
    • 1
  • Jennifer A. Lawlor
    • 1
  • Kristen J. Mills
    • 1
  • Kathryn McAlindon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

Personalised recommendations