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Education Leaders Gather to Set Research Agenda

Education Leaders Gather to Set Research Agenda
Policy-makers cite need for more data on African American educational experiences
By Cassie M. Chew

Arecent Florida A&M University engineering graduate with a 3.9 grade point average was rated zero on a scale of one-to-10 by a hiring manager in terms of his employability with the firm. The hiring manager did not think the academic programs at the school, named “College of the Year” by Time magazine in 1997, provided the young professional the technology courses
that would ensure success in the position.
This story was related by one of three dozen academic professionals attending a brainstorming session last month sponsored by the United Negro College Fund’s (UNCF) Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute. The discussion focused on the critical issues that affect the success of educational pursuits among African Americans.
By the end of the three-hour session, many in the group cited the need for more research on African American educational experiences, including conducting and disseminating research on African American learning patterns as well as the institutions and settings in which African Americans are trained.
Group members also said that educational policies should be connected to such research and that research studies need to include African Americans on their teams.
Research, the participants said, is needed to arm policy-makers with the data to develop effective education policy and academic programs, and to make informed decisions about funding these programs. It also is needed to educate the decision-makers African American students encounter after completing their education.
Policy-makers often have “a lack of understanding of the broad role of HBCUs on the larger society,” said Leslie L. Atkinson, director of government affairs for the UNCF. “Oftentimes the data is old and inaccurate, but it is being used in a way that it shapes perceptions.”
Coined B.R.A.I.N.P.O.W.E.R., the annual two-part session of education professionals is a new initiative of the Patterson Research Institute. Twice a year the institute plans to bring national policy-makers together to discuss solutions to the critical issues that affect the educational resources for African Americans.
The institute’s goals include a study of the obstacles and enablers of educational, occupational and economic status outcomes among African American students. It works to direct public policy that promotes access to education and success in educational programs, increasing the number of African American educators, and serves as a clearinghouse for data about the status of African Americans’ educational pursuits.
Last month’s meeting was convened “so we can come to a consensus about what those issues are,” said Dr. M. Christopher Brown II, Patterson’s executive director and chief research scientist. The institute plans to use the ideas raised during the brainstorming session to guide its public research and policy agenda during the course of the year, Brown said.
The institute also will use this data to develop a paper that outlines solutions to these issues and present the paper at its 2004 research conference in September, which also will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

Focusing on Successes
While there have been some studies on the issues surrounding African Americans and educational attainment “much of that research  isn’t very focused and isn’t very good,” said Dr. Julius Chapman, dean of the division of education at Coppin State University in Baltimore.
“We need to do more research ourselves,” said George Ayers, president of Ayers and Associates, a northern Virginia-based higher education management consulting and executive search firm. “We need hard data about ourselves and what we are doing.”
“If you don’t control your own information others will control it for you,” said Dr. Nicole Norfles, a research fellow at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.
“We have to not only be involved and teaching, but (students) have got to learn the research skills as well. Where our data comes from is important to determine the type of data that is collected.”
Instead of repeating studies that indicate the challenges African American students may face in educational settings, new research projects need to focus on the successes, participants agreed.
“It needs to be positive data,” said Patrick Edmond, director of intergovernmental affairs for the District of Columbia Public Schools. “No one talks about the resilience of African American children.”
Dr. Vinetta Jones, dean of the college of education at Howard University, agreed. “There needs to be a change from the deficit model of policy development to one that focuses on the strengths,” Jones said.
Research organizations, such as Patterson, also need to examine who is going to do the research and who is on the panels that determine which research proposals are funded, Jones added.
In addition to investing in more research, research organizations also need to learn how to market that information — a concept not often considered after the studies are complete, Erika M. Miller, executive director of the McKenzie Group, an education consulting firm, said.
“If the goal is to influence policy we need to make an effort to get out there and disseminate the research,” Miller said.
Session participants also cited adequate teacher training and effectiveness, programs to enhance student achievement and preparation, and the infusion of technology as some of the critical issues affecting success among African American students.
Over the next six months the Patterson Research Institute will assign the participants to work groups to focus on these issues, research solutions and make reports on their progress during the second B.R.A.I.N.P.O.W.E.R. meeting in July, Brown said. 

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