A helpful user's guide to the 2007 AERA Conference

As policymakers wrestle with No Child Left Behind's reauthorization and educators struggle to comply with its spirit, it is clear that both communities are increasingly serious about seeking out rigorous and useful research. But education professors Kevin Welner and Alex Molnar fretted in a recent Education Week back-pager that policymakers are turning to "slickly produced" research by "ideologically driven" think tanks rather than studies being conducted and sanctioned by the nation's professional education research community.

For those eager to familiarize themselves more broadly with "peer-reviewed" education scholarship, an exceptional opportunity will be presented next week at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in Chicago. More than 12,000 scholars will gather to consider a wealth of papers and analyses that have been vetted by their peers.

AERA offers the chance for academics to demonstrate why, as Welner and Molnar suggest, policymakers would be well-advised to look to them to tackle "significant research questions" with "original and important work." To help first-time attendees identify some of this promising work, we present this friendly user's guide.

First, for those policymakers interested in Creolist perspectives on social change and the current status of the Whig party, we strongly suggest catching these papers: "The Ebonics Phenomenon, Language Planning, and the Hegemony of Standard English," "Beyond the Anglicist and the Creolist Debate and Toward Social Change," and "‘The Whig Party Don't Exist in My Hood': Knowledge, Reality, and Education in the Hip-Hop Nation."

Those more interested in the looming impact of immigration on instruction or NCLB-required assessment will surely want to catch the session "Asserting Silenced Voices in Policy Debates Over (Im)migrants and (Im)migration." This features the analyses: "Exposing Contradictions: Students ‘Talk Back' to Discourses on (Im)migration" and "Immigrant Identity and Racial Formations: A LatCrit Theoretical Analysis Case Study."

Promising a rather different take on immigration is the provocatively titled "Race and Space in Education," with its undertones of bilingual education on Mars and featuring papers such as "Citizenship, Migration, and Space" and "Education Policy, Space, and the ‘Colonial Present.'" (Confession: We're not entirely sure just what the "colonial present" is--we don't think it involves beribboned pewter mugs from Williamsburg, but participants will need to attend the session to be sure.)

Those seeking something more relevant for professional development may want to check out the session "Spirituality and Education" in which professors and doctoral students at honest-to-goodness colleges and universities will present "Accessing the Wisdom of Spirit as Professional Development," "Anti-racist Education, Critical Race Theory, and ‘Respiritualization,'" "Finding the Spirit Within, Answering the Call to Teach," and "Peace in Every Breath: College Students Surprise Themselves as They Defuse Their Anger."

A don't-miss opportunity for scholars and attendees to celebrate their own awesomeness is the session: "Stop Moving My What?! Critical and Reflective Thinking in Self-Study." While some may fret that they lack the background to understand the finer points outlined in the featured paper, "‘Stop Moving My Cheese!' Scurrying Through a Maze of Challenges in Developing Reflective Thinking of Preservice Teachers" the session description promises that the "self-study practitioners" will demonstrate how to use "a wealth of data such as journal dialogues, portfolio artifacts, evaluations and e-mail correspondence" to develop "inner skills of reflection or ‘pedagogical thoughtfulness.'"

Another not-to-miss session is that on "Asset-Based Research on Native Peoples," featuring the study "The Educational Lives of Alaska Native Alumni of the University of Alaska-Anchorage." Now as appealing as this sounds, we do find ourselves wondering, Where is the concern for the educational lives of Alaska Native alums from UA-Fairbanks--much less community colleges!? Simple oversight? Or something more sinister? Attendees should consider themselves forewarned. To guard against such careless omissions, we suggest pairing this panel with the session on "Centering the Overlooked Issues in Multicultural Teacher Education: AIDS, Accent, Adoption, (Dis)Ability, and Poverty."

To be sure, there will also be more pedestrian work on teacher quality, instruction, assessment, and so forth. But the unfortunate truth is that session titles and past experience suggest that such work will constitute but a modest portion of the scholarship on display. Worth noting, and perhaps providing a disheartening bit of context, is that all of the above papers and sessions were drawn from a one-hour perusal of one randomly selected day of the conference (Tuesday, for those who are curious). That's why this preview doesn't flag sessions such as "The Subversive Media Practice of Decolonization: The Testimonial and Pedagogical Work of Aboriginal Women Filmmakers."

Until serious scholars invest more energy in policing the work that enjoys their imprimatur, it's likely to remain an uphill struggle for quality education research to command the respect or have the impact it deserves.

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