Methods

RFA is committed to rigorous research. Our staff of more than two dozen researchers bring methodological training from the disciplines of sociology, economics, public policy, human development, and anthropology. Our work is informed by emerging mixed-methods approaches utilized in the most rigorous research in education.

Qualitative Research Capabilities

Over the past 20 years, RFA has built its reputation on conducting careful analyses of the context and conditions of education reform. Our research and evaluation pays attention to the viewpoints and experiences of a range of educational stakeholders, including students, parents, teachers, administrators, and education policymakers and practitioners. We conduct interviews, observations, document review, and media scans to highlight, rather than obscure, the complexities of the education sphere.

Quantitative Research Capabilities

RFA’s quantitative department employs a range of methods and data sources to provide robust and nuanced analyses of interim and long-term educational outcomes.

Assessing the impact of complex education reform efforts. Researchers at RFA design quantitative studies that assure the use of the most rigorous analytical techniques possible. Small-scale exploratory studies may involve just a few schools and a comparison group selected for convenience. More sophisticated studies use experimental or quasi-experimental research methods such as Propensity Score Matching, Regression Discontinuity Designs, or Interrupted Time Series analyses. RFA researchers have been trained in rigorous methods for studying impact and have managed large-scale regional, national, and international studies of the effectiveness of a wide range of educational policies and practices.

Analysis of complex administrative datasets. Administrative databases from schools, agencies, and postsecondary institutions are increasingly used to track trends in achievement and graduation, assess program impacts, and identify sites for intervention. RFA researchers have substantial experience in merging and analyzing complex longitudinal databases, including merging data across agencies and educational sectors. Research questions that can be addressed with these data sets range from the simple and descriptive to those requiring sophisticated longitudinal methods to study change over time and/or multilevel modeling to study the relationships between student, teacher, school, and district factors.

Survey design, administration, and interpretation of results. Researchers at RFA have significant experience in developing and administering surveys of students, teachers, policymakers, and other education stakeholders. Our surveys can focus on a single school district, or collect information from across one or more states. RFA most typically administers online surveys but has also utilized pencil-and-paper methods.

Policy Research Capabilities

RFA has developed a reputation for relevant, insightful policy analyses by conducting comprehensive policy scans, utilizing a broad range of publicly-available data, and summarizing robust existing research. Drawing on both quantitative and qualitative methods, our policy work speaks directly to the most pressing education debates happening in the halls of legislatures, in education departments, in schools, and in the media.