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Research in Schools

College of Education Purdue University


Research that is conducted in K-12 school settings often involves special issues and concerns. Individuals interested in conducting research in schools must be aware of these issues and concerns and take appropriate steps to insure that all necessary approvals are obtained in advance and that the research complies with all regulations. Here are some of the things to consider.

  • Research in K-12 schools usually involves human subjects. Therefore, if you plan to do research in the schools, you must have completed required training and be eligible to be a principal investigator or work with a principal investigator for research involving human subjects. For information about Purdue's policies, Human Research Protection Program, and Institutional Review Board, see
  • K-12 schools have the right to approve or reject any proposals for research on their site. Prior to conducting research in a K-12 school, you must obtain permission from an appropriate school authority. The appropriate authority may vary from district to district and might be the school board, superintendent, or building principal. If you are uncertain who to contact, start with the office of the school superintendent.
  • Schools have a primary function to educate students, and, especially in this era of accountability, they may be reluctant allow research that could interfere with instructional time. You should consider research designs that minimize disruptions (e.g., after school research, non-intervention observational studies), or, when this is not possible, you should clearly articulate to the school the benefits (and the limits of benefits) of participation in the research. You also may wish to consider "give backs" to schools that participate in research such as professional development for teachers, acknowledging the school in scholarly products such as presentations and publications, involving school personnel in presentations and publications, providing stipends or CEU credits for participating teachers, etc.
  • Research involving children in schools usually requires both parental consent and assent of the minor child. Research protocols submitted to the IRB should include the necessary forms written in language appropriate for the parent and/or child. Data cannot be collected on students for whom consent/assent is not obtained. When research involves in-class activities, alternative activities may be needed for students for whom research consent was not obtained. If this is necessary, you should work out in advance who will be responsible for providing those activities.
  • Schools are bound by the requirements of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to protect the privacy of individually identifiable student academic information. Parental consent is required for the release of students' academic records. You must maintain confidentiality of all data collected.
  • Schools are responsible for the protection of the students in their charge. As a consequence, researchers who plan to work in schools may be subject to background check requirements; consult with the district to determine if this is required. The school should be notified in advance of all personnel who will be visiting the school and their role in the project. When visiting the school, you should follow the school's usual security procedures, which may involve checking in and out through the building central office. You should wear a visible form of identification with your name and affiliation (such as your Purdue name tag).

Making Connections with Schools for Research

There is no single right way to make a connection with a school as a site for doing research. Some researchers have contacts with individual teachers from courses, workshops, projects, etc. that can provide the foundation for establishing a research site. Others first approach school administrators at the district or building level to gauge interest in a particular research topic. The most important thing is to develop a relationship with the school based on mutual benefits. While schools may be interested in working with Purdue on a research project that will benefit the school as well as the researcher, schools are put off by requests to be used as research sites when there is little payoff for them.

As you think about creating a school-based research site, consider framing your proposal to the school around the following questions:
  • What is the aim of your project, and how will it benefit the school and education more broadly?
  • What is your willingness to engage with the school on a sustained basis?
  • What are your expectations of the school? How will you involve the staff?
  • How will you communicate with the school/staff?
  • What is the benefit to teachers and/or students?
  • What will you give back to the school/staff for their participation?

The likelihood of getting approval to conduct research in a school site increases when:

  • you have good relations with school teachers or administrators in the district,
  • there is a fit between your research interests and the interests of the school, and
  • you provide opportunities for the school to gain something from participation (e.g., resources, recognition, solution to a problem, teacher development).