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Research Papers and Reports

McREL studies education research to find evidence-based best practices for effective teaching, learning, leading, systemic change, and school improvement. We share insights from our analyses in the free publications you’ll find on this page.

  • Our white papers present a combination of research-based insights, thought leadership, and suggestions for how to adapt and apply these new ideas to classrooms, schools, districts, and other education systems.
  • Our briefs are short explorations of a specific topic, presenting a quick summary of research along with a few ideas educators can use right away in their schools.
  • Our research and evaluation reports describe studies we’ve done for schools, districts, and education companies, shared here with our clients’ permission so that other educators can deepen their understanding of how the initiative or product impacts teaching and learning.

To explore these ideas more deeply and build your team’s professional capacities, contact us for a conversation about professional learning or consulting with the publication’s authors.

Student Engagement: Evidence-Based Strategies to Boost Academic and Social-Emotional Results


Before teachers can leverage the benefits of student engagement, they need to know what it is, where it comes from, and why it’s so hard to maintain as students age. Here we review the evidence, present McREL’s definition of student engagement, and provide strategies to assess and improve students’ engagement with academics and the entire school community.


Efficacy Study: Education Galaxy’s Online Assessment, Practice, and Instruction Programs


McREL conducted an evaluation of Education Galaxy’s Online Assessment, Practice, and Instruction programs on 4th grade math and reading, using a study design that meets ESSA’s Tier 2 Moderate Evidence standard. Our study found grade-level gains in math (0.58) and reading (0.30), for students using the programs.


Instructional Models: Doing the Right Things Right


Adopting, adapting, or creating an instructional model could be the key to boosting instructional consistency for all students while also encouraging teacher creativity. In this paper, we present an introduction to instructional models, explain how they differ from frameworks, and give advice on helping school teams cohere around an initiative that has a high likelihood of benefiting students.


Personalizing Professional Development: How Empowered Teachers Can Take Charge of Professional Learning and Growth


Professional learning sessions can be a good starting point to share foundational practices with groups of teachers, but it should be followed up with individual plans of action and ongoing self-reflection to sustain and embed the learning in daily practices. This paper describes characteristics of effective PL and gives an overview of a self-reflection process teachers can use to drive their own professional growth.


Improving Teacher Practice: Debunking the Myth of the Performance Plateau


Recent studies find that teacher performance, on average, improves dramatically during an educator’s first few years on the job and then continues to improve in subsequent years, albeit less dramatically. This paper makes a case for schools and districts to invest more into teachers’ career-long professional learning and describes how to develop, support, and advance educator expertise.


Student Learning That Works: How Brain Science Informs a Student Learning Model


Knowing how memory works can help teachers deliver instruction in a way that helps students better learn, recall, and apply new knowledge. This paper describes a brain-science-based model for teaching and learning that can guide teachers’ instructional planning and increase their students’ interest in, and motivation for, learning. (48 words)


Curiosity Works: Moving Your School from Improvement to Innovation


If every student were curious, self-motivated, and passionate about their learning, wouldn’t our classrooms and schools be more joyful, dynamic, and innovative? This paper lays the groundwork for McREL’s Curiosity Works model for school improvement—an inside-out, curiosity-driven approach that builds on schools’ bright spots and drives improvement and innovation.


Peer Coaching That Works: The Power of Reflection and Feedback in Teacher Triad Teams


Teachers can support each other’s’ professional learning, teaming up for mutual support and growth. This paper presents a peer-coaching triad model, in which three-person teams of teachers take turns coaching, being coached, and observing each other. While school leadership can promote and support the triads by offering structures and guidance, teachers themselves are empowered to conduct the coaching on their own.


The Road Less Traveled: Changing Schools from the Inside Out


In this paper, McREL’s CEO Bryan Goodwin urges education leaders and policymakers to rethink the top-down way we’ve approached school improvement and reform for the past three decades. He presents an alternative inside-out, bottom-up model that begins by putting curiosity, for both educators and students, at the center of learning and unleashing a powerful, more engaging system of teaching, learning, and leading.