When Anne McKernan, director of secondary education at West Hartford Public Schools, was assigned to a district committee to look at the challenges and opportunities associated with later school start times, she wanted to begin by looking at research on the topic. So, she submitted a question to REL Northeast & Islands’ Ask A REL service, which she had learned about in a previous job.
Ask A REL is a free service that helps educators and policymakers better understand and access research on a particular education topic. REL researchers function like virtual reference desk librarians, providing references and referrals to education research, briefs, articles, and organizations in response to questions submitted by regional stakeholders.
Anne knew that the references supplied by Ask A REL would be recent, relevant, and objective. With her district exploring whether to change school start times—which can be controversial—the objectivity of the source of information was critical.
“I wanted to use the Ask A REL service because the RELs are a neutral source of research information,” Anne explained. “They are not biased or looking for a particular angle.”
Since 2012, REL Northeast & Islands’ Ask A REL has answered more than 500 questions about a wide range of education research topics. Some of the most popular topics we have received questions about recently include English learners, early childhood, and school and district structures. Our responses to questions are publicly available through a searchable database.
The best way to submit an Ask A REL question is to complete our online submission form. We might reach out to you with some follow-up questions. Then, we will assign the query to one of our researchers, who will conduct a search of credible research databases, including the What Works Clearinghouse and the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC), and compile a list of relevant references. Responses are emailed to requestors within three to four weeks.
“Educators and state leaders tell us over and over again how much they appreciate Ask A REL,” said REL Northeast & Islands Director Julie Riordan. “Teachers, principals, and state policymakers want to use evidence when making decisions but they have very little time to find and synthesize high-quality research results themselves. Our highly trained researchers can do this for them—quickly and efficiently—saving them time and money and supporting the use of evidence in schools and districts across the region.”
Anne was pleased with both the timeliness of the response to her question and the pertinence of the included references. She noted that they covered the main research findings associated with later school start times and were from respected, credible academic sources.
“People on the committee wanted to know why I shared particular research articles,” she said. “I felt comfortable saying I picked the articles because they were provided by the REL.”
The Ask A REL research informed a series of presentations the committee made to the school board about later school start times. Although the board has temporarily tabled its decision, Anne is confident that research will inform the board’s decision-making process, enabling them to minimize any negative effects associated with changing school start times.
Submit your question to Ask A REL.