A 20-year Retrospective, April 1996

Walter M. Mathews

Long Island University

April 1, 1996


The Consortium of State and Regional Research Associations was organized at the February 1973 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association in New Orleans, as a Special Interest Group of AERA. Its purpose then, is its purpose now:

To promote quality research at the state and national levels through support for state and regional research organizations. This purpose is addressed in several intertwined ways: to provide a national forum at the AERA Annual Meeting; to share research, scholarly papers, and other information among its members; to foster cooperation and communication among the state and regional associations and AERA; and, to unite scholars, practitioners, policy makers, researchers and others interested in the pursuit of educational research and development at the local, state, regional and national levels.

Over the 23 years of the SIG’s existence, we have helped several state and regional research associations in their formation, including: Alaska, Arizona, Eastern, Midwestern, Northern Rocky Mountain, New Jersey, Hawaii, Kansas, Oregon and South West. We have also helped nurture others along the way.

Dick Dershimer, the Executive Officer of AERA at the time, strongly encouraged and supported the organization of the Consortium as a SIG. Since then Bill Russell has continued to support us from the top at AERA. Over the years the Board of AERA occasionally has questioned the SIG and its operation. Since we are an organization of organizations, and do not have individuals as members, we do not neatly fit all the rules for SIGs. And since each member association selects its own outstanding research paper each year, and therefore gets an automatic slot on the AERA program, the review process has been under periodic scrutiny by members of the AERA Board. But, the Distinguished Papers Program has endured and become stronger over the years.

The Distinguished Papers Program was instituted as a direct outcome of the mission of the Consortium with the aim of helping the state and regional associations improve the quality of their research conferences and, at the other end, to provide a flow of new researchers to membership of AERA. The first was held in New York City in 1977 with four organizations represented: Mid-South Educational Research Association; Northeast Educational Research Association; Northern Illinois Association for Educational Research, Evaluation and Development; and Pennsylvania Educational Research Association.

It wasn’t until two years later that a formal discussant was used in the session: Anne Cleary began the tradition of distinguished discussants who honestly, yet sensitively, critiqued the papers, and, at their best, turned their portion of the program into a research seminar. (Unfortunately, information about that 1979 session in San Francisco is lost.)

The increase in participation dictated that papers could not be presented, only summarized. Since the sessions were always at 8:00 a.m., the SIG Board decided to provide coffee and cake as an opportunity for the presenters to meet the discussants prior to the program. They also approved the presentation of framed certificates to the presenters.

By 1988 the number of organizations participating had grown to eleven, and two sessions were held that year in New Orleans with Frank Farley and Gene Glass performing the service.

Matthew Miles proposed a format change in 1994 that featured small-group discussions after the presentations. He and Joel Levin successfully used that method in New Orleans that year. And the program became noteworthy for the effectiveness of the presentations as well as the quality of the research presented.

The diversity of the papers continually presents an enormous challenge to the discussants: no theme or topic is ever planned, however, some manage to tease out similarities among some of the research presented. At the suggestion of Joel Levin, an attempt was made to sort papers into a “qualitative” or “quantitative” session in 1994. A modification of this continues, with limited success.

Because of the late-breaking nature of the selection process (papers are selected at state and regional research conferences which generally occur from November through February prior to AERA), the published AERA Program never contains the titles of the papers or the names of the researchers. It, therefore, has been a necessity from the beginning to hang posters around the conference hotels to announce the participants and their research. (Frequently to the displeasure of the management of the hotels.)

Member research associations are serious about their selection process, and on several occasions have withdrawn from the program when they have not been satisfied with the quality of their candidates. Support from participating organizations ranges from awarding plaques to their winners, to paying for their representative to attend AERA.

Since all the members of the Consortium are volunteer research organizations, and leadership roles change annually, consistent and accurate communication between the member organizations and the Program Chair is frequently problematic—sometimes causing pain and embarrassment. For those latter cases we apologize and ask for continued understanding and increased efforts at communication. (One year there was even an unsanctioned session of distinguished papers at AERA.)

James Swanson conducted a survey of previous winners and presented it at the 1991 conference in Chicago. Edith Carter and Peter Strodl are updating that study. Their preliminary results will be presented at this year’s conference. We look forward to it.

To date there have been 165 papers presented in these sessions with a total of 219 co-authors (not counting the missing data from 1979).

As founder of the Consortium and chair of the Distinguished Papers Program for the past twenty years, I want to publicly thank all those who have contributed their time and talents to the continued development of the organization and these sessions. We hope they continue for many years.