Budget Cuts, Ideology called Threats to Research
Bloomington, Ind--Educational research under the Reagan Administration will be marked not only by severe budget cuts, but also, quite possibly, by radical changes in what is studied, by whom, and how, according to researchers meeting here last week.
Speaking at Indiana University's annual conference on educational research, academic and association representatives charged that the Administration has used its economic-recovery program as a "smokescreen" for pushing through cuts in education programs without any significant debate on their merits.
Furthermore, some speakers maintained, the Administration has made it clear that it does not want a strong federal presence in the schools, but has yet to articulate clearly what it does want in the way of a national education policy.
"This Administration clearly is not coming from a goal-based framework for education policy," said Mary Anne Amiot, a research associate with the university's National Inservice Network, which serves as a clearinghouse for information on in-service training for educators. "All they want to do is turn over programs to state governments."
Nonetheless, Ms. Amiot and other speakers asserted, the changes that already have taken place, and those known to be on the way, do have clear implications for research.
Perhaps the most important of these changes is the amount of money available.
"Education research has always been vulnerable in both Democratic and Republican administrations" because it does not provide direct, immediate benefits to children and has not always been worthy of financial support, said David Florio, director of governmental and professional liaison for the American Educational Research Association, a Washington-based group with 14,000 individual and institutional affiliates.
Such research has, however, been particularly vulnerable since President Reagan took office, the speakers all suggested.
The budget of the National Institute of Education (nie), the largest of the federal agencies involved in educational research, has dropped by some 30 percent since fiscal 1980, from $74.1 million then to $53.4 million this fiscal year.
Taking into account programs administered by the National Center for Education Statistics and the National Science Foundation, direct federal expenditures on educational research have declined by 40 percent over the same period, compared with cuts of approximately 19 percent for elementary and secondary education as a whole.
The federal budget cuts--and the states' unwillingness or inability to take up the slack--"will mean thinking about research and inquiry in a different way," said David L. Clark, professor of education at Indiana University. He predicted that large-scale longitudinal studies will give way to "shorter-term research, where the resources of an individual professor and some graduate stu-dents are sufficient to the task."
In addition, nie, a major sponsor of educational research, is changing its research priorities.
According to an internal planning document for fiscal 1983 and 1984 alluded to by Mr. Florio, nie, an arm of the U.S. Department of Education, will place particular emphasis on educational "excellence"--described as "not just minimum competence"--and "freedom," including inquiries into vouchers, tuition tax credits, home education, and other measures that would increase the educational choices available to families. (See accompanying story on the document, which was obtained by Education Week.)
"Educational researchers need to be vigilant to make sure that ideology does not drive what is to be funded," said Mr. Florio.
"These [new nie topics] can in fact be interesting research issues,'' Mr. Florio added. "It depends, of course, on whom you fund and who your peer-review panels are."
The Reagan Administration's appointees at nie, Mr. Florio said, "hold the view that nie was not as disinterested as it said. It spent a lot of time inquiring into desegregation, families, and other social issues.
"There are people in the Administration and in nie who feel, 'The liberals had their turn; now it's ours.' They felt nie had a left-liberal orientation," he said.
Mr. Clark also predicted that research in "basic skills" and productivity will be encouraged by the Administration.
The institute's method of distributing funds for research is also expected to change. Since the mid-1960's, the bulk of the federal education-research budget has gone to eight regional laboratories and nine research centers, most of which are housed in university schools of education. Up to now, the labs and centers--and their budgets--have been specifically designated by Congress.
The Administration hopes to re-open these major research projects for competitive bidding, and, as a result, some of the labs and centers now in operation could lose their contracts.
Such a move would undermine "the institutional capacity that has been built over 15 years," argued Mr. Clark of Indiana University, which houses one of the nine research centers.
"Re-opening the competition does many things for the Administration," he maintained. "It gets rid of regional political networks that have formed around the labs and centers, and it may be a way to cut $28 million from the budget. It's much easier not to fund a new organization than it is not to re-fund one already in existence."
"I do not see it as an opportunity," he added. "I see it as another part of the disassembling of educational research and development."
nie, the laboratories, and the research centers "will all be gone within five years," the professor predicted. "If the current flow continues, it's really easy to get from where we are to nothing."
Mr. Florio took issue with the latter assertion, arguing that research and development may be one of the few aspects of education in which the federal government will remain active, and that support for research is compatible with the Administra-tion's desire to replace the cabinet-level department with a "foundation for educational assistance."
"Research is a non-intrusive way for the government to get involved," he said. "There is more and broader support [among practitioners] for educational research than ever before. It is a valuable and used resource in educational and social policy. It's five years ahead of the schools and 10 years ahead of the public."
Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell, Mr. Florio said, "has fought for educational research. As long as Secretary Bell is there, we have an ally, although he's not a very strong ally."