School & District Management

Bill Would Remake OERI Into ‘Education Sciences’ Academy

By Debra Viadero — March 06, 2002 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A key lawmaker introduced a bill last week outlining his vision for transforming the Department of Education’s oft-criticized research arm into a streamlined, more independent “academy of education sciences.”

If the bill as written were to be approved by Congress, it would dramatically overhaul the department’s office of educational research and improvement, the $954 million agency that oversees most federally financed education studies. The academy, while still housed in the Education Department, would be more autonomous than the current research office, according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del.

Michael N. Castle

He chairs the education reform subcommittee of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

“I am seeking to insulate our federal research, evaluation, and statistics activities from partisan or undue political influences,” Rep. Castle said. “I want quality education research, not fads or anecdotes, to inform educators’ decisions on the best way to improve student learning and narrow achievement gaps.”

Under his proposal, the new academy would be headed by a director and a board of directors, rather than an assistant secretary, as is now the case with the OERI. While still a political appointee, the director would serve a fixed, six-year term—a change intended to put some distance between the research chief and the political party in power.

The president would appoint the board’s 15 voting members. Heads of other agencies, such as the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Census Bureau, would serve as nonvoting members.

The academy’s director would also oversee three centers—one each on statistics, evaluation, and research. Those centers would be headed by commissioners also appointed by the president for six-year terms.

Labs and Centers

Mr. Castle’s bill seeks to phase out most of the smaller research centers the department now sponsors. Numbering as many as 11 at one time, the centers have specialized in areas such as improving education for disadvantaged students and student testing.

Currently, the Education Department contracts with regional educational laboratories to provide local educators with research expertise, to develop user-friendly products, and to serve as pipelines for educational research findings.

Under the new plan, regional governing boards made up of practitioners, policymakers, and parents would be given the authority to contract with whatever groups they chose to supply those kinds of services. The boards, appointed by the governors and the state schools superintendents, would be overseen by the federal secretary of education.

The changes come as federal lawmakers are pushing educators to rely on “scientifically based research” in choosing the programs they pay for with federal money, said Jim Kohlmoos, the president of NEKIA, or the National Education Knowledge Industry Association, a Washington-based group that represents many of the labs and centers. That phrase crops up 110 times, by one count, in the revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act signed into law earlier this year. (“Law Mandates Scientific Base for Research,” Jan. 20, 2002.)

The emphasis continues in Mr. Castle’s bill, which calls for financing “scientifically valid” research.

“The research knowledge base has taken on a level of importance not seen in a long time time, and we do not believe this is the time to blow up the knowledge infrastructure out in the field,” Mr. Kohlmoos said. “This is the time to refine and enhance it.”

Introduced the evening of Feb. 27, Mr. Castle’s bill came too late to generate much discussion at a hearing on federal education research held the following day by its sponsor’s subcommittee.

But some of the education officials who testified said the need to improve federal education research was clear.

“The key question I asked myself in preparing this testimony was this: In all my years involved in education reform, what role has federal education research or the federal research infrastructure played in my role as an education reformer?” said Jim Horne, Florida’s education secretary. “The answer is: Not much. Not much at all.”

The Bush administration’s emphasis on “scientifically based research,” as reflected in both Mr. Castle’s bill and in the revised ESEA, also worried some educators, however.

“This emphasis on a medical model for education research is abhorrent,” said Douglas D. Christenson, Nebraska’s commissioner of education. " ... Our children are not sick or diseased. Education and instruction are not treatments.”

Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the Education Department’s assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, noted that his office’s core research and dissemination budget for the current fiscal year, leaving out its statistics center, is only $122 million. Much of the rest goes to technical assistance, demonstration programs, and other functions.

President Bush, in his proposed budget for fiscal 2003, seeks to raise the agency’s research budget by 44 percent.

A Second Try

The bill introduced last week marked Mr. Castle’s second attempt to reorganize the research agency, which has not been formally reauthorized by Congress since 1994. The last bill, introduced two years ago, never made it to the House floor. But lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have said they plan to pass legislation reauthorizing the research office this year.

Mr. Whitehurst, in his testimony before the subcommittee, said taking steps to improve federal education research operations now could have far-reaching consequences.

“We are close to a point where the right investment in the right structure could get us close to a tipping point, where education becomes an evidence-based field,” he said. “Medicine only got to that point in the last 75 years.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 06, 2002 edition of Education Week as Bill Would Remake OERI Into ‘Education Sciences’ Academy

Events

School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Creating Confident Readers: Why Differentiated Instruction is Equitable Instruction
Join us as we break down how differentiated instruction can advance your school’s literacy and equity goals.
Content provided by Lexia Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
Future-Proofing Your School's Tech Ecosystem: Strategies for Asset Tracking, Sustainability, and Budget Optimization
Gain actionable insights into effective asset management, budget optimization, and sustainable IT practices.
Content provided by Follett Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Q&A How K-12 Leaders Can Better Manage Divisive Curriculum and Culture War Debates
The leader of an effort to equip K-12 leaders with conflict resolution skills urges relationship-building—and knowing when to disengage.
7 min read
Katy Anthes, Commissioner of Education in Colorado from 2016- 2023, participates in a breakout session during the Education Week Leadership Symposium on May 3, 2024.
Katy Anthes, who served as commissioner of education in Colorado from 2016-2023, participates in a breakout session during the Education Week Leadership Symposium on May 3, 2024. Anthes specializes in helping school district leaders successfully manage politically charged conflicts.
Chris Ferenzi for Education Week
School & District Management Virginia School Board Restores Confederate Names to 2 Schools
The vote reverses a decision made in 2020 as dozens of schools nationwide dropped Confederate figures from their names.
2 min read
A statue of confederate general Stonewall Jackson is removed on July 1, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Shenandoah County, Virginia's school board voted 5-1 early Friday, May 10, 2024, to rename Mountain View High School as Stonewall Jackson High School and Honey Run Elementary as Ashby Lee Elementary four years after the names had been removed.
A statue of confederate general Stonewall Jackson is removed on July 1, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Shenandoah County, Virginia's school board voted 5-1 early Friday, May 10, 2024, to rename Mountain View High School as Stonewall Jackson High School and Honey Run Elementary as Ashby Lee Elementary four years after the names had been removed.
Steve Helber/AP
School & District Management Quiz Quiz Yourself: How Much Do You Know About the School District Technology Leader?
The tech director at school districts is a key player when it comes to purchasing. Test your knowledge of this key buyer persona and see how your results stack up with your peers.
School & District Management Deepfakes Expose Public School Employees to New Threats
The only protection for school leaders is a healthy dose of skepticism.
7 min read
Signage is shown outside on the grounds of Pikesville High School, May 2, 2012, in Baltimore County, Md. The most recent criminal case involving artificial intelligence emerged in late April 2024, from the Maryland high school, where police say a principal was framed as racist by a fake recording of his voice.
Police say a principal was framed making racist remarks through a fake recording of his voice at Pikesville High School, a troubling new use of AI that could affect more educators. A sign announces the entrance to the Baltimore County, Md., school on May 2, 2012.
Lloyd Fox/The Baltimore Sun via AP