School & District Management

Departing Director Reflects on Years at IES

By Holly Kurtz — June 02, 2014 3 min read
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It’s official. The Chicago-based Spencer Foundation had announced that Institute of Education Sciences Director John Q. Easton will join their staff this fall as a Distinguished Senior Fellow. (Education Week reported Easton’s departure last week.) At the foundation, Easton, who is currently the U.S. Department of Education’s academic-in-chief, will help develop “a program of work on research-practice partnerships in education,” Spencer’s press release states. Easton will also work on other initiatives at the foundation, which funds educational research and also tries to build bridges between researchers, practitioners, and policymakers. For Easton, 64, this is a bit of a blast from the past. He lived in Chicago for more than 35 years prior to being officially appointed to his IES position in 2009, most recently serving as executive director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago. He plans to leave IES in September or October. He wasn’t aware of any potential replacements.

With the cat fully escaped from the bag, Easton reflected Friday on the nearly five years he spent at IES, where he oversaw the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, the National Center for Education Research, and the National Center for Special Education Research.

On his biggest challenges:

“We had a few budget problems. Sequestration. Not returning to pre-sequestration funding levels. The biggest disappointment was not being able to fund so many highly qualified proposals last year in 2013 and not being able to run a competition in the National Center for Special Education this year.”

On accomplishments that make him proud:

“Really pushing the conversations about useful, relevant research and demonstrating that that kind of work can be done while maintaining the highest standards of quality. The research community has heard the message that they should be listening and working more closely with practitioners and policymakers.”

“Another thing I feel really good about is the regional labs--the redirection. At the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, we’ve really worked hard on communicating results in better more timely ways. We’ve really worked hard on communicating results in better, more timely ways, both under Becca Maynard [who served as Commissioner of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance from 2010 through 2012] and Ruth Neild [who succeeded Maynard]. More documents aimed for a wider public, with nice summaries and briefs. We ramped up outreach through social media.Our [National Board for Education Sciences] board members have been helpful and constructive in urging us to improve our outreach efforts.”

On challenges that his successor may face:

“One really promising thing I see in the version of ESRA [Education Science Reform Act] that the house approved is that it doesn’t make major changes to IES. IES won’t be disrupted. I think the challenge is to bring someone in who...seems to be good maintaining a balance between new ideas and current ones. One thing that I think that I’ve tried to instill over here is we need a process of continuous improvement in our job, too. We’ve developed enough self-critical ability to do that. What do we need to change? What do we need to tweak? For example, the way we develop and present our request for applications has really improved [after getting feedback from the field.] We looked carefully at the applications we received to determine if they have been clear enough, specific enough. "

He noted that the new requests for applications were actually longer than they had been before because they had been merged with a document containing advice and tips.

“We worked hard to be comprehensive but succinct. I don’t think we succeeded on the succinct side!”

On the future of federal education research:

“In the long-run future, I don’t [have any thoughts to share on that.]. I know things are going to look much better here at IES this current fiscal year, we’re sure of that. That’s good news. How the Congress will to feel about funding educational research [in the long-run] is anyone’s guess.”

“Twenty years from now, I would hope that [IES] had built access to good data. State longitudinal data systems, as they get better and better and better, researchers can have high-quality data at their fingertips that can be analyzed quickly. [I hope] that we have these models of continuous improvement that are more well-established in school districts and states. The government’s emphasis on evidence use has been really fruitful, building and using evidence.”

Final thoughts?

“I’m really proud of the staff here... Right now, I feel good about the agency.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.