With Congress’ passage of a massive fiscal 2014 budget agreement this month, the Institute of Education Sciences has regained about half of the funding it lost in the sequester cuts last March, but its advisory board members voiced concern at a meeting here today that the reduced support for new research and continued legislative instability will hamstring the Education Department’s research agency going forward.
Last fall’s government shutdown canceled the autumn meeting, so this was the first opportunity National Board for Education Sciences members had to chew over what was a rough fall for IES, including ongoing funding troubles, a somewhat critical recent Government Accountability Office report, and the semi-stalled efforts on the Hill to reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act, which governs education research.
The final fiscal 2014 budget for IES is just under $577 million, up 2.5 percent from fiscal 2013, and research and development is still at fiscal 2013 levels, just under $180 million across the board. For example, incoming special education Commissioner Joan McLaughlin starts her leadership of the National Center on Special Education Research with literally no money for new research grants this year, and 26 proposals rated “outstanding” or “excellent” last year still unfunded.
“I am a little crazy taking this job, but I am committed to getting this train running,” McLaughlin told the board, explaining the center is focusing on analyzing and disseminating results of existing special education research grants, many of which were awarded in 2006 and are just starting to bear fruit.
IES Director John Q. Easton noted the National Center for Education Research is back to fiscal 2012 levels and will be able to award twice as many new grants this year as last year, because some existing grants are winding down. “The R&D line here doesn’t look quite so dire,” Easton said.
Board members were not convinced. “The other way to look at it is, it feels so good when you stop banging your head against a wall,” said board member Bob Granger, noting that NCER’s $40.1 million budget in fiscal 2014 looks good compared to the post-sequester budget of $20.7 million, but it’s still little more than half of the $74.7 million the center had in fiscal 2010.
Outgoing board chairman Bridget T. Long agreed: “I don’t see a lot of good news here.”
Easton and the board agreed the Institute’s research needs more direct connections to changes in policy and practice in education—a complaint heard in both the GAO report and autumn hearings on reauthorizing the federal education research law.
“Again and again, I got the message that IES is trusted for the quality of its work, its integrity—but what I also heard again and again and again is, we need to show where the work matters and makes a difference. And that’s where we’re failing,” Easton said. “The goal of the work is to make schools better, and that’s what the folks on the Hill want to hear. ...The goal isn’t to do a [randomized controlled trial], the goal is to do research that will help us do something better.”
The board also reorganized its own leadership at the meeting on Friday, electing David Chard of Southern Methodist University as chairman and Susanna Loeb of Stanford University as vice-chairman, for two-year terms. Chard, a curriculum researcher and SMU’s dean of education and human development, took over from Long of Harvard University, while Loeb, an education professor at Stanford, took over from Kris D. Gutierrez, a literacy and learning sciences professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.