Looking to create a measure of political independence for federally financed education studies, a House subcommittee last week approved a plan to form a new national academy for education research.
If it passes both chambers, which is unlikely this year, the measure could usher in the second major overhaul of the Department of Education’s research functions in less than a decade. The department’s primary research agency, the office of educational research and improvement, was last reauthorized in 1994.
Both times around, the aim has been to improve the quality of education research and make it more accessible to educators.
“Education research is broken in our country, and Congress must work to make it more useful, more independent of political influence, and less bureaucratic than the current system,” said Rep. Michael N. Castle, the bill’s chief sponsor.
Mr. Castle, a Delaware Republican, chairs the House education committee’s Early Childhood, Youth, and Families Subcommittee, which approved the measure July 26.
The proposed academy, which would operate autonomously within the department, represents a compromise. Mr. Castle and other Republican lawmakers had favored breaking the academy out of the department altogether.
But Democrats, along with the education research community, opposed such a move. They worried that separating the research component would distance education research too far from practice—as well as from other federal education programs.
The new plan has already won support from national groups representing school administrators, school boards, and state superintendents.
But education research groups called the compromise disappointing, particularly since the bill authorizes no funding increases to go with the new structure. Currently, less than 1 percent—roughly $400 million—of the department’s budget goes for research, development, and statistics.
“If you’re not willing to put money into something like this, then you’re going to have problems ensuring capacity,” said C. Todd Jones, the president of the National Education Knowledge Industry Association, a Washington-based group representing federally funded education research laboratories as well as other research groups.
Under the subcommittee’s plan, the new academy, replacing the existing OERI, would oversee practically all of the Education Department’s research, evaluation, statistical, and information duties. Some of those functions, such as program evaluation, are housed elsewhere in the department now.
And a director, rather than an assistant secretary, would be appointed by the president to head the academy for a fixed, six-year term. To help oversee the academy, the bill would also create a national board.
Three centers would make up the academy. They are: the National Center for Education Research, the National Center for Program Evaluation, and the National Center for Education Statistics. Only the latter, the NCES, exists now.
The education research center would replace the five national research institutes created during the last reauthorization to bolster and concentrate studies in major research areas.
Besides underwriting and overseeing studies, the center’s commissioner would direct research reviews, much like those conducted by the National Research Council, that evaluate and summarize all the research in the field and identify existing gaps.
Those reviews would be carried out by existing federally financed centers.
All of the research financed by the academy would have to meet criteria set down in the proposal for “scientifically based education research,” a definition that encompasses both quantitative and qualitative studies.
Among its other changes, the proposal would also roll the Education Department’s seven regional research laboratories, its technical-assistance centers, its regional technology centers, and some of the funds from the Eisenhower Regional Mathematics and Science Education Consortia into a $118 million, regionally based block-grant program.
Under the program, governing boards in each of 10 regions around the country would decide how best to spend federal money directed their way for research and technical assistance.
Prospects for passage of the bill in this election year are uncertain. Members of the Senate have already said they have no intention of taking it up before next year.
A version of this article appeared in the August 02, 2000 edition of Education Week as House Plan Would Create Research ‘Academy’