School & District Management

New Regional Education Research Labs Expand Partnerships for ESSA Support

By Sarah D. Sparks — December 23, 2016 4 min read
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The Every Student Succeeds Act’s focus on using research in education has “breathed new life” into the federal regional education laboratory network, which awarded new contracts this morning.

The nine five-year contracts are not forward-funded, and with a new administration and a history of uncertain budgets in Congress, it’s likely the new labs will have to prove themselves fast to stay afloat. But the new iteration of the regional labs expand the variety of technical assistance and research partnerships the labs can provide. Research partnerships have proven popular with states and districts in recent years; more than 80 so-called research alliances have been launched nationwide in the last five years.

“What I see happening in the education field now is people taking seriously, and realizing how hard it is, to bridge research and practice. ESSA sort of elevated that,” said Ruth Curran Neild, the delegated director of the Institute of Education Sciences, the Education Department’s research agency, which supervises the regional labs. “To me, that makes the role of the RELs and the promise of the RELs more important and more exciting.”

Also, while the 2012-2017 contracts for the labs included a separate contract to coordinate their work, each of the labs this time will be responsible for coordinating work on a particular topic, from developing tools to help educators conduct their own research studies to developing partnerships and measures of students’ kindergarten readiness and social-emotional learning.

New Lab Contracts Awarded

The new roster of labs include two newcomers. The regional lab for Appalachia, which covers Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, will move from the current grantee CNA to Deborah Jonas at SRI International. Jonas previously founded and led Virginia’s College and Career Readiness Initiative, which developed indicators to measure students’ enrollment and persistence in higher education; the lab will be the focus center for high school completion.

Likewise, the Mid-Atlantic regional lab—which covers Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia, will move from Maryland-based ICF International to Mathematica Policy Research, under Brian Gill. Gill is a national expert on principal evaluation and charter schools, including leading the first nationwide evaluation of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) charter network. The Mid-Atlantic lab will coordinate “training and supporting excellent educators.”

Another seven regional lab contracts will continue with those who run them now:

  • REL Central, which covers Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, will stay with the Colorado-based Marzano Research, under Terri Martin. It will coordinate rural education research.
  • REL Midwest, which covers Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, will stay with the American Institutes for Research, under Julie Kochanek. It will coordinate work on collaborative research partnerships, Neild said: “These research partnerships are such a new way of doing research and there is such a lot of learning that needs to happen by researchers and practitioners on how to do this well.”
  • REL Northeast and Islands, which covers Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont, & the Virgin Islands, will stay with the Education Development Center, under Jill Weber. It will coordinate research on English-language learners.
  • REL Northwest, which covers Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, will stay with Education Northwest, under Christopher Mazzeo. It will coordinate work on postsecondary readiness and success.
  • REL Pacific—which covers American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia (Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap), Guam, Hawaii, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau—will be run by Phillip Herman at the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) International. It will coordinate work on social-emotional learning.
  • REL Southeast, which covers Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina, will be led by Barbara Foorman of Florida State University. It will coordinate work on school readiness.
  • REL West, which includes Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah, will be led by Nikola Filby of WestEd. It will coordinate work on using evidence in education—another critical focus during ESSA implementation, Neild said.

The only regional lab which has yet to be awarded is for REL Southwest, which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. That lab is 11 months off the cycle of the rest of the labs, as a result of a dispute in the 2011 contract competition. It’s now run by SEDL, the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory, which is affiliated with the American Institutes of Research.

The new labs will begin January 3.


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