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School & District Management

Update: Support Builds for ARPA-Ed in ESEA Reauthorization

By Sarah D. Sparks — October 21, 2011 1 min read
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Correction: I was behind the times! Thanks to @LaurenJGibbs for the update.

Plans to create an Advanced Research Projects Agency-Education, or ARPA-Ed, passed by voice vote during markup of a proposed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and outside support seems to be building for the project modeled on the cutting-edge research group within the U.S. Department of Defense known as DARPA.

U.S. Sen. Michael F. Bennet, D-Colo., introduced an amendment to the bill, voted out of the Senate education committee on Thursday, which created a set-aside within the Investing in Innovation grant program to develop ARPA-Ed. The amendment was later passed by a voice vote. (CSPAN has video, with the leadup to the vote starting at 33:00 in Part 4).

It seems ARPA-Ed has some legs. A coalition of more than 30 education organizations and policy-watchers sent a letter to Senate education committee leaders Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., urging them to include ARPA-Ed to “pursue ‘high risk, high payoff’ research” in education.

“We know that the academic performance of our nation’s children lags those of other high-performing nations, and we are in danger of losing our competitive edge as the most innovative, entrepreneurial nation on earth,” wrote the advocates, who included the Alliance for Excellent Education and Robert Balfanz, director of the Baltimore-based Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.

“The creation of ARPA-Ed will provide an opportunity for us to dream big ideas, experiment to test our most radical hypotheses, and implement those that prove effective. Our economic vitality depends upon it,” they concluded.

You can read the full letter in support of ARPA-Ed for yourself.

So, what do you think, dear readers? It does seem as though education research is already moving rapidly toward a focus on identifying and scaling up best practices and interventions, both through i3 and other programs. Is a “high-risk, high-reward” project like ARPA-Ed worth the $90 million budget originally proposed in President Barack Obama’s 2012 budget plan? Maybe most of all, considering that other attempts to replicate DARPA, such as for the Energy Department, have had mixed results, do you think the model could work for education?

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