Advocates Concerned Trump Plan Will Slash Ed. Research, Unmoor Nation’s Report Card and Statistics Center

By Sarah D. Sparks — February 12, 2020 5 min read
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Education research received mixed support in the Trump Administration’s proposed fiscal 2021 budget, which would eliminate several education research programs under the Institute of Education Sciences and other agencies, as well as removing national assessments from the National Center for Education Statistics.

The changes are part of the White House’s proposed $66.6 billion budget for the Education Department in fiscal 2021, a 7.8 percent decrease from fiscal 2020. The plan would collapse 29 programs—including the mammoth Title I funding for educating children in poverty‐into one block grant funded at $4.7 billion less than the current total for the programs.

For an analysis of the full fiscal 2020 White House budget proposal for education, check out coverage by Andrew Ujifusa and Evie Blad over at Politics K-12.

Among the programs slated for consolidation are several major research grants: The proposed budget would eliminate the the $190 million education innovation and research program—the successor to the Obama-era Investing in Innovation grants which the Trump Administration unsuccessfully attempted to use for a huge investment in research on private school vouchers in 2018. It would also roll up the $55.4 million regional educational labs and the $32.3 million statewide longitudinal data system grants, which have also been on the chopping block in prior years.

“Federal investments initially made state longitudinal data systems possible—but the fact that states have built their own systems shouldn’t mean that the federal investment disappears,” said Paige Kowalski, executive vice president of the Data Quality Campaign. “The reality is that states are investing in these systems on their own because they see value in them, but opportunities to build on these systems are hard to justify in a cash-strapped state budget. It’s important to have a conversation about what the federal dollars are being used for, and removing the opportunity to use those dollars to let states innovative around the use of education data does not benefit students.”

IES Changes

Advocates expressed concern over the administration’s proposed changes to the Institute of Education Science, the independent research arm of the Education Department. The agency is slated to receive $565.4 million in fiscal 2021 under the proposal, a more than 9 percent cut from fiscal 2020. That includes flat funding for research and dissemination in general education, at $196 million, and special education, at $67.3 million.

Within IES, the National Center for Education Statistics would receive an additional $3 million, for a total of $113.5 million in fiscal 2021, to increase technical assistance on improving education data privacy. The White House would also provide $188.7 million, an increase of $28 million from fiscal 2020 for the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the set of periodic tests known as the “Nation’s Report Card.”

“I’m concerned about what appears to be bit of shoehorning in of reauthorization issues into the budget in a way that I will say I have not seen before in my life—and I’m not new to science or to science policy,” said Felice Levine, executive director of the American Educational Research Association, the nation’s largest education research professional group. She noted that IES would separate responsibility for administering the Nation’s Report Card from NCES, the statistics center, to a new assessment center.

Separating assessment from statistics would be “a little mystifying,” because NCES builds the database and uses the assessment data generated by the NAEP, Levine said. She argued major restructuring should be saved for the long-awaited reauthorization of the Education Sciences Reform Act. “I think it’s a little problematic in an appropriations request.”

It’s not the first time the Trump administration has proposed major restructuring at IES. Back in 2018, the President planned to combine the Education and Labor departments into a new Department as part of larger governmental reorganization. That proposal met a chilly response in Congress.

National Science Foundation

The Trump administration also proposed that the National Science Foundation would receive more than $7.74 billion in fiscal 2021, a 6.5 percent cut meaning, among other things, that the agency is expected to fund about 400 fewer research grants in fiscal 2021 than the 8,500 it supported in fiscal 2019.

Yet the NSF’s education and human resources directorate was less scathed than others in the department; under the White House budget, it would receive just under $931 million, or $3.6 million less than the fiscal 2019 budget. That includes about $223.5 million for the divison of research on learning in formal and informal settings, which includes several programs that support study of K-12 education.

For example, the $51.9 million STEM+Computing Partnerships would be eliminated. The program is intended to help support research to develop curricular materials, instructional strategies and other interventions that help K-12 teachers and students better integrate computing and technology into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics classes. But support for core research grants into STEM learning would more than double, from $25.7 million in fiscal 2019 to a proposed $60.8 million.

Wendy Naus, the executive director of the Consortium of Social Science Associations, said the White House’s proposal this year provides more support for social sciences research generally than it has in previous years, but voiced concern for plans for the National Science Foundation to prioritize what she called more applied research in areas such as manufacturing and artificial intelligence.

“It is hard to see how [the National Science Foundation] can support these activities while maintaining budgets for core and disciplinary research in the social sciences and education at the requested funding levels,” she said. “We remain concerned about any and all efforts to move the agency away from its basic science, curiosity-driven research mission, which has served NSF well throughout its 70-year history.”

Naus also argued that cuts to programs intended to increase the number of researchers in STEM fields from traditionally underrepresented groups could make it harder in the long run to build a more inclusive pipeline for students into STEM careers. Programs at historically black, Hispanic-serving, and tribal colleges were cut by 10 percent to 78 percent.


Do you have a question about education research, or just want to know what the evidence says about that pesky instructional problem? Let me know! Drop me a line at ssparks@epe.org, or

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