President Bush has proposed a $375.9 million budget for the Department of Education’s new Institute of Education Sciences. To outsiders at least, it seems to be strong on focused, long-term research, but skimpy on routes for getting it into schools.
“It’s kind of a one-step dance, when two steps are required,” said Gerald R. Sroufe, the government-relations director for the American Educational Research Association, based here. “We have to recognize that even brilliant research doesn’t automatically get translated into education policy.”
The $185 million that the administration is proposing to spend in fiscal 2004 for research, development, and dissemination represents a $10 million increase over Mr. Bush’s budget proposal last year.
Much of the new money would be discretionary spending to underwrite a variety of strategically focused research programs, some new and some already in place. They include research on improving teacher quality, on reducing behavior problems in school and developing character in children, and on effective reading and mathematics instruction.
The budget also sets aside another $2 million to further expand the forthcoming What Works Clearinghouse, a project aimed at rating educational products and practices on the scientific merit of their effectiveness claims and gathering the results into an easily accessible database for consumers.
On the other hand, the budget would “zero out” the $67.5 million that now supports regional education laboratories, which provide expert advice and development and dissemination services in 10 geographic areas.
Gone, too, would be the $28 million now spent for the comprehensive- assistance centers, which also offer technical expertise to schools and districts. Authority for those entities, however, has since moved to other offices in the department, according to department officials.
The president does, however, call for keeping the same level of support for the Educational Resources Information Center, or ERIC, clearinghouses, which collect, distribute, and analyze information on a variety of subjects, such as rural schools and small schools.
Up to the States
Despite the proposed changes, Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the institute’s director and the former assistant secretary of the research office that preceded it, said the budget proposals do not represent a shift in departmental priorities.
“There are a lot of funds in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that are directed toward technical assistance,” Mr. Whitehurst said, “and the general position is that the states are in a better position than the federal government is to take what’s available to them for technical assistance and purchase what they need with the money.”
Disappointed supporters of the regional-lab system argued the timing for the proposed cuts was bad, coming as states are looking for more guidance to meet the new requirements laid down in the most recent revision of the ESEA, the “No Child Left Behind” Act of 2001.
“We are particularly surprised that the administration would repudiate Congress, as well as its own purported goals for education reform and scientifically based research in education,” said Jim Kohlmoos, the president of the National Education Knowledge Industry Association, a Washington-based group that includes the federal labs among its members.
He and others also noted that some of the proposed budget recommendations run counter to language in the Education Sciences Reform Act, the 2002 federal law that created the new federal research institute.
It’s likely, observers said, that the Congress may restore some of the programs targeted for elimination before a final research spending plan is approved for the 2004 budget.