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ESEA Proposal Could Change Research Role in Education Planning

By Sarah D. Sparks — January 14, 2015 1 min read
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Cross-posted from Inside School Research.

The latest proposal to overhaul federal education law would shift some of the burden from local and state educators to prove their education plans align with the best education research to federal officials to prove that research is strongly against a local plan.

In what seems to be part of a bigger push to give more control over accountability to state and local education agencies throughout, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander’s proposed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act would require that if the federal Education Department wants to reject a state’s consolidated accountability plan or waiver request, for example, it must provide “a body of substantial, high-quality education research that clearly demonstrates that the state’s plan does not meet the requirements of [the law] and is likely to be ineffective or is inappropriate for its intended purposes.” Moreover, these seem to be required to counter specific provisions in a state plan or request that would need to be changed.

Moreover, the draft bill would require a state to use the same “substantial, high-quality education research” justification to deny local school districts’ improvement plans.

This is interesting, particularly as research in general doesn’t get a lot of play in the 400-page draft released Tuesday by the Republican Senate education committee chairman. The No Child Left Behind Act called for “scientifically based research” more than 100 times, raising concerns that the definition was interpreted to focus too exclusively on so-called “gold standard” randomized controlled trials. The current proposal, by contrast, mentions research less than two dozen times, and uses the broader “scientifically valid research,” which “includes applied research, basic research, and field-initiated research in which the rationale, design, and interpretation are soundly developed. ..."—or simply asks for “evidence” in programs and plans.

It’s not yet clear how much research on either side will be sufficient to make a case that a planned education initiative would be effective or ineffective, but at least evidence of things that don’t work might be more useful for policymakers going forward.

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