Hints Dropped on Direction for U.S. Education Research

By Debra Viadero — June 09, 2009 2 min read
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John Q. Easton, the new director of the Ed Department’s Institute of Education Sciences, used his first major public appearance yesterday to broadly outline some of his plans for the research agency over the next six years.

Easton, who began his term as IES director on June 1, is the former director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research, an independent research group that studies school reforms in Chicago. And, as might be predicted, he said he expects to bring some of the principles that guided the consortium to his new gig at the department.

“We know IES sponsors top-notch research,” he told participants at the annual IES research conference. “I think our greater challenge is in working better with practitioners and policymakers to make schools places where students learn more and have greater opportunities for success in life.”

Easton said the IES, like the consortium, plans to work toward building the capacity of practitioners and policymakers to use data and research and to make the agency’s work transparent and openly available.

He also made a pitch for integrating results from studies across fields to “provide the guidance the field wants to hear” and synthesizing the “major learnings” from the studies the IES has funded over the past several years.

Easton wasn’t the only Ed Department official to make a policy address at the June 7-9 conference. His boss, Arne Duncan, talked about building better longitudinal data systems, which, he says, are the first of four “assurances” that are built into the federal economic-stimulus law. For more on what he had to say, see the description of the speech by my colleague Michele McNeil in Politics K-12.

Conference-goers also heard from Jon Baron, the vice chairman of the National Board for Education Sciences, which advises Easton’s agency. As executive director of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, which promotes the use of rigorous experiments, Baron represents a bit of the old guard at the IES. But he used his time in the pulpit to put forth a new idea as to why so many of the randomized controlled trials that the agency funded failed to turn up findings of positive effects.

“Perhaps the process does not give sufficient attention to innovative, practitioner-generated ideas,” he said, noting that, in welfare reform, the models that yielded the most promising outcomes in experimental studies were those that came from the field.

I bet there are more than a few teachers out there who would say “amen” to that—or perhaps “I told you so.”

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