Federal

Top U.S. Education Research Officials to Step Down

By Sean Cavanagh — October 10, 2008 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Two of the federal government’s top education research officials are planning to leave their posts to take jobs at private Washington organizations where they will focus on school policy.

Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the director of the Institute of Education Sciences, the main research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, has agreed to take a position at the Brookings Institution, beginning next year.

And Mark S. Schneider, who served as commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, a research and data-crunching agency that is part of the IES, has said he is moving on to the American Institutes for Research, a job he will begin within weeks.

The end of any presidential term traditionally is marked by a wave of departures of high-ranking government officials for jobs in the private sector, and so in that sense, the two researchers’ exits were to be expected.

Both Mr. Whitehurst and Mr. Schneider came to the federal government as widely published scholars from the same institution, the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Both have pressed for strong methodological approaches to data, observers have said, and have a reputation for keeping their agencies’ work free of ideological bias.

Mr. Whitehurst, whose term expires next month, will become the director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, a Washington think tank. He will take over that post from Tom Loveless, who said in an interview that he had planned for some time to relinquish his role as director and continue at Brookings as a senior fellow.

Public Access

Mr. Whitehurst declined to comment in detail on the transition to Brookings. He did say he was proud of his agency’s work.

“I want to focus on my present job,” said Mr. Whitehurst, adding, “There’s been a tremendous amount of attention paid to education research over the last seven or eight years, and the IES has played a significant role in that.”

At the IES, Mr. Whitehurst spearheaded the Bush administration’s drive to transform education into an evidence-based field, not unlike medicine—an effort that both spurred debate and raised the profile of education research nationally. Illustrative of that undertaking was the What Works Clearinghouse, an online resource established by the IES to vet the research track records of programs, policies, and practices used in schools.

BRIC ARCHIVE

Under Mr. Whitehurst’s tenure, the agency also dramatically increased the number of randomized controlled studies financed by the department, strengthened its peer-review process, and created fellowships to nurture top research talent.

BRIC ARCHIVE

Whitehurst was originally nominated by President Bush in 2001 to direct the Department of Education’s office of educational research and improvement. When Congress eliminated that office as part of the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002, Mr. Whitehurst was named director of the IES.

Lawmakers created the institute with the idea that it would foster “scientifically based” research on school improvement, free of political interference.

“Russ provided strong and enlightened leadership during a period of transformation in the federal education R&D enterprise,” said James W. Kohlmoos, the president of the Knowledge Alliance, a Washington-based group that represents both government-funded and independent research groups. “He was able to inject a new level of rigor and quality into educational research.”

Mr. Loveless concurred. “He’s put IES and education policy research on the right path,” he said of Mr. Whitehurst, calling him “a critical reader of research in the best sense of the term.”

Mr. Schneider was nominated by President Bush to fill the NCES post in 2005, and his term was to expire next June. As NCES commissioner, Mr. Schneider sought to make federal education research more digestible and useful to the public, in both published reports and through his agency’s Web site.

During Mr. Schneider’s tenure, for example, the NCES launched the online College Navigator site, which allows visitors to search for postsecondary schools by cost and location; and Quick Stats, designed to enable visitors to easily search for and parse education data. He also oversaw the release of several major reports, including a federal study of states’ widely divergent standards for judging students’ academic proficiency. (State Tests, NAEP Often a Mismatch, June 13, 2007.)

Mr. Schneider, 61, will serve as a vice president at the American Institutes for Research and lead special initiatives in the education, human development, and workforce division, the nonprofit organization said.

“It was an opportunity that was just too good to turn down,” Mr. Schneider said in an interview. “I’ve always been impressed with the quality of the work at air. The atmosphere is collegial and cordial, and it’s a wonderful place to work.”

Academic Background

Mr. Whitehurst said in a statement sent to IES employees that Stuart Kerachsky, who is currently the deputy commissioner, will become acting commissioner of the NCES.

As part of his duties as NCES commissioner, Mr. Schneider has overseen a number of contracts with the air, which total about $22 million for the most recent fiscal year, air officials said. Both Mr. Schneider and air officials said he will work in a division that does not deal with NCES contracts and will not handle any contracts with the agency. Mr. Schneider said he has also cleared the move with federal officials to make sure it complies with ethics policies.

Mr. Schneider won praise from observers during his tenure for keeping the statistics agency’s work free of an ideological taint. In 2006, in fact, Mr. Schneider said the NCES should not have initiated a study that showed public school students outperforming private school students, because the work, while of high quality, had relied on subjective statistical methods. (Federal Statistics Commissioner Questions NCES Involvement in Private vs. Public School Study, Aug. 10, 2006.)

Jane Hannaway, the director of the education policy center at the Urban Institute, a Washington research institution, said Mr. Schneider’s scholarly background was evident in his ability to work with researchers. Ms. Hannaway also directs a center at the Urban Institute that receives IES funding.

“All the major data sets are getting turned around more quickly and getting presented to the public more quickly,” she said. “He understands what the important questions are, and he’s able to assess where the available information is good and where it’s lacking.”

Associate Editor Debra Viadero contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the October 15, 2008 edition of Education Week as Top Officials Stepping Down From U.S. Ed. Dept.’s Research Arm

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal One of Kamala Harris' First Campaign Speeches Will Be to Teachers
Vice President Kamala Harris will speak to the nation's second-largest teachers' union at its convention in Houston.
1 min read
Vice President Kamala Harris campaigns for President as the presumptive Democratic candidate during an event at West Allis Central High School, Tuesday, July 23, 2024, in West Allis, Wis.
Vice President Kamala Harris campaigns during an event at West Allis Central High School in West Allis, Wis., on Tuesday, July 23, 2024. Harris will speak at the American Federation of Teachers convention on Thursday, July 25.
Kayla Wolf/AP
Federal AFT's Randi Weingarten on Kamala Harris: 'She Has a Record of Fighting for Us'
The union head's call to support Kamala Harris is one sign of Democratic support coalescing around the vice president.
5 min read
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, speaks at the organization's annual conference in Houston on July 22, 2024.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, speaks at the organization's biennial conference in Houston on July 22, 2024. She called on union members to support Vice President Kamala Harris the day after President Joe Biden ended his reelection campaign.
via AFT Livestream
Federal Biden Drops Out of Race and Endorses Kamala Harris to Lead the Democratic Ticket
The president's endorsement of Harris makes the vice president the most likely nominee for the Democrats.
3 min read
President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference July 11, 2024, on the final day of the NATO summit in Washington.
President Joe Biden speaks at a news conference July 11, 2024, on the final day of the NATO summit in Washington. He announced Sunday that he was dropping out of the 2024 presidential race and endorsing Vice President Kamala Harris as his replacement for the Democratic nomination.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal What We Know About Kamala Harris' K-12 Record, and Other Potential Biden Replacements
Harris is the frontrunner for the top of the ticket. A look at her record on K-12, along with those of other Democratic contenders.
8 min read
Vice President Kamala Harris embraces President Joe Biden after a speech on healthcare in Raleigh, N.C., March. 26, 2024. President Joe Biden dropped out of the 2024 race for the White House on Sunday, July 21, ending his bid for reelection following a disastrous debate with Donald Trump that raised doubts about his fitness for office just four months before the election.
Vice President Kamala Harris embraces President Joe Biden after a speech on health care in Raleigh, N.C., on March 26, 2024. Biden on Sunday announced he wouldn't run for reelection and endorsed Harris as his replacement.
Matt Kelley/AP