To the Editor:
I found the statement attributed to Bridget Terry Long in “House Panelists Question Relevancy of Education Dept. Research” (Sept. 18, 2013) deliciously ironic.
Faced with congressional concerns regarding the lack of translation of research, Ms. Long, who chairs the National Board for Education Sciences, said the Institute of Education Sciences—which her board advises—will launch a center to evaluate how well research is being translated into usable knowledge. As the philosopher George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Here the ies is revealing a woeful lack of knowledge regarding the system of RD&D (research, development, and dissemination) established when the U.S. Department of Education was founded in 1979. Those core components included national research centers, focused on priorities deemed critical for improving education, and regional educational laboratories (RELs), tasked with taking research results, developing appropriate materials reflecting those results, and disseminating those materials to educators and policymakers at the state and local levels.
The RELs carried out this mission of translation in response to priorities set by their regional governing boards. RELs conducted regular evaluations of the relevance and quality of their work in the eyes of their customers, that is, the individuals responsible for educational policy and practice.
The work of the RELs changed in the mid-2000s; new contracts required them to emphasize the conduct of research more than its translation and dissemination. And now the IES wants a center to evaluate how well research is being translated?
What the IES should do instead is restore the REL program to its original function. By my estimates, that work, funded annually at approximately $50 million, could drive improvements in practices supported by the Education Department at more than $21 billion annually.
The writer is a former division director for the regional-education-lab program.
A version of this article appeared in the October 16, 2013 edition of Education Week as At Education Sciences Institute, History is Repeating Itself