On March 31, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) released recommendations for the Future of Education Research at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). NASEM convened an expert committee, at the request of IES, to assess and inform practices at the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research.
The committee addressed three core areas:
- critical problems where new research is needed
- new methods or approaches for conducting research
- new types of research training investments
The committee used, as a starting point, the goals and directives included in the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 (ESRA), which created IES. Notably, the report includes a focus on equity across recommendations and throughout the Institute’s programs and initiatives.
“ESRA puts equity issues front and center, calling on NCER and NCSER to support research that ensures all children have access to a high-quality education and to close the achievement gap between high-performing and low-performing students… Simply put, a great majority of the issues facing IES and the entire education and education research enterprise are fundamentally problems of equity. Thus, all of the report’s recommendations need to be seen through the lens of equity.”
The committee proposed five revised project types for NCER and NCSER research grants:
- Discovery and Needs Assessment
- Development and Adaptation
- Impact and Heterogeneity
- Knowledge Mobilization
According to the report, these categories would allow for a more equitable approach that more accurately reflects the needs of communities, educators, and learners, thereby improving the usefulness and usability of research.
IES maintains a focus on implementation of research findings, most notably through the Regional Education Laboratory (REL) program. The committee sought to double down on this approach, emphasizing knowledge mobilization to effectively translate research findings from the lab to the classroom in a way that works in a range of given contexts.
The report also offered recommendations for additional topic areas for research grants. Importantly, the committee called for allowing the use of outcomes beyond the student level (classroom, school, institution, district) as the primary outcome when assessing proposals. For example, research pertaining to teacher education, a topic which currently receives inadequate support.
Methods and Designs
In order to accelerate progress in the research supported by IES, the committee recommends additional investments in research on methods and designs in emerging areas such as the use of big data. Additionally, the report suggests a focus on measurement research:
- expanding the range of student outcome measures
- developing and validating measures at levels other than the student level
- developing and validating measures related to educational equity
- using technology to develop new approaches and tools for measurement.
Along these lines, the report calls on the Institute to develop indicators of success for training, collect them from programs, and make this information publicly available.
The report recommends that IES review and fund grants more quickly, partially by reintroducing two application cycles per year.
It also calls on IES to regularly collect and publish disaggregated data on the racial, ethnic, gender, disciplinary, and institutional backgrounds of applicants and funded researchers, as well as the composition of review panels and study samples. This would allow the Institute to monitor its commitment to equity and make necessary adjustments. FABBS is particular interested in this recommendation, and is something we will push for across federal research funding agencies.
In its report, the committee recognized that IES will need increased funding to fully carry out all of these recommendations.
Fortunately, IES received a meaningful increase in funding for fiscal year 2022. FABBS will continue to work with our partners, as members of the Friends of IES, to ensure that Congress does not treat this as a one-time boost and instead supports the long-term growth that the Institute needs to make a difference in education research. The Friends of IES recently wrote to Congress requesting $815 million, a 10 percent rise, for IES in fiscal year 2023.