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Research Takes Center Stage At Congressional Hearing

So you've heard a lot about the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But there's this whole other law that gets much less attention: The Education Sciences Reform Act, which created the Institute for Education Sciences back in 2002.

Today, the House Education and the Workforce subcommittee on K-12 education held the first hearing on the reauthorization of ESRA, which has been pending since 2008. Sarah Sparks, of Inside School Research Fame, wrote a great preview, and tweeted the hearing.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the politics of education research aren't nearly as charged as the politics of, say, accountability. The witnesses seemed to agree that the best thing the feds can do when it comes to research is to make sure that it's accessible and understandable for school district folks, but refrain from putting major requirements on it.

Another interesting point? Lawmakers from both parties didn't seem to have too many questions about issues at the heart of ESRA. But they did focus extensively on what kind of research exists on teacher quality and teacher evaluation—which is one issue that the House Education committee still has to tackle as it works towards reauthorization of ESEA. I guess ESRA is sort of a bridesmaid of federal education laws.

Grover J. "Russ" Whitehurst, the former director of IES who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that basically, if the federal role in overseeing research isn't broken, Congress shouldn't fix it.

And he said that when Congress does get all directive about what sorts of research schools should use (as in the case of Reading First and the School Improvement Grant program) the results aren't always so fantastic.

Another witness, Caroline Hoxby, a Stanford University economics professor and a former member of the National Board for Education Sciences, IES' advisory board; suggested robust research can help the feds decide which programs to fund during tough budget times.

A key question at the hearing: Is it the federal role to get schools to use available research? One witness, Eric J. Smith, the former chief of Florida schools, said that's a state responsibility. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J.,countered that states and locals aren't stepping up to the plate on that front.

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