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The New IES: Reading the Tea Leaves

It could be weeks, even months, before the U.S. Senate confirms nominee John Easton as director of the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. The lull in leadership at the nation's top education research agency leaves Washingtonians to engage in their favorite armchair sport: reading tea leaves. What direction, they wonder, will the institute take under the new regime?

One insightful reading came last week from Mark Schneider, a vice president of the American Institutes for Research. As the former commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which is part of IES, Schneider is someone who actually knows what he's talking about. In last Friday's Education Gadfly—in case you missed it—he offers a unique insiders' roadmap to some of the areas where change is most likely to occur under Easton's watch.

He suggests keeping an eye, in particular, on the regional education laboratories, or RELs, that the institute operates around the country.

Under their current contracts, the RELs have been instructed to conduct RCTs [randomized controlled trials] and much of their autonomy and regional responsiveness has been curtailed. That has led some lab staff and constituents to complain that their ability to address the needs of state and local education agencies has been weakened and that they have been forced to sacrifice relevance on the altar of rigor.

According to Schneider, the Consortium on Chicago School Research, the research group that Easton currently heads at the University of Chicago, offers an alternate model for the labs—one that is rooted in the needs of the local community and involves practitioners and policymakers. And the labs' contracts, he notes, are due to be re-competed in about a year.

The former statistics commissioner also recommends watching the institute's 13 national research-and-development centers.

Will he [Easton] establish processes that align the work of the R&D centers with that of the RELs and build a coordinated system whereby research-based tools and resources get to practitioners in usable forms?
.

You can read the full text here. In the meantime, at Flypaper, Mike Petrilli puts in another pitch for the Fordham Institute's call for making research and development the engine of federal education policy.

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