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IES Plans Major Study of Stimulus Spending

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A big criticism so far of the U.S. Department of Education's proposals for spending economic-stimulus dollars has been that they don't include a strong evaluation component. How can we learn from all those government-subsidized efforts to turn around failing schools, open up charter schools, build longitudinal data systems, and institute merit-pay programs for teachers and principals if we don't study them? The fear is that the nation will never again have an opportunity like this to study so much experimentation going on in so many places.

Well, it turns out the department is planning to seriously study those efforts after all. In an interview yesterday, the department's research czar, John Q. Easton, told me his agency is developing a multilayered, crosscutting, multimethod study of states' stimulus-powered reform efforts.

"We have what I think is a pretty cool plan for a comprehensive and integrated evaluation across the different programs," he said, "and I think that's really the kind of approach that we need to do this, rather than doing a lot of splintered evaluations."

The idea, he said, is to first track what states are doing with their grants and then build evaluations around the strategies that states choose, rather than around specific federal programs. He said the evaluation will also employ a range of research tools, including some randomized controlled trials and case studies.

Details are still sketchy. The department plans to post a public notice about the evaluation in the next few months, though, and award research contracts by June so that researchers can be in schools by the fall. The study will be financed with funds from the IES's appropriation and other sources.

"We're going to learn from this," Easton continued. "We're going to learn on a fast time line. We're going to identify what looks promising and what looks problematic, and we're going to learn from the field as they're doing this work."

Interested in reading more about how research figures—or doesn't figure—in the department's school reform plans? See my story in EdWeek next week.

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This is terrific news! Bravo to John Easton and the Department for this very critical initiative. Another step that should be taken is to ensure that the specific approaches that will be used by states and districts have an evidence base at the front end. The ARRA funded interventions need to be imbedded in a research and development framework that serves both as a catalyst for innovation and as a tool for developing new knowledge through evaluation.

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  • Jim Kohlmoos: This is terrific news! Bravo to John Easton and the read more