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The Role of Research in Obama's Blueprint for ESEA

In 2001, the last time the Congress voted to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, much was made of the fact that the resulting law included the phrase "scientifically based research" more than 100 times.

Research gets far fewer mentions, though, in the blueprint that President Obama released on March 13 for updating the federal government's landmark education law. Of course, a federal law and a blueprint for a federal law are not the same thing. No one would expect a broad outline to include so many mentions of research. But it's clear from the blueprint that research, or the reforming of research, is not at the top of the administration's agenda this time around.

That's not to say that it doesn't get any mention at all. One of the blueprint's "crosscutting priorities," in fact, is a call for putting evidence-based programs, projects, or strategies first in line for federal funding.

The plan also calls on the nation's lowest-performing schools to use effective, research-based strategies, along with with other turnaround strategies, and it promises competitive grants to enable consortia of states to research, develop, or improve assessments in a wide range of areas, including science, history, and foreign languages; high school career and technical subjects; and tests for English-learners and students with disabilities.

The outline also recommends expanding and making permanent the Investing in Innovation, or i3, program that the department created with $650 million in economic-stimulus funds. That program, which is just getting under way, uses a three-tiered evidence framework that will direct the biggest grants to the programs with the strongest evidence.

By the same token, though, the blueprint also advocates some strategies for which the research evidence is either mixed or sparse. (Then again, you could say that about a lot of programs and strategies in education.)

Here's what the Knowledge Alliance, a Washington group that represents research organizations, had to say about the plan:

The proposal's many powerful and, for some, controversial ideas should be viewed and critiqued through the lens of research-based evidence. In the coming weeks and months we urge Congress and stakeholders alike to carefully consider the best available empirical evidence on such challenging issues ... as accountability, assessments, teacher quality, school improvement, and innovation.

Will research figure prominently in the Congressional debate over ESEA? Stay tuned.

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