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Advisory Board Approves New IES Research Priorities

The National Board for Education Sciences this afternoon unanimously approved new research priorities for the U.S. Department of Education's research arm that are intended to make education studies more relevant to educators and help practitioners become more involved in developing and using research.

The Institute of Education Sciences' topics of study won't change much under the new priorities; they include educational processes, instructional innovations and teacher recruiting, retention, training and effectiveness (adopting the stimulus bill's focus on teacher effectiveness over the older "teacher quality.") Yet the new priorities put greater emphasis on putting their research findings into context, "to identify education policies, programs, and practices that improve education outcomes, and to determine how, why, for whom, and under what conditions they are effective."

IES has set as a priority identifying new and rigorous methods to measure outcomes in education research—another nod to critics who call for the institute to broaden the scope of what it considered the highest quality research beyond randomized controlled trials. Yet IES Director John Q. Easton tweaked the final proposed priorities for in response to board members' concern that an earlier draft appeared to move away from IES's focus on rigorous experimental design studies. The final approved document includes an early confirmation that, "The Institute seeks to understand causal linkages to the greatest extent possible by conducting or sponsoring rigorous studies that support such inferences."

In light of IES' decision to accept some additional research methods as meeting the highest quality bar, board member Adam Gamoran said it is particularly important that the researchers "only subscribe causal inferences to studies with methodologies that allow it. This language addresses my concerns."

The institute will also focus on building partnerships with educators and the community to develop more "analytic capacity" at the local level—something that Mr. Easton said will be part of the next iteration of regional education laboratories, as well. Board member and superintendent Margaret R. McCleod said she "particularly appreciate[s] the fact that [IES] included in the stakeholders parents and students themselves."

The new priorities will be used to craft requests for proposals for new grant competitions in January, and Mr. Easton told the board that he will link descriptions for new grant competitions back to them.

The final priorities are not yet online but are expected to be posted here.

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