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Research Budgets Face Uncertain Future

K-12 education research faces an uncertain budget picture, even as President Barack Obama calls for greater investment in the field in the fiscal year 2012 budget proposal.

The White House proposal for fiscal 2012 research seems fairly positive. It would include $8 million for rehabilitation and independence training research programs and a small bump for general disability research, from $109.2 million to $110.5 million, in part to create two new model projects dealing with traumatic brain injury and burns. The proposal would provide $760.5 million for education research through the Institute of Education Sciences, a $101.5 million bump up from the 2011 continuing resolution levels. That includes:

  • A 30 percent increase for research, development and dissemination programs, to $260 million, primarily to evaluate interventions to improve college completion and the Promise Neighborhoods program.
  • A more than 70 percent, or $41.8 million boost, to $100 million, in grants to help states build their longitudinal student databases. State governors and school chiefs have pledged to have in place all 10 of the Data Quality Campaign's essential criteria for these databases by this September.
  • Increases of $8.5 million for Statistics (to $117 million) and $5 million for assessment (to $144 million), to support more long-term trend research on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as the Nation's Report Card and a new National Center for Education Statistics study on associate's degree, certificate, and other sub-baccalaureate education for adults.
  • As resident budget-maven Alyson Klein reported over at Politics K-12, the House Republican leaders put out their plan for the fiscal 2011 continuing resolution, complete with $4.9 billion in cuts from the U.S. Department of Education's $63.7 billion fiscal 2010 budget. Among those, the proposed continuing resolution would zero out the country's regional education labs system, apparently making permanent what education-watchers thought was simply a technical glitch in the last continuing resolution spending bill passed in December; the White House's budget proposal would fix the glitch and award new regional lab contracts. That sets the stage for "big fights ahead," according to Jim Kohlmoos, the president of the Washington-based Knowledge Alliance, which represents the labs and other research groups.

    The GOP plan would also eliminate the $180 million Math and Science Partnerships program, half of twin research programs in the Education Department and National Science Foundation on effective science and math instruction. The House CR would also slash the $271.6 million Fund for the Improvement of Education to $27.3 million — gutting the fund just as President Obama hopes to use it to add a new $90 million advanced education research agency modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

    In a Congressional briefing on Monday sponsored by the American Educational Research Association, experts said uncertain funding streams pieced together from federal and foundation money can hobble long-term research projects like the University of Wisconsin-Madison's decade-long studies at the Value-Added Research Center.

    "As a nation we haven't done well in looking at the infrastructure for research," such as developing assessment tools or procedures that can be used across multiple studies, said John W. Fantuzzo, human relations professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who tracks public health and family risks that can interfere with students' academic achievement.

    Long-term research projects often get delayed or cut off in mid-cycle by changes in funding, he said, which forces researchers to scramble first for additional money and then to regain connections with districts or students participating in the suspended study. "You're in a position where you are just barely hanging on to maintain the quality of your research relationships," he said.

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