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Long-Running Educational Research Service to 'Wind Down'

Rumors of trouble at the Educational Research Service have been percolating for years, but it looks like things are finally coming to a head: Chief Executive Officer John Draper confirmed that the ERS board is meeting next Tuesday to vote to "wind down operations" at the nearly 40-year-old research group.

The seeds of ERS began in the 1930s, as part of the National Education Association's research department. "In the early '70s, when administrator groups became uncomfortable in the teachers' associations and withdrew, we went with the administrators because at the time they were putting a greater emphasis on research," Draper said.

ERS launched as an independent research service in 1973 with support from the American Association of School Administrators, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, among others. The subscription-based group saw its heyday in the 1980s and early 1990s, before the advent of the Internet, when research and data had to be painstakingly hand-compiled and analyzed. It was one of the first groups providing in-depth custom research and analysis for school districts, on such perennial education debates as class size, school grade structure and single-sex education, among others.

An annual salary and wage study—conducted since the group first started during the rise of major teacher collective-bargaining agreements—remains the group's flagship publication. "The ERS salary and wage study was and is a key piece of research, particularly for those states that have collective bargaining," Draper said.

Yet ERS has seen its district subscription base shrink steadily as research and school data moved online, Draper told me. "We explored several opportunities or options for trying to reinvent the organization, but technology was not our strength and we just weren't able to translate the subscription design into a valid continuing business model," he said. "We've been based on the concept that school districts would subscribe to get regular information sent to them as it became available. That model is just not as valid as it used to be."

"There's so much available now. The whole information management system has changed," he said. "If you want to know something now you go to Google and type it in; you don't wait to see if a report is coming out next month." Yet, he added, "I still think there's a niche for a filtering of information; just because you have a whole lot of information doesn't mean it's good information or valid information."

The Alexandria, Va.-based group has already moved out of its regular offices. It expects to complete its current projects and wrap up by the end of November. ERS has already made arrangements to donate its massive research library to the U.S. Department of Education, and is in negotiations with several organizations to take over its periodical reports, such as the quarterly ERS Spectrum and the Informed Educator series.

"We hope if the final decision is made to wind down that some of our services and decades of research will be continued by other organizations," Draper said.

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