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Education Sector Merges with American Institutes for Research

The education policy think tank Education Sector announced today it is merging with the national research powerhouse American Institutes for Research.

"We really wanted to expand our capacity in terms of being able to do great research," said Peter W. Cookson Jr., EdSector's managing director. All eight of EdSector's staff members will join AIR, and Cookson said the group's current lines of research on higher education, teacher quality, high school culture, and educational equity, would be continued.

"We'll still have our own voice; I don't see the mission of EdSector changing dramatically," Cookson said. "I think a lot of our areas will have a natural fit with AIR."

EdSector is the latest in a string of high-profile research affiliations (the nonprofit version of merger) by AIR in recent years, including Learning Point Associates in 2010 and the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education, or CALDER, center joined a year later.

AIR and EdSector are slightly stranger bedfellows than those previous affiliations. AIR is primarily a research contractor, working with federal, state, and local governments as well as foundations on evaluations and other studies. EdSector is a Washington-based education policy think tank founded by Andrew Rotherham, now a founding partner at Bellwether Education, and Thomas Toch, now a senior managing partner at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. It has traditionally focused on policy analysis, sometimes offering sharp criticism of federal and state education policies, and, more recently, has been vocal in debates around school choice and charters. However, all of the original policy team have since left the group.

"It's like dating, and not speed-dating," said Gina Burkhardt, AIR's executive vice president and education director (who came to AIR with the Learning Associates merger). "AIR is an organization that is really focused on rigorous research, so we wanted to make sure it really was a good match. AIR is not-for-profit, non-advocacy, so we had to really make sure as we moved forward that we were continuing to maintain independence and put research out that that didn't advocate for anything but the best research."

Education Sector—now "[email protected]"—will continue to focus on public policy research, though Burkhardt said its work going forward will be have a "tighter focus" on the research and practice around policy issues, "and not this expansive conversation that EdSector has had around all these topics."

AIR is particularly interested in EdSector's ability to translate research, Burkhardt said: "There's a big push right now about this need to bridge research, policy, and practice. We wanted to make sure we went into this as an organization that could add value to this conversation." (Full disclosure: Burkhardt also sits on the board of Editorial Projects in Education, Education Week's parent organization.)

Co-founder Rotherham said he thought the affiliation was "a good move" for EdSector. "It's going to be a stable home and there is some good synergy there between some of the work AIR does and what [EdSector] does," he said, adding the move would "help translate some important findings into accessible work and allow [EdSector] to continue its ongoing work."

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