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Next Federal Education Laboratories Will Expand Research Partnerships

The Institute of Education Sciences continued its push for more alliances between researchers and school districts as it opened its competition for the next iteration of the regional educational laboratory network this afternoon.

After years of tough budget fights over its future, the regional lab network got a mark of approval from Congress in the Every Student Succeeds Act, when it was noted as a way to bring educators and researchers together more closely.

"Because we know that high-quality research can contribute to improved education outcomes, we are serious about supporting decision makers so that they can effectively engage with and use research," said Ruth Neild, IES' acting director. "The REL program is an investment in bridging education research and practice. Our vision is the new REL program will continue the current emphasis on partnership and rigor and apply these to high-leverage problems across the country."

The 10 regional labs are now operating 79 alliances between researchers, teachers, and education policymakers. For example, several labs have created a research alliance around educator effectiveness: 

The next group of regional labs will be expected to continue and expand these alliances, including with professional organizations that support teachers, principals, and other school officials. It wants the alliances to confront what IES calls "high-leverage education problems" prioritized by local education officials which "if addressed, could result in substantial improvements in education outcomes for many students or for key subgroups of students." 

In a new analysis in the journal Education Researcher, Cynthia Coburn of Northwestern University and William Penuel of the University of Colorado at Boulder argue that for all the federal investment in creating these partnerships, there has not been enough research on when and how they best work. "Existing research tends to focus on the challenges, providing little insight into how tools, strategies, and routines used by participants address those challenges," they wrote.    

All of the labs except REL Southwest will be selected this fall, to begin next January; the Southwest lab is 11 months behind the others because of a protest during the last grant competition that delayed its start. Each contract will run five years.


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