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Ruth Neild to Step Down as Head of Education Department's Research Agency

Ruth Curran Neild, who has served as delegated director of the Institute of Education Sciences since John Easton left in 2015, has given her own notice today: Neild will leave to become director of the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium on Jan. 17.

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Her departure comes at a time of major change for the Education Department's research agency. While all but one of its research centers have returned to their pre-sequester budget levels, the demand for education research, and particularly evidence of effective education interventions, has started to gear up in the wake of new evidence requirements in the Every Student Succeeds Act. And much of the agency's leadership is also in flux. Joy Lesnick,  who was the acting commissioner of the National Center on Education Evaluation, has also left for Philadelphia; she will be the new director for research, policy and practice the city's school district as of Jan. 9.

Thomas Brock, the commissioner for the National Center for Education Research, will step in as acting IES director in addition to his own role until the next administration names replacements, both for Neild and other leaders of the agency. Audrey Pendleton, the associate commissioner for evaluation, will step into Lesnick's role as acting commissioner of the NCEE. Peggy Carr is serving as the acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics and Joan McLaughlin serves as the commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research.

Neild said she was proudest of the research agency's push into better communications and social media outreach during her brief term as director. IES is rolling out updated versions of its Web site and the What Works Clearinghouse that are intended to make it easier for practitioners to find relevant studies.

"I think the thing to know about IES is, as a science agency, people there are really trying hard to be both scientifically rigorous and very relevant. There's an enormous amount of creativity and people who are excited about the work," Neild said.

Neild said it will be up to the new permanent IES director to set research priorities, but, "I have an expectation ... because IES is nonpartisan and independent, there are a lot of things that will continue just as they have in the past. The research and reports will keep coming out as they have been—non-slanted, non-ideological—because that's what IES is and what it is called to do in the law," Neild said. "My hope is there continues to be a focus on knowledge utilization, how knowledge can inform practice in a lot of different strategies ... which I think ESSA will really push."

Going Home

The move takes Neild back to her primary research city. Before joining IES, she was a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. She previously worked with the nonprofit Research for Action on a series of studies on teacher recruitment and retention in the city, before becoming a research fellow at John Hopkins University's Center for the Social Organization of Schools.

The consortium, an initiative of Research for Action, is a research partnership among the city's district and charter public schools, as well as Temple University, Drexel University, and the University of Pennsylvania. It's one of several city-based education research groups that have formed in the last decade, in part thanks to the federal research-practice partnership grants championed by Neild and Easton.

"Ruth has deep roots in Philadelphia," said Kate Shaw, Research for Action's executive director, in a statement. "We are excited to welcome her back to RFA, and to Philadelphia."  

Photo: Ruth Curran Neild, who took the helm at the Institute of Education Sciences in 2015, will leave the research agency around mid-month. Source: Jared Soares for Education Week

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