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Bill to Make Over Federal Education Research Quietly Passes the House

If you blinked you might have missed it: The U.S. House of Representatives gave quick and quiet approval to a bipartisan bill that would reauthorize the Education Science Reform Act, with an eye toward making federal K-12 research more relevant and timely for those out in the field.

The legislation also calls for new or improved collection of data on areas such as high school graduation rates, school safety, discipline, and teacher preparation and evaluation. And it would add a new focus on examining the implementation of a particular policy or strategy, not just its impact.

It also makes changes to a federal program that helps states bolster their longitudinal data systems, a hot area of policy these days. It would shift the focus of grants away from just building data systems—since most already have robust systems in place—to actually using them to improve student outcomes. The measure would also beef up privacy protections for student data, a huge issue in state legislatures this year.

The measure is one of a handful of smaller, more targeted bills that Congress has turned to after failing to pass any of the big, more politically fraught reauthorizations. (Exhibit A: a renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.) ESRA, with its focus on research, was a much easier lift, even though talks over the legislation temporarily stalled out late last year over funding disagreements. But a budget agreement smoothed the way for passage.

After that, the bill became so low-key and non-controversial that it was approved with little fanfare on the suspension calendar—the home for bills that don't require much discussion or debate. 

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., who oversees the subcommittee that deals with education spending, and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y.

"Teachers and school leaders need quality research to identify the best ways to raise student achievement, and families need information as they evaluate their education options," said Rokita in a statement after the bill's passage. "The legislation will also take steps to protect taxpayers by streamlining the education research system and improving program accountability."

[UPDATE (May 9, 1:43 p.m.] Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate education committee, is glad to see the bipartisan process  around ESRA and will carefully examine the House bill. So far, the Senate has yet to introduce its version.

"The Senate's recent passage of the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act is evidence that legislators can successfully work together on a bipartisan basis to advance education reform," said Harkin's spokeswoman, Allison Preiss. "Chairman Harkin is encouraged by similar bipartisan cooperation on ESRA legislation, and will be looking closely at the House's efforts to reauthorize this important bill."



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