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Research and Education Reform: Roles for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement Executive Summary The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences was asked to examine how federally sponsored education research might better contribute to improving education throughout the nation. A multi-disciplinary committee of 15 distinguished scientists and education experts was assembled to undertake the study. The committee was asked to evaluate the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), explore other federal research agencies that might provide models for OERI; and briefly review the nation's entire education research enterprise. In the course of its deliberations the committee also undertook examinations of how education research is used and how schools change. The United States is currently committed to major education reform. This commitment has resulted from evidence that substantial proportions of the nation's students appear headed for school failure while the academic and intellectual demands of the workplace are expanding and international economic competition is increasing. At the same time, the ratio of workers to retired persons is decreasing. The current goal for school reform is the most ambitious in the history of the country: it aims to provide virtually all students with in-depth understanding of subject matter and strong problem-solving skills. Although there is considerable enthusiasm for these ambitions, it is important to note that the country has a long history of launching education reforms that are soon abandoned. Education reform is a difficult, complex, and lengthy process. Authentic
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Research and Education Reform: Roles for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement and sustained school reform requires not only the contributions of research, but also coordinated improvements in the preparation of teachers, in the curriculum and instruction for all subject areas and grade levels, in the structure and administration of schools, in the opportunities for teachers to learn throughout their careers, in parental understanding and community support, in federal and state policies, and in the resources available to support these changes. Education research has been used far more than is commonly believed. One example is basic research in cognitive science, conducted by scholars in psychology, linguistics, sociology, and neuroscience, some at OERI's centers and laboratories. It has dramatically expanded understanding of how people learn and apply their knowledge and skills. Several of these findings have been incorporated into innovative programs that have shown considerable promise for increasing student performance. The contributions of research, however, are not well known because they find their way into practice by circuitous and obscure routes. For instance, it took a decade of work in cognitive science before the findings began to be incorporated into innovative curriculum materials and instructional approaches, and even now most teachers who use the products are unaware of their research origins. OERI is the federal government's lead agency for education research and development. It undertakes a broad range of research, development, demonstration, dissemination, and technical assistance work. There are other offices in the Department of Education and other federal agencies that have some responsibilities for education R&D, but each has a much narrower mandate. This report presents our evaluation of OERI and our recommendations for its future. CONCLUSIONS Our examination of OERI found an agency that has been challenged by several external difficulties over which it has little control, as well as several internal problems. The external problems begin with never-ending conflicts about education, which spill over into controversies about the appropriate roles for federal education research and development (R&D). There have been attempts to make OERI serve political purposes, and the agency has been given marginal discretion over new initiatives. The agency has also been inadequately funded, with the R&D budgets of OERI (and its predecessor, the National Institute of Education [NIE]) spiralling downward over most of their history. Between 1973 and 1989, the R&D budgets of NIE and OERI declined by 82 percent (in constant dollars). These funding declines extracted a heavy toll on the agency: directors were quickly criticized and became
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Research and Education Reform: Roles for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement demoralized; long-term agenda setting undertaken in the early years of NIE became difficult and then futile; ''quick fixes'' replaced thoughtful investments; resources were spread so thinly that mediocrity was almost assured. Only a few lines of research have been sustained for the time needed to bring them to fruition. There has rarely been support for the successive iterations of research, development, and testing that are needed in any field to develop marketable innovations. Individual investigators doing field-initiated (extramural) research have been almost squeezed out: only 2 percent of OERI's R&D budget supports this work; the comparable percentages at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) are 56 and 94 percent, respectively. And basic research, aimed at discovering new phenomena, receives only 5.5 percent of OERI's R&D budget: it receives 60 and 94 percent, respectively, of the R&D budgets of NIH and NSF. The funding declines for OERI and NIE do not appear to have been offset by funding increases from other federal agencies or other sources. In 1973 the entire federal government spent $1.1 billion (in 1990 constant dollars) on education research and development; in 1991 it spent between $310 and $364 million. Limited information suggests there have been small increases in the funding of education R&D by states, school districts, foundations, professional education associations, and business organizations, but the total of these increases is probably considerably less than the declines in federal funding. OERI is also faced with several internal problems. It has a weak advisory council and frequent turnover in the top administrative positions. There is limited coordination among the various offices in OERI and the institutions that it funds. Few efforts are undertaken to synthesize and publicize what the agency has learned and accomplished. Quality control is uneven, and the agency rarely attempts to resolve debates on important issues of education research. The committee concludes that OERI needs to be rebuilt. Our recommendations are aimed both at strengthening OERI's capacity to support the traditional roles of education research and to encourage and foster learning communities of researchers, practitioners, and policy makers who are involved in the improvement of education. These communities would collaborate in the use of what is already known from research and experience to develop new theories and approaches and to test their efficacy. RECOMMENDATIONS The committee's recommendations are organized into four groups: governance, organization and functions, operations, and funding. We first present key highlights of the recommendations and then the full text. Additional substantive details of the recommendations are included in Chapter 5.
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Research and Education Reform: Roles for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement The committee recommends strengthening the governance of OERI in several ways: A policy-making board should be established and charged with responsibilities for monitoring the needs and accomplishments of federal education research and guiding the agenda-setting process of OERI; OERI should have a director appointed for a 6-year term to permit stable leadership; OERI should be required to support a balanced portfolio of research, development, and dissemination; this would require substantially expanding support for field-initiated research, basic research, and sustained R&D activities. The committee also recommends restructuring the agency to better focus and coordinate its efforts: Several R&D directorates should be established, each targeting a specific problem area with a sustained program of research and development that includes field-initiated efforts, institutionally based R&D, and special projects; A Reform Assistance Directorate should be established to coordinate reform assistance efforts, including the work of the laboratories, the Program Effectiveness Panel and the National Diffusion Network, the FIRST office programs supporting local school-based reforms, and a new electronic network linking persons concerned about research and education; The electronic network should incorporate an enhanced Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC); The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) should remain as it is organizationally, but its staff should be substantially increased to be commensurate with the additional responsibilities it has been given over the past 5 years; and OERI should help researchers, practitioners, and policy makers forge learning community partnerships in the quest for education reform. Finally, the committee recommends changes in several aspects of OERI's operations: The agency should have independent authority for staffing, contracts and grants, and reporting—the first and second to improve service and the third to minimize opportunities for political pressure; OERI's procedures for its contract and grant peer-review panels should assure that research merit and programmatic merit of proposals are judged only by those with the appropriate expertise; OERI should take steps to attract high-quality personnel to the field
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Research and Education Reform: Roles for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement of education research, particularly scholars from other disciplines and underrepresented minorities; and OERI should recruit highly qualified personnel from various disciplines for the agency's staff and create an intellectually stimulating environment for its staff. It should be noted that no two or three of the recommendations, by themselves, are likely to substantially improve OERI. A comprehensive rebuilding of the agency is needed. These recommendations will require more funding and staff for the agency—much more. The total of our rough estimates for all the recommendations is an additional $267 million annually in program funds after a 6-year phase-in period. We also estimate that 214 new program staff will be needed. During the phase-in of these resources, the agency should engage in strategic planning that identifies the subsequent needs and opportunities for education research. Some people will say the nation cannot afford this expense, but the committee sees it as a critical investment. With the nation beginning to spend billions of dollars on school reform efforts, better understanding is needed of how to make best use of those expenditures. OERI's role is pivotal because it is the only federal agency with responsibility for education R&D that spans all grade levels and content areas of instruction. If the increased resources are not provided, we recommend that the mission of OERI be substantially narrowed. It is currently trying to do far more than can be done well with the available funding and staffing. Mission, Governance, and Agenda A-1 The mission of OERI should be to provide leadership in: • expanding fundamental knowledge and understanding of education; • promoting excellence and equity in education; and • monitoring the state of education. The mission should be accomplished in collaboration with researchers, teachers, school administrators, parents, students, employers, and policy makers. A-2 OERI should support a balanced portfolio of activities: basic research, applied research, statistics, development, evaluation, dissemination, and technical assistance; field-initiated and institutionally based R&D; and long-term sustained efforts and responses to newly identified needs and opportunities. To do so, OERI must substantially expand support for basic research, field-initiated research, and sustained R&D activities.
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Research and Education Reform: Roles for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement A-3 OERI should have a director appointed by the President, in consultation with the agency's board and with the advice and consent of the Senate, for a 6-year renewable term. A-4 OERI's agenda setting should be guided by a 24-member policy-making board. At least one-third of the membership should be distinguished researchers who have done work on education issues, complemented by a balanced representation of practitioners, parents, employers, policy makers, and others who have made noteworthy contributions to excellence in education. A-5 The OERI board should establish a process to develop priorities for OERI's agenda. The process should involve active participation of the various groups concerned with education. These priorities should be set so as to maintain the continuity, stability, and flexibility needed to conduct high quality research and to effect educational change. A-6 The OERI board should publish a biennial report on federally funded education R&D that describes its accomplishments, summarizes the programmatic activities and funding levels throughout the federal government, identifies unmet needs, and makes recommendations for future directions. A-7 The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the National Science Foundation (NSF), or the Federal Coordinating Committee for Science Engineering and Technology (FCCSET) should extend data collection programs, in consultation with OERI, to provide annual data on federal agencies' program activities and expenditures for education R&D. Organization and Functions B-1 OERI's research and development activities should be organized under several R&D directorates. Direct support for school change should be organized under a single Reform Assistance Directorate. Organization and management practices should forge appropriate linkages and coordination among the all the directorates and the field. B-2 Each of OERI's R&D directorates should allocate substantial resources to support field-initiated research for both basic and applied work. B-3 Each R&D directorate should support national R&D centers for pursuing coherent and sustained programs of basic research, applied research, and development.
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Research and Education Reform: Roles for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement B-4 OERI's regionally governed laboratories should be administered by the Reform Assistance Directorate and converted to Reform Assistance Laboratories (RALs) with liaison and assistance staff assigned to each state in their respective regions. B-5 The Reform Assistance Directorate should support the research-based refinement and rigorous evaluation of innovative programs and processes that have the greatest potential for use in school reform and help schools in using these programs and processes. This recommendation represents an expansion of the functions currently carded out by the Program Effectiveness Panel (PEP) and the National Diffusion Network (NDN). B-6 The Fund for the Improvement and Reform of Schools and Teaching (FIRST) programs that support local school-based reforms should be administered by the Reform Assistance Directorate, should be modified to require utilization of research in development of the improvements, should involve teachers and principals in the development process, and should provide sustained support for these efforts. B-7 The Reform Assistance Directorate should foster development of a national electronic network that allows all concerned with education to access research and exemplary practice information. The system should incorporate an enhanced ERIC. B-8 The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) should remain as a separate office in OERI with careful attention to preserving its scientific independence. Staffing levels should be approximately doubled as soon as practical to be commensurate with the expanded responsibilities NCES has been given over the past 5 years. B-9 OERI should work with teacher and administrator education programs, state agencies, and local districts to help practitioners and researchers create learning communities that use research findings, practitioners' craft wisdom, and pursue new inquiry in the quest for educational reform. B-10 OERI should develop research, training, and fellowship programs to attract high-quality personnel into education research, with particular efforts to recruit underrepresented minorities and scholars in disciplines other than education.
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Research and Education Reform: Roles for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement Operations C-1 OERI should have independent authority for staffing, contracts, grants, and reporting. C-2 OERI should actively recruit highly qualified personnel from various disciplines for OERI staff positions and should create an intellectually stimulating working environment. C-3 OERI's contract and grant application review process should provide an appropriate balance between expertise in research and in practice for all proposals, with technical research merit judged by research experts and programmatic relevance judged by program experts. C-4 OERI should implement a consensus development process involving distinguished experts to review and report on the quality and implications of potentially important bodies of research and evaluations that appear to have unclear or conflicting results. Funding D-1 To implement the committee's recommendations, OERI should be given substantial, phased-in, increases in its budgets and staffing levels. D-2 Unless OERI's budget is substantially increased in the near future, the mission and activities of the agency should be significantly narrowed.
Representative terms from entire chapter: