Recent Legislative Action Affects IES

In April, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce reported on the Strengthening Education through Research Act (H.R. 4366). The bill, passed by the House of Representatives in May, amends several provisions related to the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) including independence, research standards, technical assistance, evaluation, privacy protection, oversight of student assessment, and IES accountability.

Below are some highlights of the changes:

  • H.R. 4366 amends the definition of “scientifically based research standards,” renaming it to “principles of scientific research.” IES-supported research should adhere to the new definition of these principles allowing for “strong claims of causal relationships” only with research designs that eliminate plausible competing explanations for results, although the definition explicitly does not limit such claims to research employing random-assignment experiments.
  • H.R. 4366 adjusts the specified topical research priorities for IES, preserving language authorizing research on educational problems and issues relevant to the goals and requirements of major federal educational laws such as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and Higher Education Act (HEA). In addition, H.R. 4366 authorizes research focused on improving the quality of early childhood and elementary and secondary education, as well as research focused on access to opportunities for and completion of postsecondary education. Some more narrowly targeted priorities that are specified under current law would no longer be specified.
  • H.R. 4366 eliminates the requirement that there be “not less than 8” national research and development centers supported by the National Center for Education Research (NCER) as well as language naming specific topics of research to be supported by these centers.
  • H.R. 4366 explicitly identifies the mission of the regional educational laboratories (RELs) as conducting applied research, development, evaluation, and dissemination activities, and developing the capacity of state educational agencies (SEAs) and local educational agencies (LEAs) to carry out such activities. It also specifies processes for ensuring that the work of such RELs is responsive to the needs of the region served and eliminates their role in providing other types of training and technical assistance.
  • H.R. 4366 designates IES as the primary entity responsible for conducting research on and evaluations of federal education programs and programs within the Department of Education, aiming to ensure rigor and independence of such research and evaluation.
  • H.R. 4366 authorizes a new performance management system that aims to promote continuous improvement of activities and effective use of funds through the required development and use of measurable performance indicators that would be designed to gauge the effectiveness of IES activities and their utility in terms of meeting stakeholders’ needs.
  • H.R. 4366 requires that renewal of all IES-supported grants be contingent on the results of evaluations tied to the performance management system.
  • H.R. 4366 authorizes appropriations for the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA), Educational Technical Assistance Act (ETAA), and National Assessment of Educational Progress Authorization Act (NAEPAA) at specific levels for each of FY2015 through FY2020, rather than for the first fiscal year and such sums as necessary for subsequent fiscal years as under current law. The bill sets all authorized amounts for FY2015 at the same level as amounts appropriated for FY2014, with increases in subsequent years as follows: 0.2% for FY2016, 2.2% for FY2017, 2.4% for FY2018, 2.7% for FY2019, and 2.5% for FY2020.
  • H.R. 4366 authorizes appropriations for the RELs at 16.13% of funds appropriated for ESRA, rather than at $100,000 and such sums as necessary for the five succeeding years as under current law. In FY2014, the RELs received $54,423,000, or 16.13% of the amount authorized under H.R. 4366 for FY2015.

Excerpted from the Congressional Research Service report The Education Sciences Reform Act.