The following is from the Sept. 5, 2014, edition of Roll Call. David Chard is dean of SMU's Simmons School of Education & Human Development and chairman of the National Board of Education Sciences.
Dean David Chard
September 9, 2014
By David Chard
As America’s young people go back to school, we’ll hear lots of
discussion about how “our kids need to know more.” As an
educator, I would add that my colleagues and I also need to know
much more about how to teach different children in different
Compared to medicine, education has been slower in
embracing evidence-based methods. Educators need a knowledge
base that helps them move beyond one-size-fits-all policies to
target teaching methods and support children of an ever-more
In the absence of proven practices, too many states and
school districts are instituting policies that reflect recent
fads, not rigorous research. We are also witnessing a divisive
debate about Common Core when the urgent question is not whether
but how we can teach to the high standards that most states have
adopted to ensure that all Americans have access to knowledge
that will propel us forward as a country.
American educators need a knowledge base. That is why it is
crucial for Congress to improve, approve, and fully fund the
Education Sciences Reform Act, which provides for research
evaluating the programs, practices, and outcomes in our nation’s
Since the ESRA was enacted in 2002, the Department of
Education’s research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences,
has begun the hard work of building the trustworthy evidence we
need. The IES has sponsored hundreds of studies of such
important issues as early childhood programs, effective
teaching, and reading math and science instruction. These
studies have produced useful findings about what works in
different schools serving different populations.
The ESRA needs to be reformed as well as renewed, however.
Its data and findings need to be conveyed more quickly and
comprehensively to educators at every level, from state agencies
to local schools. And more should be done to evaluate education
policies and programs, as well as IES’ own efforts.
While voting by a large bipartisan margin to reauthorize the
ESRA, the House of Representatives has also revised the law,
incorporating recommendations by the Government Accountability
Now known as the Strengthening Education through Research
Act, the legislation takes strong steps to ensure that research
findings will be relevant and timely, not filed away on a
bookshelf or on a hard drive.
The reformed ESRA focuses on urgent national priorities,
including improving high school graduation rates, school safety,
student discipline and teacher preparation and evaluation.
It prioritizes educational equity as a goal for education
research. This means making sure all our children have access to
an excellent education and closing the achievement gaps among
young people from different backgrounds.
In an effort to ensure that the research findings will be put
to good use, the legislation encourages studies to examine how
specific strategies and policies have been implemented, as well
as measuring their impact. Now that most states have created
their own data systems, the legislation shifts the focus for
research grants to using data to improve student outcomes.
In addition to fine-tuning the focus of federally funded
education research, the House bill calls for the research to be
understandable and useful to teachers and parents.
The IES has been effective in establishing a strong process
for documenting rigorous research and beginning an evidence base
of effective practices. The proposed reforms are essential, and
they can’t be achieved without financial support. Our country
can’t build a better knowledge base for educators without
Currently, America’s investment in educational research is
insufficient. The good news: The bill would generally restore
funding for education research to the levels before the federal
budget “sequester” in 2013. The bad news: In some areas, the
tight funding from recent years is nowhere near enough to build
the knowledge base that our educators need.
For instance, funding for the National Center for Special
Education Research was virtually gutted in 2010. If the House
bill is passed, funding for special education research will
finally increase to 2010 levels by 2020. This is important
because most states don’t conduct research and development for
children with disabilities. And improving education for people
with disabilities is critical: Current unemployment rates for
adults with disabilities are nearly double that of adults
By enacting the reformed ESRA, Congress can start providing
the research and resources we need to start improving our entire
education system. The House has done its part. Now, as our
children go back to school, the Senate needs to do its homework,
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