Assuming a legitimate federal role in education research, this chapter addresses the question: How should a federal education research agency be designed to foster scientific research in education, given the complexities of the practice of education, the stringencies of the scientific principles, and the wide range of legitimate research designs?

While our focus is on design principles for a single agency, we point out that education research of national interest has historically been supported by several offices in the U.S. Department of Education, by other agencies of the federal government, and by private organizations (e.g., foundations). A federal agency is only one part of this larger enterprise, but it occupies a central place within it. Indeed, while the committee makes a number of suggestions for one agency to lead the scientific enterprise, we recognize that some of the tasks might best be conducted in partnership with other agencies or nongovernmental organizations, and we encourage the exploration of such options. Within this broader context of scientific research in education, this chapter takes up the specific issue of how a federal research agency might be designed to best fulfill its role in the scientific enterprise.

Our approach in this chapter is forward looking. Throughout, we speak of a generic agency because the committee wanted to free its deliberations from exclusive consideration of the current incumbent, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI). Although this report is in part intended to help policy makers think about the pending reauthorization of OERI, the committee was not charged with, nor did it conduct, an evaluation of OERI. Rather, we relied on data we have collected from a sampling of federal social science research agencies and programs—including OERI—about how they support their science missions.2 In short, while we reiterate that we did not evaluate OERI, we clearly could not avoid learning about it or discussing it, especially in a comparative way, to address our charge effectively. Thus,

2  

Specifically, we collected data from OERI, the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences and Education and Human Resources Directorates at the National Science Foundation, the Child Development and Behavior Branch at the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development, and the Social and Behavioral Research Program at the National Institute on Aging.



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