NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This report has been reviewed by a group other than the authors according to procedures approved by a Report Review Committee consisting of members of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Frank Press is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Robert M. White is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Kenneth I. Shine is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Frank Press and Dr. Robert M. White are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the National Research Council.
This project was supported by the U.S. Department of Education
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COMMITTEE ON THE FEDERAL ROLE IN EDUCATION RESEARCH
RICHARD C. ATKINSON (Chair),
University of California, San Diego
LAWRENCE J. BADAR,
Mathematics and Natural Science, Case Western Reserve University
G. CARL BALL,
George J. Ball, Inc., West Chicago, Ill.
JAMES A. BANKS,
Center for Multicultural Education, University of Washington, Seattle
KATHERINE L. BICK,
USA Centro SMID, Washington, D.C.
C. LARRY HUTCHINS,
Mid-continent Regional Laboratory, Aurora, Colo.
BEVERLY L. JIMENEZ,
The Achievement Council, San Francisco, Calif.
CHARLES F. MANSKI,
Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin
PAUL E. PETERSON,
Department of Government, Harvard University
ANDREW C. PORTER,
Wisconsin Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin
ALBERT H. QUIE,
MARILEE C. RIST,
National School Boards Association, Alexandria, Va.
CAROL H. WEISS,
Graduate School of Education, Harvard University
KENNETH G. WILSON,
Department of Physics, Ohio State University
GREGG B. JACKSON, Study Director
ANNE S. MAVOR, Senior Research Associate
SUSAN M. ROGERS, Research Associate
CINDY S. PRINCE, Project Assistant
The Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) in the Department of Education is responsible for a broad range of research, development, and dissemination activities. Over the years, OERI and its predecessor agencies have been subject to widespread criticism: researchers have often claimed that support for education research has been insufficient, misguided, and poorly managed; teachers and principals have often been unaware of the office or claimed it hasn't done much to improve their schools; and members of Congress have often expressed dissatisfaction and frustration—as much with their votes as with their words.
With these historic problems in mind, with heightened national attention on educational issues, and with the scheduled reauthorization of OERI approaching, the agency asked the National Academy of Sciences to consider how federally supported education research can better contribute to improving the nation's education. The Academy, through its National Research Council, convened 15 distinguished experts to conduct the study. The Committee on the Federal Role in Education Research includes members from the physical, biomedical, and social sciences; a businessman and a former congressman and governor who have long involvements with research; several leading education researchers; a former teacher and a former principal, both currently working with practitioners; and an editor of education journals. (Brief biographies of the committee members and staff appear in the Appendix.)
The committee was given a broad charge. It was asked to evaluate the
structure, operations, and functioning of OERI and the organizations it supports; to examine other federal agencies with research missions to ascertain if they might provide useful models for OERI; and to review the nation's overall educational research enterprise to identify unmet needs, duplication of effort, and appropriate activities for OERI. In the course of its deliberations, the committee determined that consideration of these issues would benefit from appraisals of how education research is used and how schools change, and both of these topics were added to the study.
The committee did not deliberate the substantive topics on which OERI's research and development efforts should focus because another major study, started a year earlier, was considering this matter. The report of that study is now available (National Academy of Education, 1991).
This is not the first occasion on which the National Research Council (NRC) has addressed issues related to education research. In a 1958 report, A Proposed Organization for Research in Education, it recommended the establishment of an "Organization for Research in Education" to contribute to the improvement and advancement of education. In 1977, Fundamental Research and the Process of Education concluded that government agencies were focusing on quick solutions to poorly understood problems and that more basic research on education was needed. A 1986 report, Creating a Center for Education Statistics: A Time for Action, found serious problems in the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and recommended either a major overhaul or elimination of the agency.
Those three reports are related to this current one by more than their common heritage. The first helped induce the federal government to become involved in education research. The second appears to have had a limited though brief impact on a problem that still exists and is examined again in this report. The third helped precipitate a major effort to restore NCES, and this report briefly reviews some of the outcomes of that effort.
Our committee met six times between February 4, 1991, and January 21, 1992. This was a complex and difficult study with a daunting schedule, but the committee members handled their tasks with unflagging enthusiasm, commitment, and goodwill. Our meetings were filled not only with discussions and debates, but also with teaching and learning, as each of us shared unique expertise and learned from our colleagues.
The committee has been generously assisted by many persons and organizations. Information and suggestions were solicited widely and received from approximately 200 people and organizations, including researchers, teachers, and principals; directors of research in large school districts; governors and chief state school officers; education writers; professional organizations; business organizations; foundations; and administrators and staff of federal research agencies. A few of their comments are quoted in the
report; because we promised confidentiality, those quotes are without attribution.
The study would not have been undertaken without the foresight of Christopher Cross, who served as the Assistant Secretary of OERI from 1989 to 1991. In the summer of 1991, Diane Ravitch assumed that position and continued the full cooperation of the agency. The OERI project liaison, Tommy Tomlinson, did a superb job of handling our steady stream of requests for briefings, data, documents, and other assistance. At least three dozen people in the agency responded to those requests, with the heaviest burden falling on Tom Brown, Joseph Conaty, John Egermeier, Linda Jones, and Dawn Nelson.
The committee's deliberations have benefited substantially from work that was commissioned for this study. Carl Kaestle interviewed many of the key figures in federal education research and development and synthesized their views on the history of that enterprise. Brenda Turnbull prepared a review of the literature on the uses of research knowledge in school improvement efforts and contributed to the drafting of Chapter 1.
The committee also wishes to acknowledge the many contributions of Cindy Snellings Prince, who provided excellent administrative support; Janet Ewing, NRC reference librarian, who helped on numerous occasions; Anne Mayor and Sue Rogers, who served capably as research associates and helped draft parts of the report; Eugenia Grohman, associate director for reports, who provided invaluable editorial consultation and rehabilitation; and Alexandra Wigdor, director of the Division on Education, Training, and Employment, who generously provided the committee with advice and feedback.
Richard C. Atkinson, Chair
Gregg B. Jackson, Study Director
Committee on The Federal Role in Education Research