New Coalition Launches for Increased Investment in Education R&D

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Monday the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) launched the Alliance for Learning Innovation (ALI), a bipartisan initiative co-led with Lewis-Burke Associates, LLC, to increase education research and development investments across the federal government. 

The alliance brings together a group of education nonprofits, practitioners, philanthropy, and the private sector to advocate for research-based innovations in education. As a coalition, ALI focuses on innovative solutions that build education R&D infrastructure, center students and practitioners, advance equitable outcomes for students, improve talent pathways, and expand the workforce needed in a globally competitive world. To that end, the alliance has developed a comprehensive multi-part agenda including the goal of dramatically increasing the federal investment in education R&D.

“It’s an ambitious goal, but it’s exactly what we need right now,” said FAS CEO, Dan Correa, at the launch event earlier this week at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, DC. Michael L. Ledford, J.D., President of Lewis-Burke Associates LLC added “this is an important moment and I know the ALI coalition and many organizations in this room feel an incredible sense of urgency to act and continue to make progress.” 

Recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results suggest the urgent need for transformative new approaches to K-12 education and that requires greater investment in education R&D. The U.S. is experiencing the largest drop in reading scores since 1990 and the first-ever decline in math scores. This decrease is partly the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also of a system that was already not working for many students.

“The world is changing quickly. We need better tools to support student outcomes and we need to update the toolkit we use to support R&D in education,” said Dr. Mark Schneider, Director of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education. IES has recently been charged by Congress with using a portion of its fiscal year 2023 budget to support a new funding opportunity for quick turnaround, high-reward scalable solutions intended to significantly improve outcomes for students. Dr. Schneider is fueled with a sense of urgency to ensure this initial investment improves outcomes and builds a firm foundation for the future of a larger, more innovative federal R&D infrastructure in education.  

Dr. James Moore III, Assistant Director of the STEM Education Directorate (EDU) at the National Science Foundation built on what Dr. Schneider shared and reinforced that “we have to double-down on catalyzing opportunities throughout America, especially in places that have been traditionally under-resourced. Right now is an opportunity to think differently, to innovate on the current models, and figure out how to address the comprehensive needs of students at every juncture of education and beyond.”

Dr. Penny Schwinn, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education agreed and discussed what this has looked like in Tennessee. “Without evidence-based solutions driven by R&D, we won’t have strong outcomes for kids. We are utilizing education R&D with the goal of improving student outcomes, supporting educators, and building a better education system for all learners.” 

Denise Forte, President and CEO of the Education Trust added that, “getting education R&D right requires reaching into communities and working directly with students and parents. Better applying and scaling evidence-based approaches is essential to improving education equity.” 

“We need BOTH mindset and skill set shifts to make the changes we seek,” said Josh Edelman of Transcend Education on Monday. “The current system of schooling is out of date and we need to move to 21st century learning that is learner centered.”  Kimberly Smith, Digital Promise, added that “engaging students, families and educators is critically important if the R&D work is to be equitable and effective for all students.”  

“Gen Z is optimistic about what’s possible – from our society and from our schools,” said Romy Drucker, Education Program Director, Walton Family Foundation. “ALI will help realize the ambitious vision that youth have for education, reinventing learning to be more relevant and inspiring.”

For media inquiries, please contact press@fas.org

Establishing Village Corps: A National Early Childhood Education (ECE) Program at AmeriCorps

Summary

While becoming a parent can bring great joy, having children can also impose an economic burden on families, reduce familial productivity in society, or cause one or more adults in a family — often mothers — to step back from their careers. In addition, many parents lack access to reliable information and resources related to childhood wellness, nutrition, and development.

As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” But what if the metaphorical “village” was our entire nation? The momentum of the American Rescue Plan, as well as the spotlight that the COVID-19 pandemic focused on the demands of caretaking, provides the federal government an opportunity to create a new branch of its existing service corps — AmeriCorps — focused on early childhood education (ECE). This new “Village Corps” branch would train AmeriCorps members in ECE and deploy them to ECE centers across the country, thereby helping fill gaps in childcare availability and quality for working families. The main goals of Village Corps would be to:

Challenge and Opportunity

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vast disparity in childcare services available for families in the United States. Our nation spends only 0.3% of GDP on childcare, lagging most other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Put another way, average public spending on childcare for toddlers in the United States is about $500, while the OECD average is more than $14,000 (Figure 1). The problem is compounded by the lack of mandated paid family or medical leave in most states.

Figure 1. Public spending by OECD nations on childcare. Source: The New York Times

The Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCBG)’s Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) is the primary source of federal funding for childcare. CCDF support is intended to assist eligible families by providing subsidy vouchers for childcare. However, only one out of every nine eligible children actually receives this support, and many families who need support do not meet eligibility requirements. Furthermore, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty, the federal Early Head Start program (which includes infants and toddlers before pre-K age) serves only 3% of those eligible, leaving a major gap for families of children under the age of three.

Limited federal support for families that need childcare creates a vicious cycle. Unlike public school from kindergarten onwards, ECE and childcare facilities rely mostly on parent fees to stay open and operational. When not enough parents can afford to pay, ECE and childcare facilities will lack sufficient revenue to provide high-quality care. Indeed, the Center for American Progress found that “the true cost of licensed child care for an infant is 43 percent more than what providers can be reimbursed through the [CCDF] child care subsidy program and 42 percent more than the price programs currently charge families.” This revenue gap has resulted in a worrying hollowing of our nation’s ECE infrastructure. 51% of Americans live in an area that has few or no licensed1 childcare options. Only in high-income communities does the predominant model of parent-funded childcare provide enough high-quality ECE to meet the demand. 

Underfunding has left ECE workers barely making a living wage with little to no benefits; although there has been a heavy public focus on low K–12 teacher salaries, the situation for ECE workers is worse. The average annual salary for childcare workers falls in the lowest second percentile of occupations in the United States, versus the 61st percentile for kindergarten teachers (Figure 2). Poor working conditions and compensation create high turnover in ECE, making it even harder for ECE facilities to meet demand. 

Moreover, scholarship and policy initiatives designed to strengthen the training and satisfaction of the ECE workforce tend to focus on lead teachers. Such initiatives largely overlook the needs of assistant teachers/teacher’s aides, even though (i) these support personnel contribute meaningfully to classroom quality, and (ii) professional development at the aide level has been found to increase retention (Figure 3) and improve longer-term career outcomes. 

Figure 2. Selected occupations ranked by annual pay, 2019. Source: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, UC Berkeley

These challenges merit federal intervention. Even though ECE is largely a private endeavor, high-quality and widely available early childcare and education contributes to the public good. Research shows that public investment in childcare pays for itself several times over by making it easier for parents to participate in the labor force. Additionally, spending $1 on early care and education programs has been shown to generate $8.60 in economic activity.

But it is not only the cost of childcare that is inhibitory. In 2016, two million parents made career sacrifices due to problems encountered with obtaining childcare. Mothers and single parents are especially likely to be adversely impacted by limited access to childcare. In 2020, mothers of older children remained more likely to participate in the labor force than mothers with younger children. Families are finding it increasingly difficult within the current system to find and gain access to quality childcare, leading to employment issues and an attrition of women from the workforce. Deploying a federally funded corps to fill the ECE personnel gap would stabilize ECE and childcare centers, creating a strong foundation for families and communities that will yield increased economic growth and equity. Americans have never fully benefited from a federally funded and run childcare system. It is time for the federal government and Congress to treat childcare as a public responsibility rather than a personal one

Plan of Action

Building on momentum for familial support established by the American Rescue Plan, the federal government should launch Village Corps, a new ECE-focused branch of AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps is “one of the only federal agencies tasked with elevating service and volunteerism in America.” AmeriCorps also has a long history of implementing programs in classrooms throughout the United States to “support students’ social, emotional, and academic development”, but has never had a program dedicated exclusively to training and placing Corps members in ECE. Village Corps would do just that. Participants in Village Corps would receive federally administered and/or sponsored training in fundamental aspects of high-quality ECE, including but not limited to CPR and first aid, child-abuse prevention, appropriate child and language development, classroom management, and child psychology. Village Corps members would then be placed in ECE centers across the country, providing an affordable, reliable source of infant and early childhood care for working families in the United States. Village Corps members would also have access to ongoing professional-development opportunities, enabling them to ultimately receive a Child Development Associate® (CDA) or similar tangible credential, and preparing them to pursue longer-term career opportunities in ECE.

Village Corps can be developed and deployed via the following steps:

Step 1. Establish Village Corps as a new programmatic branch of AmeriCorps.

AmeriCorps already comprises several distinct branches, including State and National, VISTA, and RSVP. Village Corps would be a new programmatic branch focused on training corps members in ECE and placing them in ECE centers nationwide. The program could start by placing corps members in Early Head Start and Head Start locations, since these are directly funded by the federal government. Piloting the program for a year at 10 sites, with five corps members per site, would require about $2 million: $1.25 million to cover salary costs, plus an additional $750,000 to subsidize living and healthcare expenses, provide an optional education credit, and account for administrative costs.

Program reach could ultimately be expanded to additional childcare centers. The federal government could even consider creating and operating a new network of ECE centers staffed predominantly or exclusively by corps members. As Village Corps develops and grows, it should prioritize placements in states, regions, and cities where a disproportionate share of the population lives in a childcare desert.

Step 2. Develop the core components of the Village Corps volunteer experience.

Recruitment and placement of Village Corps participants should follow the same general mechanisms used for other AmeriCorps divisions; however, the program should strive to place Village Corps participants in positions within their own communities. Village Corps service should be for a minimum of one year, with the option to extend to two. In addition to a modest salary, access to healthcare benefits, and a possible living stipend, Village Corps participants should receive the following benefits:

Step 3. Build a path for program funding and growth.

To start, the Biden-Harris Administration should work with the House Committee on Education and Labor and the Senate HELP Committee to see if Village Corps can be integrated into legislation like the Universal Child Care and Early Learning Act. The Administration could also consider launching Village Corps as part of the American Families Plan, and/or capitalizing on the budget reconciliation package for Build Back Better. This package is awarding $9.5 billion in grants to Head Start agencies in states that have not received payments under universal preschool programs and $2.5 billion annually for FY2022–2027 to improve compensation for Head Start staff. An additional way to make the program even more attractive would be to propose cost-matching of federal funds for Village Corps by states (if program participants are deployed in state-aided childcare centers), and/or through partnerships with key stakeholders and philanthropic organizations (e.g., Child Care Aware of America, the Child Care Network, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and the First Five Year Fund) that have a history of supporting expansion and access to ECE. Given the downstream effects of ECE disparity in the workforce, capitalizing on the Defense Production Act could also be an avenue of support for Village Corps (see FAQ). For the longer term, the federal government could consider complementing Village Corps with a Federal Childcare and Education Savings Account (CESA) that would further subsidize childcare for families nationwide.

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted gaping holes in our national early childhood care and education (ECE) fabric and has significantly exacerbated a failing system. The effects of this failure are widespread, compromising familial stability and economic security, the health, and future outcomes of American children, ECE worker retention, national productivity, and workforce participation. Establishing a new ECE-focused branch of AmeriCorps is an innovative solution to a pressing issue: a solution that builds on existing programmatic infrastructure to use talent and funds efficiently and equitably. Village Corps would create a talent pipeline for future ECE educators, boost the American workforce, and make high-quality infant and childcare easily accessible to all working families. 

Frequently Asked Questions
Why should the federal government establish a new branch of AmeriCorps instead of just expanding childcare subsidies?

Current federal assistance for ECE is provided in the forms of subsidies and grants. This avenue is limited in its impact, reaching only 1 in 9 eligible families. Moreover, licensed childcare in many instances costs 43% more than what providers are eligible to be reimbursed for through federal childcare subsidies, and 42% more than what providers can sustainably charge families. This disparity between subsidized and actual costs has created a system that underpays ECE providers, resulting in lower-quality childcare and scarce availability of childcare slots for subsidy-eligible families. Additionally, because even federally subsidized ECE centers rely heavily on fees collected by families, they are at higher risk of closure during difficult times (such as the COVID-19 pandemic) than educational facilities (e.g., K–12 schools) that are fully federally funded.


The federal government could try to remedy these issues through a massive infusion of cash into childcare subsidy programs. But a national-service-oriented approach — i.e., working through AmeriCorps to direct additional human capital to ECE — is a creative and potentially more cost-efficient strategy that is worth trying.

How will centers be identified/selected for Village Corps placements?

The first suite of Village Corps participants will be placed at existing Early Head Start Centers, which must adhere to a strict set of performance standards. In later years, Village Corps could partner with state agencies or NGOs and philanthropic organizations that support ECE centers in areas characterized by childcare deserts.

Will public funding for ECE guarantee higher salaries for ECE workers?

Not directly, but it has been shown that teachers and caregivers who work in publicly funded settings earn higher wages than those in non-publicly funded settings. Hence it is reasonable to expect that public funding for ECE will translate into higher salaries for ECE workers.

How will Village Corps be incorporated into AmeriCorps and be screened/selected?

AmeriCorps currently has seven sub-programs through which it disseminates volunteers; Village Corps would become the eighth. As a sub-program of AmeriCorps, Village Corps participants would have to undergo the general AmeriCorps application process to be selected to serve. In addition, Village Corps should look for the following traits in its applicants:



  • Coachable

  • Accountable

  • Problem solver and critical thinker

  • Takes initiative and possess leadership qualities

  • Resilient

  • Adaptive

  • Excels in a fast paced/challenging environment

  • Team player

5. What is an alternative support mechanism for Village Corps?

A lack of quality ECE options has a dramatic effect on workforce participation. The market failure of undersupplied ECE options decreases economic productivity. Village Corps would address some of these market failures by stabilizing the ECE workforce and fulfilling the labor requirements for high-quality ECE centers, thereby enabling families to increase workforce participation and economic productivity. Increased workforce participation is especially important for helping the United States remain globally competitive in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. 40% of women and 23% of men in full-time STEM jobs leave or switch to part-time work after their first child. Taken together, these facts make a compelling case for using the Defense Production Act to support Village Corps.


There is precedent for the government utilizing funds in this manner. During World War II, large-scale entry of women into the workforce created sudden and pressing demands for childcare. Congress responded by passing the Defense Housing and Community Facilities and Services Act of 1940, also known as the Lanham Act. The law funded public works — including childcare facilities — in communities that had defense industries. About 3,000 federally subsidized and run Lanham centers ultimately provided childcare for up to six days a week and certain holidays. Parents only paid the equivalent today of $10/day for care.

Improving Data Infrastructure to Meet Student and Learner Information Needs

Summary

The Congress should dedicate $1 billion, 1 percent of the proposed workforce funding under the American Jobs Plan, for needed upgrades to Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS). Major upgrades are needed to Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems to enable states to effectively monitor and address long-term pandemic learning loss, while ensuring this generation of students stays on track for college and career in the aftermath of the pandemic. With the major influx of planned resources into K12 and postsecondary education from the recent and upcoming relief bills, there is also a critical need to ensure those funds are targeted toward students and workers who are most in need and to measure the impact of those funds on pandemic recovery. Some states, such as Texas and Rhode Island, are already leveraging funds from previous relief bills (e.g., Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act), to modernize their data systems, offering a model for other states to connect education, workforce, and social services information. This demonstrates an interest and need among states for SLDS upgrades, though additional investment is necessary to address historically underfunded data infrastructure.

Doubling the R&D Capacity of the Department of Education

Summary

Congress is actively interested in ensuring that the United States is educating the talent needed to maintain our global economic and national security leadership. A number of proposals being considered by Congress focus on putting the National Science Foundation’s Education division on a doubling path over the next 5-7 years.

This memo recommends that the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) — the R&D agency housed within the Department of Education — be put on the similar doubling path with stepladder increases in authorization levels, and targeted program starts (e.g., an “ARPA” housed at ED) focused on major gaps that have been building for years but made even more evident during the pandemic.

This increased funding for IES should be focused on:

• Establishing New Research Capacity in the form of an [1] “ARPA-like” Transformative Research Program;

• Harnessing Data for Impact through investments in [2] Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS), [3] a Learning Observatory, and [4] modernization of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP);

Conducting Pathbreaking Data-Driven Research by [5] building a permanent Data Science Unit within IES, [6] increasing funding for special education research; and [7] investing in digital learning platforms as research infrastructure; and

Building the Education Field for Deployment of What Works by [8] establishing a Center of Learning Excellence for state-level recovery investments in tutoring and more.

Investing in Community Learning Ecosystems

Summary

Developed during a different industrial era, today’s education system was never designed to meet modern learners’ needs. This incongruity has heaped systemic problems upon individual educators, blunted the effectiveness of reforms, and shortchanged the nation’s most vulnerable young people — outcomes exposed and exacerbated by COVID-19. Building back better in a post-pandemic United States will require federal investments not only in schools, but in “learning ecosystems” that leverage and connect the assets of entire communities. Tasked with studying, seeding, and scaling these ecosystems in communities across the country, a White House Initiative on Community Learning Ecosystems would signal a shift toward a new education model, positioning the United States as a global leader in learning.

Improving Learning through Data Standards for Educational Technologies

Summary

The surge in education technology use in response to COVID-19 represents a massive natural experiment: an opportunity to learn what works at scale, for which students, and under which conditions. However, without the right data standards in place we risk incomplete or inaccurate inferences from this experiment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased use of educational technologies. There is evidence that this “emergency onlining” will lead to learning loss, especially among underserved communities. To understand and address the extent of learning loss—as well as to explore and support potential future uses of educational technologies—the U.S. Department of Education (ED) must systematically implement established open-data standards that allow us to understand how students engage with learning technologies. Wide-scale implementation of these standards will make it possible to combine and analyze validated data sets generated by multiple technologies. This in turn will provide unprecedented, on-demand reporting and research capabilities that can be used to precisely identify gaps and create targeted interventions. Specifically, we recommend that ED mandate the use of the open Experience API (xAPI) standard for educational technology purchased with federal funds. We further recommend that ED invest time, talent, and resources to further develop this standard and pilot efforts to leverage educational-technology data for insights through the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) and other agencies.

Securing the Nation’s Educational Technology

Summary

Never before have so many children in America used so much educational technology, and never before has it been so important to ensure that these technologies are secure. Currently, however, school administrators are overburdened with complex security considerations that make it challenging for them to keep student data secure. The educational technologies now common in America’s physical and virtual classrooms should meet security standards designed to protect its students. As a civil rights agency, the Department of Education has a responsibility to lead a coordinated approach to ensuring a baseline of security for all students in the American education system.

This policy initiative will support America’s students and schools at a time when educational experiences—and student information—are increasingly online and vulnerable to exploitation. The plan of action outlined below includes a new Department of Education educational technology security rule, training support for schools, a voluntary technology self-certification system, an online registry of certified technologies to help grow a secure educational technology market, and processes for industry support and collaboration in this work. Combined, these efforts will create a safer digital learning environment for the nation’s students and a more robust educational technology marketplace.

Using Online Tutoring to Address COVID-19 Learning Loss and Create Jobs

Summary

The Biden-Harris Administration should create a plan for a public, online platform to connect teachers with college students and recent graduates to serve as tutors for K-12 students. One-on-one tutoring is a proven intervention that improves children’s educational competencies and increases students’ self-confidence. Along with supporting students, this platform could provide needed employment for young adults and enable teachers and students together to produce improved educational outcomes. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the closure of more than 124,000 schools with the majority of students now learning online. Meanwhile, millions of college students have lost part-time work or are graduating into a historically difficult job market that does not have positions for them to fill. Just as the New Deal created work programs that both created employment and improved our national landscape, our country requires creative solutions that can meet the urgent needs of our time, can be quickly scaled up using modern technology and can adjust to the changing needs dictated by the cycles of the coronavirus.

A Focus on Teacher Effectiveness, Shortages, and Cultural Proficiency

Summary

Addressing inequality, closing achievement gaps, and tackling opportunity gaps in schools requires a highly effective educator in every classroom, a diversified teacher workforce, and an implementation of culturally responsive policies and practices. The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires State Education Agencies (SEA) to identify and close gaps in equitable access to effective teachers but does not offer specific definitions about what constitutes teacher effectiveness. There is an opportunity to build on state equity plans and collaboratively work with districts, schools, educator preparation programs, and other stakeholders to close the gap in access to effective educators, diversify the workforce, and ensure that the training of educators includes a focus on culturally proficient practices.

Ending Violence in Schools

Summary

Tens of thousands of students experience violence in schools in the form of corporal punishment. Nineteen states continue to allow for corporal punishment as a means of disciplining students in public schools. And public schools in nine states use corporal punishment as a disciplinary strategy for preschool-aged children. There is no federal law or regulation governing the practice, however the federal government should be clear that it does not condone it.

Reform Education’s General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR) and Grants Administration Processes

Summary

By strengthening state and local capacity to use data analytics, evaluation, and evidence in formula grant programs, the Department of Education could significantly increase the impact of its major investments in pre-K, K-12, and community college systems. Important changes could be made through coordinated regulatory and administrative actions that do not require congressional action, laying the groundwork for future congressional action to fill critical gaps.