Social Innovation

Five Ideas for the Education Sciences Reform Act

05.11.23 | 3 min read | Text by Karinna Gerhardt

Earlier this month, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee called on the education community for input on policies to include in a reauthorized Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA). First enacted in 2002 and last reauthorized in 2008, the ESRA established the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) as the independent research branch of the Department of Education and broadly authorized the federal government to conduct coordinated and scientifically-based research on the US education system. The potential reauthorization of the ESRA by the 118th Congress marks a major opportunity to update and streamline our education research and development (R&D) ecosystem for the modern era. 

The Alliance for Learning Innovation (ALI) Coalition, which FAS helps lead, was pleased to submit a response to the Senate HELP committee’s request (read it in full here). The ALI Coalition brings together education nonprofits, philanthropy, and the private sector to advocate for building a better education R&D infrastructure that is based in evidence, centers students and practitioners, advances equity, improves talent pathways, and expands America’s globally competitive workforce. 

ALI sees great promise in a robust, inclusive, and updated education R&D ecosystem, with the IES playing a key role. If the 118th Congress decides to reauthorize the ESRA, ALI urges the HELP committee to strengthen our education system by prioritizing the following policies:

Support informed-risk, high-reward research and development, especially with respect to development. Congress should create a National Center for Advanced Development in Education (NCADE), which would catalyze breakthroughs in education research and innovation similarly to how the DARPA model accelerated the study of emerging defense technologies. NCADE would fund informed-risk, high-reward projects developed by universities, nonprofits, industry, or other innovative organizations.

Enhance federal, state, and local education R&D infrastructure. Congress should direct and support IES to research the development of innovative approaches and technologies that improve teaching and learning. IES should also encourage information and data sharing between states by expanding and modernizing the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) program and providing other forums for interstate connection. 

Support the development of diverse education R&D talent. IES should dedicate specific research grant programs for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), and Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities (TCCUs). Additionally, IES should offer “data science fluency training grants” to academic researchers, especially at HBCUs, MSIs, and TCCUs, as well as establish a “rotator program” that would bring in talent with advanced expertise to complement the skills of their current staff.

Drive collaboration between IES, NSF, and other federal agencies. Congress should encourage IES and the new Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) Directorate at NSF to collaborate and support R&D programs that enhance research on teaching and learning in emerging technologies that can create efficiencies and improve outcomes.

Promote data privacy. ALI believes the ESRA reauthorization should remain separate from attempts to improve the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). However, Congress should update ESRA to strengthen the U.S. Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC). 

The ALI Coalition knows that a potential ESRA reauthorization is a crucial inflection point for American education. We hope to see Congress strengthen our country’s commitment to education R&D so we can better embrace innovative, evidence-based practices that improve learning outcomes.