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Advancing Research in Education Act -- What's Different this Time?

Just before Christmas, the United States Senate took a step in advancing the reauthorization of the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) and updating it to what would now be referred to as the Advancing Research in Education Act (AREA). This would be huge for education, but the road to passage is more than uncertain.

What is ESRA?

According to the Congressional Research Services, the ESRA “authorizes much of the federal government’s efforts to collect statistics and conduct research on the U.S. educational system. ESRA-funded activities support numerous nationally representative survey programs and award hundreds of basic and applied research grants each year.” There are actually three parts to the law which includes not only ESRA, but the Educational Technical Assistance Act (ETAA) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress Authorization Act. 

ESRA established the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) as an independent research institute that lives within the Department of Education. This is a big deal, as IES provides a resource to many who use the data for a vast variety of reasons. This bill also reauthorized the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) among others. All to say this law has shaped much of education for the last several years. There are a total of four research centers that were authorized under ESRA. (National Center for Education Research (NCER), the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the National Center for Education Evaluation and REgional Assistance (NCEE) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).

ESRA also includes the Educational Technical Assistance Act (ETAA) which created a comprehensive centers program to make grants to local entities and provide technical assistance and the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) program that was initially passed to encourage states to put an SLDS in place for the purpose of consistent data collection across the country.

Finally, ESRA authorized the NCES Commissioner to carry out assessments of academic achievement, where much of the national assessments, state assessments, and long-term trend assessment of reading and math in grades 4, 8, and 12 come from. Even though the authorities expired in 2008, all programs still receive funding from annual appropriations from Congress to IES as a whole. IES was appropriated $734m for FY 2023.

What Would Change in the Proposed Reauthorization?

The lengthy bill sets forth many directives for the IES- Edweek summarizes the most notable ones as the following: 

  • “A requirement that the National Center for Education Statistics commissioner develops a new, accurate way to measure poverty rates other than the percent of students qualifying for free and reduced-price meals, as that measure has become less reliable, especially as more states pass universal free meal programs

  • Authorizing funding for a new data-innovation grant that will help states find more efficient and effective ways to collect information; and 

  • A requirement that IES increase the participation of researchers from historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and other minority-serving institutions in data collection and research projects. A 2022 report on the research agency found less than 15 percent of IES-funded research project grants went to researchers of color.”

In April 2023, Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Bernie Sanders (D-VT) requested input from educators on how they could best reauthorize ESRA. The request included questions such as, “How could the Federal government and IES provide more flexibility to the field of education research to pursue innovative solutions to the challenges we face in education?” “How could research projects at IES and grantees better engage students, parents, and educators in the research process, including through recruitment and informed consent?” and “How could IES bolster partnerships with the full range of partners— including but not limited to educators, school systems, institutions of higher education, including minority-serving institutions, public and private entities, localities and States, researchers, and the Federal government—to more effectively utilize, scale, and commercialize education research to improve teaching and learning?”

During the markup committee on December 5, Chairman Senator Sanders stated that, “I am also delighted that we have come to an agreement on bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act. This legislation will ensure that high-quality and timely research gets into the hands of teachers and principals so that they can improve teaching and learning in our nation’s schools.”

This is Only the Beginning

There have been attempts to reauthorize ESRA before now; however, there have been several battles that get brought into the conversation whenever it comes up. Even with bipartisan legislation, there are many roadblocks to even getting this off of the Senate floor, let alone movement in the House. One interesting thing about this time is that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has also proposed updates for student privacy- which also has not been updated since 2013. Student privacy debates always come along with any data collection for research. Could the timing of the FTC trying to update student privacy laws help actually reauthorize ESRA? Only time will tell - so keep checking back here at K20Connect to see what’s going on in our nation’s capitol!

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