ERIC Number: ED517541
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2010-Jan
Reference Count: N/A
Research to Practice: The Future of the Regional Educational Labs. Brown Center Letters on Education
Whitehurst, Grover J.
The challenge of creating evidence-based practice bedevils a number of fields. In education, the federal government has historically placed substantial responsibility for translational research in the hands of the Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs), which were established in 1966 as part of the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). President Lyndon Johnson, whose administration oversaw the creation of the ESEA and the RELs, had expansive aspirations for a federal role in education. The ESEA was to provide federal funding for reform, focused on children from low-income families. The knowledge base for reform was to be created by new national research and development centers, and the RELs were to be the translators of scientific knowledge for practitioners. That original vision was not realized as a result of several enduring impediments: (1) No science to translate; (2) Low funding levels; (3) Need to lobby; (4) Who is in charge?; and (5) Quality control. Some of the historical challenges to the RELs have ebbed substantially. First, and most importantly, there is now science to translate. For example, the What Works Clearinghouse, an activity of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), has within the last 6 years conducted systematic reviews and reported the evidence on approximately 500 separate branded education interventions and programs and identified about 20 percent as having positive or potentially positive evidence of effectiveness. Second, the Obama administration is strongly committed to education reform, and the present leadership of IES sees the RELs as critical to that effort. Third, the quality control issues that have plagued the RELs over much of their existence have been lessened considerably by the independent review procedures instituted under their current contracts. Finally, while the principal work carried out by the RELs under their current contracts, rigorous evaluations of interventions relevant to their regions, is not, in the author's view, their ideal function, it caused many RELs to hire new staff with solid science credentials. This has, in turn, reinvigorated a culture of science within the organizations that house the RELs and provided a solid base for the next steps in their evolution. What direction should that evolution take? The author sees three possibilities: (1) Status quo; (2) Analysis of statewide administrative data; and (3) Improving process systems within schools and districts.
Descriptors: Educational Practices, Evidence, Federal Government, Government Role, Educational Research, Responsibility, Politics of Education, Research and Development, Elementary Secondary Education, Research and Development Centers, Laboratories, Educational Change, Quality Control, Financial Support
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Publication Type: Reports - Evaluative
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education
Authoring Institution: Brookings Institution, Brown Center on Education Policy
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: Elementary and Secondary Education Act