American education is at a turning point. The rapid growth in parental choice in education in 2023 has given unprecedented numbers of parents control over their children’s share of public education funding. These historic reforms will make better educational opportunities available to millions of children.
Although the federal government’s role in elementary and secondary education is limited, Congress is currently considering updating one important case of federal involvement: the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 (ESRA). The law reformed and authorized the federal government’s approach to education research, with the aim of employing research, development, and statistical collection to improve the way that children learn.
Congress is right to revisit ESRA, especially in light of American education’s many changes over the past two decades. By reforming ESRA and related laws, Congress could improve the federal government’s education research and development (R&D) programs, increase these expenditures’ return on investment, and provide better guidance to parents, teachers, and school leaders. The Foundation for American Innovation’s recent reviews of federal education R&D presented recommendations to improve the value of R&D programs and correct the lack of congressional oversight of these activities.
This report surveys the history of ESRA; provides an overview of current funding; reviews the available analyses of these programs; analyzes the Advancing Research in Education Act, which passed the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in December and would reauthorize ESRA; and evaluates other federal education R&D activities. It includes the following recommendations for reforming ESRA and federal education R&D programs:
- Increase the transparency of federal education R&D activities
- Improve the timeliness of IES-funded research and NCES statistical collection and public reporting
- Leverage NCES for other Department of Education data collection and reporting activities and codify the School Pulse Panel
- Apply data analysis to NAEP data for education research
- Transfer education R&D programs to IES
- Reform or eliminate ineffective education R&D programs
- Establish an ARPA-like program within IES
- Expand and require initiatives focused on developing new learning tools
- Require IES to conduct additional federal program evaluations
- Require GAO to conduct biennial audits of IES and to study whether IES-funded research is being used by state education agencies and local education agencies