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Biden Admin's Budget Could Jump-Start Ed Research on ChatGPT

A recent budget proposal from the Biden administration to increase federal support for education research efforts could lead to an 'ARPA-Ed' and the discovery of new use cases for AI-driven tools like ChatGPT.

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Amid advances in artificial intelligence and continual improvements to technologies like ChatGPT, educators are steadily growing more comfortable with using AI tools for lesson planning, grading and providing homework feedback. While some use cases have already started to gain traction among teachers, ed-tech leaders say recent proposals from the Biden administration to increase federal funding for education research could play a key role in unlocking the true potential of AI-driven ed-tech tools moving forward.

According to Dan Correa, CEO of the Federation of American Scientists, President Joe Biden’s FY 2024 budget request includes a $63 million increase in funding for the Institute of Education Sciences, the U.S. Department of Education’s nonpartisan arm for statistics, research and evaluation. Correa said the president’s budget specifically requests funding to establish the National Center for Advanced Development in Education (NCADE), using $30 million from Fiscal Year 2023 appropriations and an additional $45 million in 2024. He noted that the funding may help lay the groundwork for the creation of an ARPA-Ed, or Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education — modeled after the Pentagon’s research and development branch Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — which could help to catalyze ongoing research into AI-driven ed-tech tools like ChatGPT.

Correa said the recent funding proposals may be a sign of growing interest among federal policymakers to modernize the nation’s education research and development infrastructure and lay the foundation for new classroom technologies and approaches to pedagogy. And given current ed-tech trends, he said, he expects tools like ChatGPT and other AI technologies, as well as their use cases, to be a focal point of future research efforts.

"This proposal is an indication of additional momentum and alignment between Congress and the administration on the opportunity and urgency here," he said. "IES is actively scoping research priorities now for this new transformative research endeavor. I think there's a deep potential for harnessing some of what AI has to offer in the classroom in ways that I don't think we've begun to imagine.

"AI in education is something that lots of people have questions about and certainly a bunch of uncertainty over how it will be deployed," he continued. "What we're seeing is federal research funding capacity and deep interest among policymakers, matched with a moment for AI to take off in an enormous way ... When you see these ingredients come together, this is when breakthroughs happen."

While much remains to be seen about the usefulness of AI tools like ChatGPT in the classroom, Correa pointed to a recent study from the Walton Family Foundation that found teachers have been using the tool more than students, for functions such as lesson planning and to “generate creative ideas for classes.”

Within two months of ChatGPT’s introduction, the study said, a 51 percent majority of teachers reported using ChatGPT, with 40 percent using it at least once a week, and 53 percent expecting to use it more this year. Among those educators cited in the study is Illinois eighth grade math teacher Diego Marin, who told researchers he uses ChatGPT “like a personalized 1:1 tutor that is super valuable for students.” The study added that teachers are nearly four times more likely to have allowed students to use ChatGPT for such purposes than catching them using it without their permission — a far cry from earlier this year when some K-12 and higher-ed staff advocated banning the tool from school networks.

"The backdrop is not just that this has become a cultural obsession," Correa said of these trends. "Teachers think it's going to shape their future, and they're interested in the tools that might be available in the classroom. It's an indication of where the education field is heading."

IES Director Mark Schneider said he expects teachers to make more use of ChatGPT for functions such as those noted by Marin, and also as a supplemental research resource for student essay assignments and a way for teachers to emphasize fact-checking and editing skills. Aside from its current use among some educators for lesson planning, he said he expects ChatGPT and other AI technologies to “alleviate paperwork burdens” on educators and allow them to focus on individualizing instruction.

"I think one of the most important challenges that we all are going to face, and hopefully an ARPA for Ed if we develop it, is the redefinition of 'literacy.’ How do we rethink what literacy means in an era of ChatGPT? I think that's one of the biggest challenges,” he said. "What we really need to think about is how we can harness this tool for good to advance students' research skills and literacy skills … The technology is getting better and better, but adopting and adapting those technologies for use in classrooms is an interesting problem."

According to Correa, the establishment of NCADE still needs to be authorized by Congress. He said legislators are planning to reintroduce the NEED Act of 2022, which would authorize the creation of NCADE.

"We are looking forward to seeing what happens in this Congress with respect to authorizing and funding NCADE," he said.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.