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Education Leaders Laud Federal Funding for Ed Research

Education advocates and researchers say recent increases in federal funding for the Institute of Education Sciences could help further the evaluation and development of new instructional tools and methods.

Buttons standing on end that say “R&D” in front of three stacks of coins growing in size from left to right.
President Joe Biden signed legislation late last year that will increase federal funding for education research to study the efficacy of instructional methods and create new tools to support student learning — a move some education leaders say is long overdue.

According to a blog post from the American Educational Research Association, the legislation adds $70 million in annual funding for the Institute of Education Sciences, the Department of Education’s nonpartisan arm for statistics, research and evaluation, as part of the $1.7 trillion government funding bill known as the omnibus package. Of the additional $70 million, $40 million is devoted to researching instructional methods and tools to address challenges like K-12 learning loss that occurred during COVID-19.

IES Director Mark Schneider said about $30 million of that $40 million for research will also help lay the groundwork for the creation of an ARPA-Ed, or Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education, modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s research and development branch. He said much of the aim is to modernize the country’s education research and development infrastructure, and lay the foundation for new classroom technologies and approaches to pedagogy.

“The bottom line is, we need a stronger evidence base for things that work, for whom and under what conditions, so that’s the mantra. That’s fundamentally the most important thing,” he said. “Our understanding of how to conduct research is evolving very quickly, and we need some kind of legislative mandate to make this happen.”

According to Federation of American Scientists CEO Dan Correa, additional federal support for these types of research efforts will go a long way in helping educators address COVID-19 learning disruptions and achievement gaps. In a recent blog post for the nonprofit education news site The 74, Correa said the federation plans to continue its work with the Alliance for Learning Innovation coalition urging Congress and the federal government to create a “DARPA for education.”

“We’ve been shining a light on this, calling attention to it and talking to policymakers about it, and so we are delighted about this recent development,” he told Government Technology. “It’s long past time for us to put our money where our mouth is in this country, at a time when the pandemic has laid bare some of the deep systemic challenges in the American K-12 education system. … There’s an acute need to be investing more research resources in applied research and development, whether it’s pedagogy, evaluating models for tutoring or developing new tools.”

Moving forward, Correa and Schneider hope federal education research efforts receive another major boost from the New Essential Education Discoveries (NEED) Act, a bill that would establish a new center in IES called the National Center for Advanced Development in Education, but failed to pass in the last Congress. Language in the bill says it would “dramatically expand education R&D” by investing an additional $500 million to establish, staff and operate the center.

“I think a lot of what we’re talking about now is how to personalize instruction so that it fits the needs, habits and learning styles of our students, which means that we need much more rapid-cycle experimentation and research,” Schneider said. “We need that kind of legislation to propel forward and keep momentum going for modernizing our R&D infrastructure, and to create the tools needed in a rapid fashion to solve these problems.”
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.