The federal government has established a new organization--the Institute of Education Sciences (IES)--within the U.S. Department of Education to add scientific rigor to education research and to advance the use of evidence-based practice in schools. And psychologists are positioned to play key roles in its mission, says psychologist and IES director Grover "Russ" Whitehurst, PhD.
"Because psychologists are more likely than any other professional group working in the schools to have scientific training--and respect and understanding of the role of research and evidence in practice--they should be prepared to play an important role in moving the culture of education toward a reliance on evidence," stresses Whitehurst, who was appointed to the IES helm for a six-year term by President Bush in November.
The 2002 Education Sciences Reform Act passed by Congress earlier that month established the IES as an autonomous arm of the Education department to replace its Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
Why was the change needed? "The federal government needed an education research, statistics and evaluation agency that had statutory flexibility and tools on par with those of the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health," according to Whitehurst. Also, President Bush and Congress are seeking to pinpoint what works and what doesn't in education, he says.
What's more, a more streamlined and independent structure will enable the institute to fund critical research with fewer administrative burdens, says Whitehurst. That's because the institute has been freed from going through a formal federal regulatory process for each research competition.
The IES is increasing funding in areas psychologists are well-suited to do research on, he says, including reading comprehension, cognition and learning in the classroom, mathematics education, preschool curriculum, and character and socialization in schoolchildren.
IES will include three national centers--the National Center for Education Research, the National Center for Education Statistics and the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. The centers aim to establish better coordination across statistics, evaluation and research, higher quality and policy relevance in the research that is supported, and develop tools for translating research to practice.
One such tool is already in place: IES has established the "What Works Clearinghouse," a Web site to provide educators, policy-makers and the public with a central source of scientific evidence of what works in education. The site, www.w-w-c.org, has four searchable online databases that offer reviews of educational interventions, evidence-based research evaluations of educational approaches and policies, reviews of testing instruments and a list of evaluators willing to conduct quality evaluations of education interventions.