Institute of Education Sciences (IES): Congress Adopting a Growth Mindset

By PAA Web posted 09-21-2021 13:25


The Institute for Education Sciences (IES)—an often-underappreciated agency that houses federal education research grantmaking as well as the Department of Education’s statistical division, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)—may soon be getting a boost. Congress is working on funding increases in Fiscal Year (FY) 2022, the National Academy of Sciences (NASEM) has convened two separate panels relating to IES’s mission and function, and new leadership has been appointed to take the helm of NCES. IES supports population research into topics such as the relationship between educational outcomes and disparities in health or economic status. NCES produces numerous education-related datasets, including longitudinal data, and supports states in developing and improving their own longitudinal data systems.

Institute of Education Sciences logo orange lines coming out of a circle, like a sunFunding for IES appears to be heading for an upward trajectory. In July, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a budget of $762.5 million for FY22—an increase of $120 million or 18.7 percent over FY 21. This figure is far from assured, with the U.S. Senate having yet to weigh in, let alone a final negotiated spending package. However, this is the largest recommended increase for IES in over a decade and tops even the Biden Administration’s budget request of $737.5 million. In a report accompanying the House-passed bill, a provision was included addressing chronic understaffing at NCES, and requiring the Department of Education to report back on plans to rectify the staffing issue. PAA endorsed this report language and worked with other scientific research organizations to support its inclusion.

Meanwhile, the National Academies have launched two ad hoc panels charged with examining two important functions within IES. A Vision and Roadmap for Education Statistics is tasked with recommending “the future portfolio of activities and products for the National Center for Education Statistics.” Among the distinguished experts serving on the panel is Dr. Rob Warren, Director, Minnesota Population Center. A second NASEM committee The Future of Education Research at the Institute for Education Sciences is delving into emerging issues in education research and methodological advances and training investments that can support education research. (Read PAA's comments to the panel.) Both studies are expected to be released in 2022.

Input from the NASEM panels may prove timely and help inform congressional efforts to reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA), which governs IES operations. The last ESRA authorization expired in 2008 and a subsequent effort to pass a reauthorization, in the middle of the last decade, did not make it over the finish line. Some lawmakers have signaled their desire to revisit ESRA, although no concrete steps have been taken at this time.

And while Congress and NASEM consider near-term funding and long-term recommendations for IES, the agency, under the leadership of IES Director Mark Schneider, continues its work. Last month, the Secretary of Education announced the appointment of Dr. Peggy Carr to become the new Commissioner of NCES, replacing former commissioner James “Lyn” Woodworth, whose term expired in June. Dr. Carr has served as acting commissioner and brings decades of experience, most notably with the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).

During a recent briefing by the IES Director for the social science community, Director Schneider provided an update on IES activities. Of particular interest to data users is the newly launched Education “Pulse” Survey, funded with $100 million from the American Rescue Plan (ARP), a COVID relief measure enacted earlier this year. The Pulse survey aims to gather timely and relevant data from a representative sample of 1,000 schools nationwide and is planned to collect data for at least 12 months. IES/NCES is also working to support and improve state longitudinal data systems, which should yield meaningful improvements in data quality and data linkages. Schneider commented that one of the challenges of running an agency like IES is finding and maintaining an appropriate balance between “academics and applied science.” However that balance is achieved, it is clear that a robust, well-funded and adequately staffed statistical branch—NCES—is key to obtaining both objectives. Read recent blogs on these and other issues published by Director Schneider here.

PAA, as a member of the Friends of IES, works continuously with other scientific research organizations to help inform policymakers about the significance of IES and to ensure the agency receives sufficient and support from Congress and the Administration. View recent communications with Congress here.