NSF & Congress
Summary: House Science Committee's Subcommittee on Basic Research Hearing
on Education Technology
October 26, 1999
On October 26th, the House Science Committee's Basic
Research Subcommittee held a hearing to examine the
current state of education research. Chairman Smith
stated that the goal of the hearing was two-fold:
- to determine how the estimated $300M we spend
on educational research each year can be better
utilized to assure students are leaning at their
maximum potential; and,
- whether taxpayers are getting their money's worth
in terms of the dissemination and utilization
of research that has proven successful.
Congresswomen E.B. Johnson noted the absence of connectivity
between education research and effective strategies.
She commended the Interagency Education Research Initiative
(IERI), but noted her concern with first year funding,
especially the lack of contribution by NIH. Witnesses
included Dr. Judith S. Sunley, Interim Assistant Director
for the Education and Human Resources Directorate;
Dr. C. Kent McGuire, Assistant Secretary, Office of
Educational Research and Improvement, DoEd; Dr. G
Reid Lyon Chief, Child Development and Behavior Branch,
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
(NIH); Dr. Alexandra K. Wigdor, Associate Executive
Director, Commission of Behavioral and Social Sciences
and Education, NRC; and, Dr. Maris A. Vinovskis, Professor,
Department of History and School of Public Policy,
University of Michigan.
Dr. Sunley (NSF) addressed the state of education research
in general, as well as the IERI initiative and the
coordination of education research among federal agencies.
She said the state of education research is mixed
but improving, and that the PCAST report (Report to
the President on the Use of Technology to Strengthen
K-12 Education in the United States) issued a clarion
call to mobilize an ambitious effort of rigorous research
to enable large-scale improvement in technologically
rich K-12 classrooms. Dr. Sunley stated that NSF is
significantly upgrading education research efforts
and spent $60M in FY99 on these efforts. She described
briefly the types of activities supported by these
funds. The three agency (NSF, DoED, NIH) IERI initiative,
she said, seeks to support the development and dissemination
of research-proven, technology-enabled educational
strategies to improve the learning of core subjects
in K-12, as well as teacher instruction in these areas.
She stated that this initiative is pursuing uses of
education research that engage partnerships and reshape
the way the agencies interact with one another. She
called for more studies concerned with the implementation
Dr. McGuire (DoED) discussed the work of the Office
of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI). He
said education research is a complex, human, social
real world venture that is a profession and not an
academic discipline. Dr. McGuire concurred with Dr.
Sunley's call for more studies on implementation and
said this will be part of the IERI program. He emphasized
the complexity of education research and the need
to focus on a few really important problems. Dr. Lyon
(NIH) said that not using and applying what we know
is what's hurting our children. He discussed the work
of the National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development (NICHD) which, he said, conducts longitudinal
research on focused questions. He said there remains
a gap between what we know and what is practiced in
schools. He said the black hole is teacher preparation.
Dr. Wigdor (NRC) discussed the NRC's Strategic Education
Research Plan (SERP) plan. She noted that the plan
sets to undertake what the field has been lacking
-- sustained research that is scientifically rigorous
and focused on the practical problems of improving
teaching and learning. She said SERP is based on the
idea that collaborations on designing and carrying
out research will make research more focused on problems
in schools. She said researchers, educators, and policymakers
are the heart of the SERP plan. Dr. Vinovskis (U of
MI), whose comments focused on the OERI, said the
federal government is not doing a good job of collecting
and disseminating data, and that one limitation is
lack of sufficient funding. He agreed with other witnesses
that the federal government should focus its research
Rep. Smith questioned witnesses on how to improve student
learning and pedagogy. Dr. Lyons stated that the issue
is to develop a sustained multiagency program by bringing
the different agency cultures together for science,
math, etc. He said IERI is pushing the agencies to
do what they don't now do in this area. Rep. Johnson
asked when research outcomes could be implemented.
Dr. McGuire said studies need to be large enough to
be taken seriously and it is important to be clear
about what the goals are. Research programs need to
be designed to give us what we need. Dr. Lyons noted
that we know enough in certain areas of reading, math,
science, etc. to do certain things, but we are not
doing them because of the lack of accountability in
teaching and research training in colleges of education.
He said philosophy and ideology guide education, and
this is where the gap exists.
Mr. Ehlers said the key issues are how to sort out
the good research from the bad, how to avoid fads,
and how to implement what we know. He also noted that
the present federal investment is inadequate. Dr.
Wigdor said one way to avoid fads is through collaborations,
staying focused, and a coherent set of goals. Dr.
Vinovskis said we need to recognize how we go through
these fads and avoid them. He said what should be
looked at is what has been done and what was learned,
instead of what will be done. Rep. Biggert questioned
witnesses on early childhood education research. Dr.
McGuire noted many programs at OERI that address this
issue that are longitudinal, but because of insufficient
funding it's hard to tell which programs work. Dr.
Vinovskis urged the committee to look carefully at
this subject and reinforced Dr. McGuire's comments.
In the context of the discussion, Rep. Morella asked
how Congress could help. Dr. McGuire said the OERI
needs to have a permanent authorization.
Another area of concern witnesses addressed was the
need for more teachers to have a respect for research.
Dr. Lyons noted that teachers are not able to absorb
the assumptions that instructional programs are based
on. Dr. Vinovskis said the problem is the disparity
between those who do the best research and schools
of education. Dr. Sunley stated that the attempt to
deal with all these issues is partially responsible
for the fads we see. She said that when knowledge
continues to be gathered in a narrow setting and then
taken and moved to a larger setting, you end up with
unintended side affects, which appear to be the next
fad. This is why, she said, the focus of the IERI
is to move from a narrow setting to a broad, documented
In summary, witnesses agreed that educational research
is complex and programs need to be collaborative efforts,
that are longitudinal, multidisciplinary with strong
peer review, focused on a few key areas that can be
studied long enough to make a difference. Witnesses
also agreed that the IERI program is a good way to
develop collaboration and cooperation by harnessing
the expertise of agencies specializing in different
kinds of educational research.