PCAST Letter on Educational Research

June 8, 1998


President William J. Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Clinton:

The quantity, quality, and organization of educational research in thiscountry need renewed attention.  Results from TIMSS, the Third InternationalMathematics and Science Study, indicate how urgent it is for us to understandand improve America's educational system.  TIMSS also illustrateshow compelling data -- not only about achievement levels but also aboutcontextual, curricular, and classroom factors -- can generate honest andconstructive dialogue.  The members of PCAST applaud your role leadingsuch discussions publicly as well as privately.

Our concern is to ensure a continuing supply of rigorous, comprehensive,and high-quality research that, like TIMSS, can command attention and informpolicy.  We therefore appreciate the $75 million Education ResearchInitiative you proposed in your FY 1999 budget submission to Congress asa first step.  These funds explicitly begin to address PCAST's callfor much greater investment in this area -- the highest priority recommendationin the March 1997 report on The Use of Technology to Strengthen K-12 Educationin the United States prepared for you by a PCAST Panel chaired by DavidShaw.

That PCAST document sets ambitious targets for the size, scope, andquality of the research initiative needed, including estimated annual expendituresgrowing to $1.5 billion.  We urge that funds secured this year withreference to the PCAST report work towards attaining these goals. The $75 million should function as an initial investment in building themethodological, human, and institutional capacity that we urgently needto address questions such as: What happens as learning materials becomemore technology intensive?  How can the large expenditures on inserviceteacher training be more effective and efficient?  What are the classroomimplications of advances in cognitive science?  What effects do standardshave?  Only the Federal government can put in place the infrastructurefor adequately investigating such vital research topics.  Here arethe three most important tasks in building that infrastructure:

Methodological Development: New technology, statistical techniques,and behavioral science methodologies provide previously unimaginable opportunitiesto collect, organize, compare, and analyze educational data.  This,in turn, will make it possible to compile data sets which are sufficientlycoordinated and mutually compatible to be of great enduring value to otherresearchers and to decision makers.  It will become possible to constructeducational research protocols analogous to those in the field of healthresearch, where understanding grows systematically from early-stage researchaimed at formulating hypotheses through controlled empirical studies thattest these hypotheses and the models derived from them.  The EducationalResearch Initiative should therefore support investigating and implementingsuch developments.

Human Development: The much-needed capacity to plan and carry out thiskind of work in education can only grow by training, involving, and supportingboth researchers and practitioners from many different fields and settings. Many with graduate degrees in science, mathematics, and engineering areespecially eager to find ways of enhancing their contributions to educationalimprovement.  Valuable new questions and approaches will be generatedby drawing to the task experimentalists, content experts, and behavioralscientists, for example, along with classroom teachers.  As in othercountries, professional teacher/researchers who help frame questions, collectdata, and implement findings in schools also help establish the expectationthat new evidence will lead to improved practice.  The EducationalResearch Initiative should therefore make such work attractive as a challengingand rewarding career option for those who can bring multidisciplinary talentand expertise.

Institutional Development: No single existing organization can planor carry out such crosscutting work in isolation.  While the EducationalResearch Initiative appears in your budget as allocating $50 million tothe Department of Education and $25 million to the National Science Foundation,we urge these and other agencies to participate more collaboratively ingoing beyond their traditional practices.  We especially wish to involvetwo other strong institutions: the National Institutes of Health to contributeexpertise in cognitive sciences and in managing large-scale, randomizedtrials; and the Department of Defense to contribute expertise with managingboth school systems (e.g., DODEA) and cutting-edge programmatic research(e.g., DARPA).  National Science and Technology Council mechanismsexist to facilitate precisely this kind of interagency cooperation.

How to administer the initiative so that it can grow and succeed isa question for these agencies to explore together.  PCAST stronglybelieves that a distinct new entity may eventually be necessary to manageand fund the research ideally through an organization that can take along-term, science-based, non-political, and broadly national view of therigorous study of education.  We recommend that the FY 1999 spendingconstitute an initial investment in building the methodological, human,and institutional resources that will move us toward a $1.5 billion annualprogram of peer reviewed, politically independent, reliable, and cumulativeresearch in education that draws on a broad base of expertise.

Thank you very much for your attention to this important matter. PCAST looks forward to discussing progress reports from the Administrationat each of our upcoming meetings so that we can be helpful in a continuingway.  We are deeply grateful for your leadership on this issue thatis so vital to the future of our nation.

Sincerely yours,

John A. Young     David A. Hamburg
PCAST Co-Chair     Education Panel Chair

cc: Vice President Al Gore

President'sCommittee of Advisors
on Scienceand Technology
1600 Pennsylvania Ave,N.W
Washington, DC 20502


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