Policy Recommendations for the Education Sciences Reform Act

Mathematica responded to a request for information (RFI) from U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), ranking member of the HELP Committee, regarding reauthorization of the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA).

Mathematica’s recommendations reflect its experience leading two Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs), providing technical assistance to support evidence building and use for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), reviewing and disseminating evidence for IES’ What Works Clearinghouse, and conducting evaluations on a range of education topics.

Mathematica offered several high-priority ESRA recommendations:

  • Improve timeliness of research from RELs. Congress should provide exceptions to the Paperwork Reduction Act for studies requested by state and local education agencies of their own staff to enable RELs to conduct these studies on a quicker timeline, making them more relevant and useful to those agencies. Congress should also provide IES with the flexibility to award longer REL contracts to facilitate more sustained, timely, and useful work focused on student outcomes.
  • Provide additional support for coordination between regional Comprehensive Centers (CCs) and RELs. Congress should require clear delineation between the scope of responsibilities for CCs and RELs; require alignment in the geographic scope of CCs and RELs; and direct ED to award CCs via contracts or fee-bearing grants that would expand the set of organizations that pursue CCs. Providing such support would enhance the collective effectiveness of both sets of organizations by facilitating coordination, avoiding redundancy, and improving quality.
  • Set cross-agency standards regarding the quality of research and evidence. Setting and ensuring these standards or guidelines are consistent across federal agencies would support more consistency across clearinghouses, simplify how users find and use evidence, and support common standards for the rigor of research. 
  • Encourage greater flexibility from IES to better support field-initiated research. Congress should recommend that IES use mechanisms—such as contracts or fee-bearing grants—that would enable a wider range of organizations to compete for field-initiated research support to evaluate education programs and policies. Relying on grants that preclude the use of fees excludes many organizations (like Mathematica) that are highly qualified to conduct timely and meaningful field-initiated research.
  • Encourage IES to expand its statistical toolkit with methods that produce results that are easier to interpret and more useful for policy and practice. Congress should encourage IES to expand its statistical toolkit to include methods that support a transparent, evidence-based approach to assessing the likely implications of research findings for education decision makers—in particular, Bayesian methods. These methods can provide research findings that are easier for practitioners to interpret and better connected to decision makers’ needs.