On November 5, 2002, President Bush signed H.R. 3801, which included the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002. Although the federal government has been collecting educational data in some form or another since at least 1870, the legislation made these data collection capabilities more robust with the creation of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to house the National Centers for Education Research, Education Statistics, and Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. According to the law, IES, through its many Centers, was to provide leadership in the developing understanding of education from early childhood through post-secondary. The law also established the National Board of Education Sciences to serve as the board of directors for IES.

Additionally, ESRA sought to influence the quality and dissemination of educational research, both by increasing the amount and quality of data collected and by setting standards and a review process for the research that used those data. Lawmakers took a multipronged approach to those major quality improvements. First, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) was charged with assisting states with the development of quality longitudinal data systems. Additionally, Congress authorized the Department of Education to make grants to states to create or improve those data systems. And it updated provisions concerning the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which provides comparable student achievement data across the U.S.

These changes to data collection and quality were coupled with expectations that the study of education data reflect “scientifically based research standards.” To that end, empirical research methods and peer review were both major requirements. This has been an expectation in the Department of Education’s grantmaking, as well—the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, for example, has required that grantees use evidence-based programs.

Finally, the law also aimed to ensure that the research findings uncovered through IES data would be widely distributed, and not just to other researchers, but to stakeholders such as schools, educators and parents. IES primarily conducts those activities through its Regional Education Laboratories (RELs), which provide technical assistance to state and local educational agencies. Its goal is to help states and districts understand and use data, both for research and instructional purposes.


Excerpted from: CJ Libassi. “The Little-Known Bill With a Big Impact on Education Research.” EdCentral. May 29, 2014.

ESRA Reauthorization

Ensuring the dissemination of education research findings has been one of the primary concerns in ESRA reauthorization discussions.