A Vision for the Future of Education Research and Development

Group of colleagues talking in office

Education systems in the U.S. are at a critical juncture. Our educators, leaders, and policymakers face many complex challenges, from addressing systemic inequities and helping students acquire skills and learning opportunities missed because of the COVID-19 pandemic to dealing with teacher shortages and the rapid growth of artificial intelligence-driven tools in our homes, schools, and workplaces. More than ever, it is critical that educators have access to timely, high-quality evidence to inform their decisions.

The infrastructure to fund and support education research and development that meets the needs of educators and learners has improved in recent decades. Public and private funders are increasingly prioritizing research that leads to high quality evidence and collaborative initiatives such as the Regional Educational Laboratories, which are committed to helping policymakers and practitioners use that evidence. At the same time, available research does not fully address the need for solutions to the significant educational challenges young people face. For example, evidence-based approaches that are tailored to individual learners’ academic, social, and emotional needs and interests are limited. And although educators across the nation have engaged in innovative practices in their classrooms, we do not have a mechanism to evaluate these approaches and ensure that effective strategies are widely shared.

In short, current approaches to generating and disseminating evidence have limited ability to provide the timely, field-relevant information that educators need. To address this urgent need for better evidence, researchers, policymakers, and funders are discussing new models of research and development.  

New Models of Education Research and Development: Learning Lessons from the Department of Defense

NCADE Legislative Action

In July 2022, U.S. Reps. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., introduced the New Essential Education Discoveries (NEED) Act, which called for the creation of NCADE within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the research, evaluation, and statistics arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

Despite strong bipartisan support, the NEED Act did not move forward in 2022. AIR, however, will continue monitoring legislative activities of the 118th Congress should any members reintroduce the NEED Act.

The IES is exploring a new center that would rapidly accelerate research and development in education. On several occasions, including this article from The 74, IES Commissioner Mark Schneider has championed such a center. Proposed by congressional leaders (see call out box), the National Center for Advanced Development in Education (NCADE) would promote new approaches to research and development that emphasize innovation and technology to better meet the needs of the field. NCADE would be charged with generating tools, resources, and evidence that aims to scale innovative, cutting-edge practices modeled on the strategies that have been successful at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

In response to concerns that the U.S. was falling behind other nations, DARPA was created in 1958 to accelerate research and development in science and technology. DARPA has pioneered the federal agency approach to generating “high risk, high reward” applied research and development, and it has served as a model for other agencies to prioritize rapid cycle projects that are innovative and technology driven.

View our recent issue brief, in which we share key findings and offer recommendations for an advanced education research center, like NCADE.

We sought to better understand how agencies like DARPA set, pursued, and achieved their ambitious goals, as well as how their experiences might, or might not, be relevant to the education research and development context. A summary of these insights is now available in a recent issue brief, “Accelerating Progress in U.S. Education Key Lessons from Other Federal R&D Investments in Technology and Innovation.” Our recommendations address the need for research and development to be more tightly aligned to one another, for research and development to be conducted in close collaboration with partners in the field, and for research to be grounded in specific use cases.

We hope that in thinking about how to make education research more relevant and useful, leaders at the Department of Education and on Capitol Hill will emphasize the need to balance lessons learned from initiatives like DARPA with the urgent needs facing students today, including that education research investments result in new supports for teaching, learning, and assessment that are equity-focused and effective. Furthermore, AIR will continue to monitor congressional legislative activities surrounding the development of NCADE.

Laura Hamilton Headshot
Senior Director, Education Measurement and Assessment
Orrin Headshot
Principal Researcher