If signed by President Bush as expected, a bill passed by Congress Oct. 16 to overhaul the federal office in charge of education research will eliminate within two years the ten Regional Technology in Education Consortia (RTECs)—agencies that help school districts effectively plan for, use, and evaluate technology.

Despite this provision, educational technology advocates say they are mostly pleased with the legislation, because it also ensures that technology will continue to play a prominent role in the government’s research efforts.

The Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 (H.R. 3801) replaces the current Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI)—a division of the U.S. Department of Education—with a new Institute of Education Sciences.

This institute will function as a separate, independent office governed by a director and a board. It will consist of three national centers: one for statistics (the National Center for Education Statistics, which currently exists), one for research, and a third for evaluation and regional assistance.

The measure eliminates through consolidation both the $10 million RTEC program and the Eisenhower Math and Science Consortia, adding their functions to the Regional Education Laboratories and the Comprehensive Regional Assistance Centers programs. There are currently 15 Comprehensive Centers, but the new law would require no fewer than 20. It also suggests rolling current RTEC and Eisenhower funding into the Comprehensive Centers program, raising its funding to a recommended $80 million.

To ensure a smooth transition, the RTECs would be funded through 2004 under the new law.

“We obviously would like to have seen the RTECs funded, but we are pleased to see that they will be funded for at least the next two years,” said Jee Hang Lee, senior legislative assistant for Leslie Harris & Associates, a legal firm that represents the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in legislative affairs.

Richard Hershman, vice president for legislative affairs at the National Education Knowledge Industry Association (NEKIA), which represents the RTECs and other OERI-funded institutions, applauded the bill, but admitted some disappointment.

“We’re generally pleased with the outcome,” Hershman said. “We also had a number of disappointments. The RTECs being eliminated along with the Eisenhower Math and Science Consortia was a major disappointment.”

Prior to the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), there were a total of 48 individual technical assistance centers focused on each title of ESEA. But over the years these centers have been diluted and consolidated, offering more general services, he said.

“We favored the continuation of the RTECs because we wanted to maintain that level of expertise and commitment [with respect to technology],” Hershman said.

Knowing that the RTECs likely would be eliminated, groups such as NEKIA, CoSN, and ISTE lobbied hard to make sure surviving programs—like the Regional Education Labs and the Comprehensive Centers—would provide technology assistance to states and school districts.

“We focused on getting educational technology into the roles and missions of the education centers,” Lee said. “We wanted to make sure educational technology still played a large role.”

Because of this, education analysts say they are still pleased with the bill’s outcome. “We were able to get educational technology into many portions of the bill,” Lee said.

The measure briefly identifies several topics of study for the new institute—including adult literacy, rural education, and teacher quality—but no topic is as elaborately defined or as prevalent as technology.

Under the National Center for Educational Research, for example, the act specifically states that the center will carry out research initiatives regarding technology’s impact on education, including how technology affects a student’s achievement, cognition, and learning.

The Research Center also will determine the most effective and cost-efficient uses of educational technology under various conditions, according to the bill. It will research how teachers implement technology and internet-based resources in the classroom, including how these resources are accessed and used and to what degree they are effective.

Such studies have become even more important in light of the No Child Left Behind Act and its insistence that schools use only scientifically based programs and approaches to improving student achievement.

The new institute’s overall functions will include compiling statistics, developing products, and conducting and supporting scientifically valid research, evaluations, and dissemination.

It will provide information about the condition and progress of education in the United States; the effectiveness of federal and other education programs; and best practices that support learning, improve academic achievement, and expand access to educational opportunities for all students.

Within the institute’s National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, the act creates a National Library of Education. This library will house the products and documents created through the institute’s programs, as well as other relevant research, statistics, and evaluation materials that are scientifically valid.

Grover J. (Russ) Whitehurst, assistant secretary for research and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education, will become the first director of the new institute. One of his first jobs will be to plan the institute’s priorities.

Links:

Regional Technology in Education Consortia
http://www.rtec.org

Office of Educational Research and Improvement
http://www.ed.gov/offices/OERI

Consortium for School Networking
http://www.cosn.org

International Society for Technology in Education
http://www.iste.org

National Education Knowledge Industry Association
http://www.nekia.org