GAO Issues Recommendations on IES Performance in Improving Education Research

December 2013

A new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) supports high-quality research and has made great strides in achieving its mission since it was established under the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002. The report also offers a number of recommendations for areas of improvement. The GAO noted, for instance, that the peer-review process that required 117 days in FY2011 increased to 150 days in FY2013.

The GAO took a close look at (a) IES’s ability to support high-quality research, (b) how research is disseminated to the field, and (c) how activities are coordinated with other federal research agencies.

The GAO recommended granting the Department of Education authority to combine funds authorized for evaluation of Elementary and Secondary Education Act programs, which would allow the department to better conduct high-quality evaluations of key programs. It also recommended that the IES use available data to refine its peer-review process, develop a process for gathering input from stakeholders, update performance measures in accordance with current activities, and assess dissemination strategies.

The report also calls for more systematic input from stakeholders focusing on policy and practice. While the report emphasizes policy and practice, it also cites examples from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Science Foundation (NSF) where there is more routine input from the research community on research opportunities and priorities. The report observes that a particular strength of IES is working collaboratively across federal agencies to coordinate and leverage expertise and set research standards, as can be seen in the 2013 report Common Guidelines for Education Research and Development, written in collaboration with NSF.

The published report includes comments from IES Director John Q. Easton on the four central recommendations advanced by the GAO. At the request of the GAO, AERA helped plan two focus groups of research experts to contribute to the information and data obtained in undertaking this report.