American Sociological Association

Statement by the Council of the American Sociological Association on the Reauthorization of the Institute of Education Sciences

March 16, 2012

The Council of the American Sociological Association (ASA) unanimously endorses the 2011 American Educational Research Association’s (AERA) Report and Recommendations for the Reauthorization of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and emphasizes the particular importance of two recommendations to the social science community. They are: reestablishing the independence and autonomy of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and ensuring that IES has the ability to determine the appropriate research design and methods for its studies through the process of scientific peer review.

The AERA report groups its sixteen recommendations into six broad areas related to the reauthorization of IES. They may be summarized as follows:

  • NCES, which exists within IES, should have the independence and authority necessary to be an effective national resource of unquestionable objectivity.
  • The IES Director and the National Board for education Sciences should have the authority to set priorities and create programs that advance the IES mission of providing education research leadership to the nation.
  • IES’s mission should be expanded to include increasing the public understanding of how school systems and policymakers receive and utilize education research.
  • IES should fully integrate the National Center for Special Education Research into its organization.
  • IES should have a leadership role in the coordination and collaboration of education research conducted across federal research agencies in order to ensure that insights from the full range of scientific disciplines are used to advance the understanding of educational systems and the processes of teaching and learning.
  • IES must receive adequate funding to fulfill its mission.

In endorsing these recommendations, ASA is especially focused on two of them. First, the independence and autonomy of NCES within IES is absolutely essential for NCES to fulfill its core mission. These structural characteristics are found in all fully effective federal statistical agencies. Second, ensuring that IES has the power to determine the appropriate research design and methods for its studies using the universally recognized process of scientific peer review is also absolutely essential to producing the valid, reliable and informed science-based knowledge needed by the policy and practice communities. To specify in a federal agency’s chartering documents what scientific methods are appropriate for its research undermines that agency’s capacity to conduct its scientific work effectively by restricting scientists’ ability to draw upon the wide range of tested, rigorous research tools and study designs that are available to researchers.

As a scientific society, the ASA has a keen interest in the organization and performance of federal research and statistical agencies. On behalf of its more than 14,000 members, ASA monitors proposals related to the structure and operation of these agencies, especially proposals that may affect their independence, transparency, and scientific leadership. The organizational integrity of such agencies directly affects the ability of sociologists and other social scientists to contribute meaningful high quality research to on-going policy and practice discourse.

In endorsing the AERA report, ASA reaffirms its long-standing commitment to work to ensure that federal statistical and research agencies are independent and that they are led by people with relevant scientific expertise who have the full scientific toolbox at their disposal. ASA believes that significantly enhancing the range, rigor, and openness of research and statistics on educational institutions and the processes of teaching and learning will benefit our society’s reach for educational and scientific excellence.

As part of its endorsement of the Report and Recommendations for the Reauthorization of the Institute of Education Sciences, ASA calls upon Congress to enact reauthorizing legislation that will give IES the firm scientific and financial infrastructure it needs to advance the nation’s response to current and future educational challenges.

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