The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) wants the nation to invest $500 million in research on how to improve student learning. In a report issued last week, an academy panel proposes a novel, state-based structure to channel new research findings into the classroom--and to make them readily available to educators all over the country. If adopted, the initiative would also give a major shot in the arm to educational research, which has traditionally been a scientific stepchild.
"Academics tend not to value applied research on education," says NAS President Bruce Alberts. "As a consequence, the current level of spending isn't up to the task, nor to the importance of the issue." In a foreword to the report, Alberts says he hopes the proposal to create what the report calls Strategic Education Research Partnerships (SERP) triggers as much enthusiasm as the academy's 1988 report that helped launch a project to map and sequence the human genome.
States would play the key role in SERP, says Joe Wyatt, chancellor emeritus of Vanderbilt University and chair of the panel, who envisions a network of a half dozen or more centers distributed around the country. Researchers would tackle the most important issues shaping student achievement, from new curricula to improved teaching training, and then help to implement what works best. One model, he says, is the nation's system of teaching hospitals, which provide a way to continually incorporate advances in biomedical research into patient care. "While education researchers now have the best intentions," he says, "there is no systematic mechanism for applying what they learn."
Wyatt hopes to raise $3 million to $5 million from private foundations and companies by the end of the year to launch the partnerships. The projected $500 million budget over 7 years--drawn from public as well as private sources--includes the cost of in-house research staff and a large database as well as support for a dozen or so projects involving researchers and local schools. Even that sum, notes Judith Ramaley, head of education programs at the National Science Foundation, amounts to less than "half of 1%" of the nation's annual spending on education.