What GAO Found
The Department of Education's (Education) Institute of Education Sciences (IES) supports high-quality research, but lacks certain key procedures needed to fulfill other aspects of its mission. According to stakeholders, IES has substantially improved the quality of education research since its inception over a decade ago. However, GAO identified concerns with IES's ability to produce timely and relevant research. For example, IES's efforts are slow to respond to stakeholders' needs, in part, because the time IES's products have spent in peer review has substantially increased in recent years--from an average of 117 days in fiscal year 2011 to 150 days in fiscal year 2013--and IES does not monitor some aspects of these timeframes. In addition, IES does not have a structured process for incorporating stakeholder input into its research agenda, which previous GAO work has shown to be key to sound federal research programs. Lastly, IES's performance measures do not fully reflect its current programs, which is not consistent with leading practices GAO has identified for performance management. For example, IES does not publicly report on the overall performance of the Regional Educational Laboratories (REL) program, which constitutes one of the agency's largest investments. IES officials said that they have begun to develop new performance measures for all of their programs, but these will not be in place until fiscal year 2015.
Although Education's research and technical assistance groups have taken steps to disseminate relevant research to the education field, IES does not always assess these efforts. Some stakeholders raised concerns about the dissemination of relevant products from the RELs and Research and Development Centers (R & D Center). For example, they told GAO that these groups do not always adapt their products for use by both policymaker and practitioner audiences. Further, IES has not fully assessed REL and R & D Center dissemination efforts. As a result, IES does not know if these efforts are effective in meeting their mandated goal of providing usable research and information to stakeholders. GAO's prior work on information dissemination suggests that further assessment could help inform IES's oversight of the RELs and R & D Centers to improve these groups' dissemination to key audiences.
IES coordinates with other relevant federal research agencies to increase the use of research evidence in federal decision-making. For example, IES and the National Science Foundation recently released guidelines to help improve the quality of evidence resulting from federally-funded education research, which stakeholders said will benefit the education field. Within the department, IES plans evaluations of Education programs through coordination with various other offices. However, Education lacks statutory authority to combine evaluation funds for Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) programs, which officials said limits the department's ability to conduct high-quality evaluations of programs it considers most important. GAO's prior work has shown that many Education programs, especially smaller programs, have not been evaluated, limiting the ability of Congress to make informed policy decisions. For example, in 2009, GAO reported that 11 of Education's teacher quality programs had not been evaluated in more than 7 years. Officials said that the ability to combine evaluation funds would allow the department to conduct needed evaluations of ESEA programs.
Why GAO Did This Study
The federal government has a longstanding role in conducting education research and collecting education data, and IES has a broad mission to provide this information to a wide variety of stakeholders. With a fiscal year 2013 budget of just under $600 million, IES is Education's primary research and evaluation arm. GAO was asked to review IES's performance. This report examines: (1) the extent to which IES has demonstrated its ability to support high-quality research and fulfill its mission, (2) the extent to which selected Education research and technical assistance groups disseminate relevant products to the education field, and (3) how IES coordinates its activities with other relevant federal research agencies and within Education. GAO reviewed relevant federal laws and regulations, agency documents and data, interviewed agency officials and stakeholders, and analyzed information from selected research and technical assistance groups. GAO also compared IES's practices to federal internal control standards and leading practices for performance management and collaboration.
GAO recommends that Congress consider granting Education authority to combine funds authorized for evaluation of ESEA programs, and IES use available data to manage its peer review process, develop a structured process to gather stakeholder input, develop performance measures that reflect all key agency activities, and assess REL and R & D Center dissemination strategies. Education agreed with our recommendations.
Matter for Congressional Consideration
|To ensure that Education can conduct critical program evaluation work, Congress should consider granting Education authority to combine funds authorized for evaluations of ESEA programs and target them to high-priority evaluations, with appropriate measures to ensure transparency and accountability for how the funds will be used.||The fiscal year 2014 and 2015 Department of Education appropriations acts authorized Education to use evaluation funds reserved under section 9601 of ESEA to evaluate any ESEA program without respect to the source of the funds. According to Education, in 2014, the department combined funds totaling $4.8 million from a number of ESEA programs in order to support new, high-priority evaluations, including short turnaround impact evaluations on technology-enabled strategies that are being used to improve instruction and outcomes for elementary and secondary school students.|
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Institute of Education Sciences||1. To improve the management and accountability of IES's research and evaluation efforts, IES should use available data to routinely monitor all stages of its peer review process and identify opportunities to improve the timeliness of its reviews.|
|Institute of Education Sciences||2. To improve the management and accountability of IES's research and evaluation efforts, IES should develop a structured process to systematically gather input from policymakers and practitioners and use this input when developing its research agenda.|
|Institute of Education Sciences||3. To improve the management and accountability of IES's research and evaluation efforts, IES should develop performance measures, including targets and goals that clearly demonstrate results, and that reflect its current programs and all key agency activities, such as the performance of the RELs and its new grant programs supporting researcher-practitioner partnerships.|
|Institute of Education Sciences||4. To improve the management and accountability of IES's research and evaluation efforts, in order to identify leading practices and target areas for improvement, IES should assess the effectiveness of REL and R & D Center dissemination strategies by, for example, collecting consistent data and lessons learned from these groups to inform future dissemination efforts.|