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Acting on Diversity

Mark Schneider, Director of IES | August 6, 2020

Since the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, IES leadership has done soul searching as we continue to grapple with the educational (and societal) conditions that established present-day patterns of inequities.

We are trying to find actions not just words that help us more fully realize the language in ESRA charging the Director with the responsibility for ensuring that IES’ work is conducted in a manner that is “objective, secular, neutral, and nonideological and free of partisan political influence and racial, cultural, gender, or regional bias.” ESRA further charges the Director to undertake “initiatives and programs to increase participation of researchers and institutions that have been historically underutilized in Federal education research activities of the Institute, including historically Black colleges or universities or other institutions of higher education with large numbers of minority students.”

Addressing racial, cultural, gender, or regional bias is not just a moral imperative—it’s also a legal one.

Since actions matter more than words, IES leadership is trying to identify what we can do, and we are undertaking empirical research to find out where we have missed opportunities—so we can craft the most effective responses. The list below provides a high-level look at some of what we are doing. While these steps are directionally correct, ultimately, we all will be judged on how well we implement them.

  • We need to look at our research investments more carefully to see if we are serving researchers and institutions that have not previously been brought into the IES ecosystem.
    • To further this effort, we need to expand our efforts to increase diversity among the peer reviewers who evaluate the significance and quality of the research we fund. 
  • We need to support more training to create a new and more diverse population of education researchers.
    • The Pathways program is a great source of inspiration and a guide to future IES investments.
    • We are establishing a program of supplemental grants to investigators, especially those early in their careers, from underrepresented backgrounds.
  • We need to look at the portfolio of NCES data collections to see if they are up-to-date and reflect today’s world of education.
  • We need to find ways of supporting community colleges and career/technical education—because there are many effective pathways into the labor market besides the bachelor’s degree that lead to family-sustaining wages.
  • We need to find ways of growing the resources we invest in adult education—because low levels of adult literacy economically strand so many minority and low-income adults.
  • We need to find ways to improve the delivery of effective special education, because it is minority and low-income students who often end up with the worst services.
  • We need to improve the design of our assessments and other studies to develop better analytic methods leading to interventions that have a positive impact on the learning outcomes of students of color and low-income students.
  • We need to build on the use of student internship and other programs that have presented opportunities for students in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and other minority serving institutions.
    • A powerful example of this is NAEP’s summer internship program with ETS. Since 2013, 130 promising junior researchers have participated in the NAEP-ETS Summer Undergraduate Research Internship Program.

IES has been working on some of these issues for years—but not always with the appropriate sense of urgency. Many of you know about my commitment to adult and career/technical education. And I have been trying to build up NCSER from the day I arrived at IES. My hope is that the events of last few months will lead us to actions that will improve how we spend the millions upon millions of dollars that the American taxpayer entrusts to us and lead us to better redress the long-standing inequities in educational outcomes.

Many of you also know that I have been frustrated by the slow pace of government, which can be difficult to overcome even at an agency like IES, filled with passionate, hard-working staff. The urgency of the moment, hopefully, will lead us to consider how IES can better conduct our work in a manner that is consistent with ESRA and is free of racial, cultural, gender, or regional bias.

As always, please feel free to contact me: