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About the RELs

About Us

The ten Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs) partner with educators and policymakers nationwide. For nearly 60 years, the RELs have collaborated with school districts, state departments of education, and other education stakeholders to help generate and apply evidence, with the goal of improving learner outcomes. REL work is change-oriented, rigorous, and high-leverage, supporting consequential local, regional, or statewide decisions about education policies, programs, and practices. RELs contribute to the growing body of research on how experiences within the nation’s education system differ by context and student group, thereby impacting outcomes and identifying potential solutions.

The current authorization for the REL Program is under the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) of 2002, Part D, Section 174, (20 U.S.C. 9564), administered by the Institute of Education Sciences' (IES) National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE). The ten RELs each operate under a five-year contract with IES. The current REL contract cycle runs from 2022–2027.

Contact Us

General and Media Inquiries:
Main Telephone Number:
(202) 245-6940
Mailing Address:
550 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20024
Appalachia
Serving Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia
 
Central
Serving Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming
 
Mid-Atlantic
Serving Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania
 
Midwest
Serving Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin
 
Northeast & Islands
Serving Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virgin Islands
 
Northwest
Serving Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington
 
Pacific
Serving American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Hawaii, the Republic of Palau, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands
 
Southeast
Serving Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina
 
Southwest
Serving Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas
Contractor: American Institutes for Research 1
 
West
Serving Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah
 

1 The REL Southwest contract is 11 months off cycle and runs through November 2022.

Working in partnership with key education stakeholder groups is central to the success of the REL Program. RELs engage partners – that is, local, regional, and state education leaders and decisionmakers – in the design, execution, and evaluation of REL activities. REL partnerships are designed, developed and executed to improve long-term student success. Partnership activities are intensive, narrowly focused on a high-leverage topic within a specific state, and characterized by effective communication, genuine cooperation, and a mutual understanding of the context, content, and intended outcomes of the work.

The authorizing legislation for the REL Program requires that RELs conduct three main activities to support improvement in learner outcomes:

Applied Research and Development

RELs partner with districts, states, and other education stakeholders to identify high-priority needs and conduct applied research that address them, helping stakeholders understand problems and learn what is working in their schools. RELs produce clear, objective, and peer-reviewed research products designed to be actionable for partners and national audiences alike. RELs also develop toolkits that support the scaling up of best practices, such as those identified through the What Works Clearinghouse’s Practice Guides.

Training, Coaching, and Technical Support (TCTS) for Use of Research

TCTS projects leverage RELs’ unique expertise in designing and interpreting rigorous, relevant research, as well as the identification and application of evidence-based practices. TCTS includes intensive training involving hands-on, direct instruction from experts in research or practice; coaching, or thought partnering, that supports decisionmakers in applying research evidence to inform high-leverage decisions and actions; and technical support to build partners’ capacity to identify, collect, analyze, and visualize data.

Dissemination

REL dissemination activities are designed to communicate research and evidence in a timely, accessible, and actionable manner. RELs are honest brokers and effective synthesizers of scientifically valid information in an age where information of varying quality is ubiquitous and readily transmitted. REL dissemination activities, products, and strategies are co-developed in partnership with policymakers and educators to ensure that they can leverage and apply research evidence in their local context.

The RELs integrate all three types of activities to support partners in more effectively achieving their intended outcomes for their students.

  • Search the database of REL Applied Research, TCTS, and Dissemination Products

The work of the REL program is intended to complement other IES programs such as National Center for Education Research, National Center for Special Education Research, the National Center for Education Statistics, and other programs of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance such as the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC). RELs represent IES’ “boots on the ground” by translating and helping education stakeholders apply evidence.

REL projects are also intended to complement the work of other Department of Education programs such as the Equity Assistance Centers, and particularly the Comprehensive Center Network. RELs and Comprehensive Centers coordinate to ensure that their distinct expertise is leveraged in complementary ways:

  • RELs’ distinctive value in the federal technical assistance community comes from their ability (a) to conduct rigorous applied research and development work to address critical stakeholder needs, and (b) to integrate and build on that research and development work with high-quality training, coaching, technical support, and dissemination to ultimately improve learner outcomes. RELs generate evidence that recognizes the unique nature of regional education contexts through a variety of products, leveraging training, coaching, technical support, and dissemination activities to help partners understand and implement this evidence.
  • The Comprehensive Centers (CC) program supports 19 Regional Comprehensive Centers and one National Center to provide capacity-building services to State Educational Agencies (SEAs), regional educational agencies (REAs), local educational agencies (LEAs), and schools that, like the RELs, with the goal of improving educational outcomes for all learners, closing achievement gaps, and improving the quality of instruction. By statute, the Department is required to establish at least one center in each of the 10 geographic regions served by the REL program.
  • Regional Comprehensive Centers (RCCs) provide frontline intensive technical assistance to support SEAs' capacity to identify, implement, and sustain evidence-based programs, practices, and interventions in service of improved learner outcomes. This includes support for states to implement their ESEA Consolidated State Plans, and the facilitation of exchanges and communities of practice to help states identify common high-leverage problems and solutions. This also includes support to address programmatic issues identified in Department monitoring reports or audit findings, as well as common implementation challenges faced by States, and emerging national education trends. Capacity-building materials, tools, and trainings are available and disseminated to all States through the Comprehensive Center Network website.

With this focus on supporting implementation, RCCs can amplify the work of the RELs to design and evaluate innovative practices – or identify, implement, and refine existing ones – to meet regional and local needs. While the specific activities of the RELs and Comprehensive Centers may both occupy the TCTS space, each program does so with a distinct, yet complementary focus. Click here for more information on the complementary roles of the RELs and RCCs.

Title IV of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965 authorized the establishment of a network of large-scale labs, with a focus on basic research and the development and dissemination of educational innovations. At the beginning of the REL Program in 1965, there were 20 labs. Over the years, the number has varied. The current RELs Program supports a network of 10 RELs.

The goals set for the REL Program have changed throughout its history.

  • Before 1985, the REL were charged with pursuing the broad goal of general education improvement. Beginning with the 1985 REL awards, the U.S. Department of Education sought to enhance the impact of RELs in their regions by identifying school and classroom improvement as the two main priority areas.
  • In the 1990–1995 REL competition, the education of at-risk children became the focus area.
  • For the 1995–2000 contract cycle, two priority areas were set: (1) promote excellence and equity for all students and (2) scale up reform to encompass all schools, all levels of educational administration, all programmatic areas, and diverse social contexts.
  • In 2000–2005, RELs were asked to (1) create procedural knowledge of the best practices for transforming low-performing schools into high-performing learning communities and (2) promote use of such knowledge.
  • In the 2006–2011 contract cycle, RELs were framed as "emissaries of science," with the goal of providing policymakers and practitioners with training and technical assistance to inform effective decision-making. RELs were required to provide technical assistance that was based on the highest-quality evidence, as defined by scientifically valid research principles. RELs were also expected to engage in high quality, rigorous research to address the effectiveness of programs, policies, and/or practices intended to improve educational outcomes.
  • The 2012–2017 REL program sought to address the disconnect between researchers and practitioners through researcher-practitioner partnerships known as research alliances.
  • The 2017–2022 REL program continued to build on and extend its recent history of high-quality research, genuine partnership, and effective communication.

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