Home About the RELs
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.