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May 2008

Staff News

Meet the New Associate Commissioners

In the past year, IES has added to the ranks of its senior leadership team with the appointment of four new associate commissioners. Together with the commissioners and existing staff at the associate commissioner level, the Institute is well positioned to continue delivering rigorous and relevant research, evaluation, and statistics to the nation's education system.

Stuart Kerachsky joined NCEE in January 2008 as Associate Commissioner for Knowledge Utilization. Allen Ruby, Associate Commissioner for the Policy and Systems Division at NCER, arrived last October. Also at NCER, Elizabeth Albro was appointed Associate Commissioner for the Teaching and Learning Division in August 2007, and Thomas Weko earlier this year was named Associate Commissioner, Postsecondary Studies at NCES. They join fellow associate commissioners Ricky Takai, NCEE, and Val Plisko, Peggy Carr, and Jeffrey Owings, all at NCES.

As the two newest associate commissioners, Kerachsky and Weko become members of an accomplished team that represents decades worth of experience in the field of education science.

Stuart Kerachsky Named Associate Commissioner for Knowledge UtilizationKerachsky received his Ph.D. in economics in 1975 from the University of Wisconsin and has spent much of the last three decades working in social policy research, conducting and directing all phases of cutting-edge, rigorous evaluations, from data collection to research and reporting. He recently retired as a senior vice president at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., where, during his 33-year career, his responsibilities included being director of research and director of surveys.

"My time at Mathematica pretty much corresponds to the life of large-scale, experimental social policy research in this country," Kerachsky says, "so I have witnessed the development of methods, applications, and uses for rigorous research during a very exciting period. There has been a steady growth in the demand for good research and the evidence it generates, and policymakers and practitioners have become increasingly more sophisticated and demanding consumers. This, in turn, has stimulated tremendous creativity in the research community." Kerachsky adds, "the link between good evidence and good policy is now well established."

At NCEE, Kerachsky's area of responsibility is knowledge utilization. This includes the Center's efforts to "broadly disseminate what we know about the effectiveness of programs and policies designed to improve education in this country." This dissemination is carried out through the What Works Clearinghouse, which documents the quality of the research guiding policy development, the revitalized Regional Educational Laboratory Program, with its mission to bring rigorous evidence to bear on the educational issues of their respective regions, and the Education Resources Information Center database (ERIC) and National Library of Education, which continue to be central parts of NCEE's knowledge dissemination efforts.

Thomas Weko Named Associate Commissioner, Postsecondary Studies at NCESWeko, who earned his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Minnesota in 1991, joined NCES in January 2007, after holding academic appointments at public and private universities and working at the state and federal government level. He moved from academe to government in 1999, taking a post as associate director for policy at the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board, and later as senior analyst at the U.S. Government Accountability Office. In 2003–04 he was invited by the British Foreign Office to be an Atlantic Fellow, and worked with the Higher Education Policy Institute and Higher Education Funding Council for England. In 2005–06, he held an appointment with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, where his work focused on comparative studies of higher education systems.

In his role as associate commissioner for the postsecondary studies division, which he assumed in January 2008, Weko oversees data collection for U.S. postsecondary education, including a suite of sample surveys (the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, the Beginning Postsecondary Study, Baccalaureate and Beyond Study, and the National Study of Postsecondary Faculty), and a major institutional survey of the 6,700 postsecondary institutions participating in the federal government's student aid programs, the Integrated Postsecondary Data System.

"My academic experience provided me with methodological training and a first-hand understanding of the underlying phenomenon that we are trying to measure and describe in our surveys," Weko says. "My experience as a policy analyst gave me an opportunity to work with NCES postsecondary data, to become familiar with state and federal higher education policies, and to understand the needs and concerns of our core customers, among them Congress, state governments, and higher education associations."

As Kerachsky and Weko look ahead to the institute's future, they see challenges and opportunities.

"My aim is to strengthen the quality and usefulness of the data we provide about postsecondary education," Weko says. "One way we are doing this is improving the tools that we use to make our data available to analysts—the Data Analysis System, for example. Another is by improving the accessibility of our data to a wider audience." He adds that his division is working to improve the analytic power of its data collections by building linkages between postsecondary data collections and secondary data collections. "Working through the Student Longitudinal Data System Grant program," he explains, "we hope to further support the development of state data systems, and through this improve the quality and scope of data for education analysis."

At NCEE, Kerachsky says "educational improvement remains a national priority and one of our greatest challenges. We must increase our effectiveness in determining what works, when, and why. The knowledge utilization group is working to target programs and policies that are found to influence education, and to get concrete and actionable information out to the people who implement change. As we move forward, I expect the knowledge base to improve, and I also expect that we will continue to develop the staff skills inside and outside of IES to strengthen the link between knowledge development and knowledge utilization."