The following is an excerpt from SIRC’s report on the i3 program. In it, national experts and former Obama administration officials weigh in on lessons learned and the program’s possible future.
Viewed in isolation, the i3 program – while imperfect – appears to have been generally effective. But the newly-renamed Education Innovation and Research (EIR) program does not exist in a silo.
The program exists in a larger policy context – one that includes other federal programs, state and local education agencies, and perhaps most importantly, a political context that has become very different in the aftermath of the 2016 elections.
How does EIR fit into this larger context? As one administration exits the stage, what fate awaits it in the next one? If the new Republican administration and GOP Congress choose to keep it, how might it change?
New Administration, New Priorities
In late 2015, Congress reworked i3 as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, bipartisan legislation that replaced No Child Left Behind. The new EIR program now bears a bipartisan imprint.
Still, as a program originally associated with the Obama administration, its fate under the incoming administration is uncertain. The Trump administration may decide to eliminate it, but it may also see it as useful tool for furthering its school choice and accountability agendas. Moreover, support for evidence-based policy and tiered evidence initiatives (like EIR) more generally has been growing among Republicans on Capitol Hill.
When asked, Rick Hess, the Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, began by making the pessimistic case. “I don’t know what will be done in the new administration,” he said, “but I assume the new administration and Congress will take a hard look at the full array of Obama initiatives, including this one.”
“If i3 had happened outside the context of Race to the Top and had not been locked arm-in-arm with foundations on Common Core, I think I would have looked upon it differently, because historically the idea of public-private partnerships has a lot of appeal.”
“On the other hand, there are folks who are interested in school choice. They might see it as a vehicle for encouraging more choice programs and expanding efforts to study their impact,” he said.
The president-elect has pledged $20 billion for school choice. His Education Secretary-designee, Betsy DeVos, is a strong school choice and accountability advocate. Federal support for charter schools is overseen by the Office of Innovation and Improvement, the same division that runs EIR. As a program that provided support for charter school initiatives like KIPP and New Schools for New Orleans, EIR could be useful to the incoming administration.
Others point to potential support in Congress. “Betsy DeVos will be extremely important, but there is also more appetite on the congressional side than there used to be,” said Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, a former director of the Institute of Education Sciences under President George W. Bush.
“There is still bipartisan momentum to increase evidence use within federal policy,” agreed Martin West, associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a former senior education policy advisor to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN). “I think the status of programs like EIR hinges on that broader momentum.”
Support for evidence-based policy has been growing among Republicans in recent years. In the summer of 2016, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other members of the House Republican leadership made evidence a central component of a policy plan that it ran on in the fall, called A Better Way. Although the plan did not mention EIR specifically, it endorsed tiered-evidence initiatives in general.
The broader focus on evidence has also drawn cautious support from analysts at conservative organizations like the American Enterprise Institute, Manhattan Institute, and Heritage Foundation. In November, the Heritage Foundation endorsed the increased use of evidence in the federal budget process.
Given these varied sources of potential support, EIR’s fate is unclear. If it were to be kept in place, however, how might it be changed?