Ed Dept. Shuffles Research, Safe Schools Offices

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Several offices and responsibilities are being shifted at the U.S. Department of Education in an effort to improve the quality of research and to enhance the visibility of federal efforts to combat drugs and violence in the schools.

President Bush was expected last month to sign the legislation (HR 3801) to establish a new, independent Academy of Education Sciences. The academy would replace the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, and would have three centers focusing on research, evaluation and statistics.

The research legislation would require all federally funded research activities to meet the type of scientifically based standards contained in the No Child Left Behind Act, the nation’s primary blueprint for federal support of education. A centerpiece of the Bush campaign, it was enacted in January.

Research will not be limited to classroom activities, said U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), who sponsored the bill. After-school programs will also be explored and evaluated.

Castle believes the academy will provide educators with the tools they need to select programs for classrooms and after school, based on more than trends and hearsay. “A heck of a lot of educational research has been anecdotal,” he said, noting that some former directors of the research office did not have research backgrounds.

Current contracts for research will not be canceled, Castle added.

In another change, the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools is being elevated to a free-standing principal office headed by a deputy undersecretary. The office currently is in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and is run by a director.

Education Secretary Rod Paige said in a prepared statement that the terrorist attacks and school shootings “sent a clear message that schools need to be better prepared to deal with an entirely new class of emerging threats.”

The office will be in charge of all activities related to safe schools, crisis response, alcohol and drug prevention, the health and well-being of students, and character and citizenship programs. Combining those efforts into one office will “enable us to better respond to the critical needs of schools in these areas,” Paige said.

The office will be headed by Eric G. Andell, a senior advisor to Paige. Bill Modzeleski, the current office director, will serve as an associate deputy undersecretary. Andell and Paige both hail from Texas, where Andell was an appeals court justice and a juvenile court judge.

Whether the office needs a higher profile is open to debate. Education officials said the reorganization was not prompted by complaints about how the office has been running. Castle, chairman of the House Education subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the Department of Education, said the office has “done a fairly decent job.”

“I don’t have any idea” why the office was elevated, Castle said. “It may be they have a lot of respect for this guy” [Andell] and created a new position for him. “Or there may be a legitimate reason for why they did it. If nothing else, it’s at least a signal that these are important issues.”

A spokesperson for the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, said, “No one here wants to talk about it.”

In addition to the drug and safety office, Paige also established the Office of Innovation and Improvement to consolidate programs related to school choice, charter and magnet schools, nonpublic education, home schooling and other issues. The office will also house several discretionary programs, such as transition to teaching and Troops-to-Teachers.

Contact: U.S. Department of Education, www.ed.gov.