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Senate HELP Committee Advances the Advancing Research in Education Act (AREA)

News January 4, 2024

On December 12, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted 20-1 to advance S. 3392, the Advancing Research in Education Act (AREA), bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA). U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), chair of the HELP Committee, and Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), ranking member of the HELP Committee, introduced the legislation earlier this month. Since it was signed into law in 2002, ESRA has made educational data collection more robust and authorized various federal government efforts to collect statistics and conduct research on education from early childhood through post-secondary education and the workforce. 

ESRA is an important support to all education programs, and its reauthorization is an opportunity to support state and local efforts to expand access to high-quality early learning opportunities through improved research and data, which play vital roles in shaping the policies and practices that support children’s learning and development.

In April, in response to a Request for Information from the HELP Committee on policies to consider in ESRA reauthorization, FFYF wrote a letter encouraging Congress to strengthen research on early care and education (ECE) and improve early learning data access and use within states to empower educators and policymakers to enhance the quality and outcomes of early learning programs. 

The new reauthorization bill takes important steps to improve education research and evidence use, as well as collect and connect data from early childhood through K–12 education, postsecondary education, and the workforce. Specific to early childhood, this legislation would:

  • Develop and improve the Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) program. SLDSs are data systems that connect statewide information over time and across education programs/systems. The bill would integrate additional federal, state, or local data sources, develop tools that provide access to data insights produced by the SLDS, upgrade data infrastructure or reporting systems, integrate data, improve data sharing, and promote linkages across ECE through the workforce, among other changes. This is necessary to equip policymakers, practitioners, and families with timely data they can use to best meet children’s needs.

    Because ECE services are often delivered across multiple agencies and programs, data integration between and across programs is challenging. This can create a barrier to accessing essential data between the programs overseeing different elements of the ECE system and the families they serve. Only 22 states link data between all or some ECE programs, 18 of which have implemented an early childhood integrated data system, according to 2018 data from The Early Childhood Data Collaborative. ECE programs are often separate from other education systems, making alignment between programs and data sharing more difficult.  While every state has a SLDS, 21 do not incorporate early learning data. These states are at a significant disadvantage in terms of understanding and addressing the needs of young children. Strengthening the SLDS program is an important aspect of ESRA’s role in aligning education systems from early learning through the workforce.
  • Establish a National Center for Education Evaluation and Evidence Use, which will increase evidence use among practitioners, education system leaders, and policymakers, and promote continuous improvement in early childhood.
  • Develop resources or train practitioners and education systems leaders in early childhood education in identifying, selecting, implementing, and adapting evidence-based practices, including through providing technical assistance to early childhood programs, Head Start agencies, and Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) lead agencies.
  • Authorize contracts or cooperative agreements to carry out research-practice partnerships with ECE programs, Head Start agencies, or CCDBG lead agencies. This will help to identify and develop research questions, designs, measurements, and methods that address educational challenges in early childhood and support continuous improvement.

Support at Committee Markup

At the Committee markup, Chairman Sanders highlighted that the bill will help modernize how states track student data and outcomes from preschool to college to allow for the identification of gaps and opportunities for young people. Ranking Member Cassidy outlined that the bill addresses concerns from both researchers and education leaders by improving education research conducted at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), enhancing evidence used in the classroom, and strengthening the dissemination of such evidence to improve student outcomes.

What’s Next?

The bill now advances to the full Senate for consideration, which is one key step in the reauthorization of ESRA. FFYF commends the HELP Committee for advancing AREA and recognizes this as a significant step forward in incorporating ECE in research and data efforts.  A section-by-section summary of the bill is provided by the Committee here

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