The Department of Education (ED) supports an array of technical assistance activities, created through legislative mandates totaling $298.7 million.(1) The programs and technical assistance centers or clearinghouses, where the projects are carried out, are broadly defined as providers of both on- and off-site consultation, information dissemination, access to computerized education data systems, conferences, and workshops. Program-funded projects can include one or more of the following activities: research and development; funding and dissemination of demonstrated effective models; technical assistance to states, districts and schools regarding the implementation of federal categorical programs; information dissemination; and direct services to specific populations. Offices within ED fund these projects through grants, contracts and cooperative agreements or provide the services directly.(2)
These centers support programs administered by six different offices in the department. Chapter 1 (compensatory education programs for low-income students) technical assistance centers (TACs) and Rural TACs are administered by the Office of Policy and Planning (OPP).
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) and the department's program offices are not in full agreement on the definition of technical assistance. In a 1991 report, the OIG included projects that provided technical assistance, research, and information dissemination in its definition of technical assistance centers, whereas ED's program offices generally included only technical assistance centers and laboratories in their definition. As a result, the number of centers reported by the Inspector General differed from the number reported by program offices. The numbers for technical assistance centers identified by the OIG are reflected in Table 1 on the next page.
This analysis focuses on the technical assistance centers in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, as these centers are presently up for reauthorization.
The Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) provides technical assistance through the following:
--- The Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) is an information network, with clearinghouses responsible for developing, maintaining, and providing access to the world's largest education database. While ERIC is above average in ease of use, scope of coverage, and ability to find desired or useful citations, teachers and administrators say that the information caters more to the needs of researchers than to the needs of teachers.(3) It does not provide electronic mail or bulletin board capabilities, which would link teachers to researchers and other teachers. ERIC does not provide electronic access and retrieval of curriculum modules or teaching aids for classroom use. In 1992, OERI responded to these criticisms by funding a research and development project, called AskERIC, to test the feasibility of providing answers electronically, in 48 hours or less, to any question posed by Kindergarten through grade 12 educators.
--- The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) collects data on educational institutions at all levels and longitudinal data on student progress.
--- The National Diffusion Network (NDN) is a system that promotes the awareness and implementation of exemplary education programs, products, and practices developed by public and private schools, colleges, and other institutions by providing funds to distribute information about exemplary programs. Recent studies have shown, however, that adoption of individual innovative programs generally do "not have a large and enduring impact on the quality of schooling."(4) OERI has initiated a revision of NDN procedures to promote systemwide rather than project-oriented change.
--- The National Research and Development Centers conduct research on educational policy and practice issues of national significance. OERI has provided very little funding for the research and development (R&D) necessary for major advances in educational reform.(5) It spends only 5.5 percent of its R&D budget on basic research. In contrast, the National Science Foundation invests 94 percent of its total R&D budget on basic research.(6)
--- Ten regional educational laboratories carry out applied R&D and technical assistance for educators, parents, and decision makers. Evidence suggests the need for broader efforts to do development and demonstration work, but also indicates that the laboratories do not have the staff expertise for such efforts. However, a recent national survey of school districts found that they used the resources of the laboratories more than any other source.(7)
A study conducted by the Laboratory Review Panel noted the lack of communication and coordination among the laboratories, centers, ERIC, and the National Diffusion Network and problems with the communication of research results of the regional laboratories to practitioners in state and local agencies.(8)
The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) funds the following centers in fiscal year 1993: six Drug-Free Schools Regional Centers ($18.1 million); six Chapter 1 Technical Assistance Centers ($5 million) and 10 Rural Chapter 1 Technical Assistance Centers ($5 million) serving OESE but administered by OPP; three Migrant Program Coordination Centers ($3 million); and six Indian Education Technical Assistance Centers ($2.3 million).(9)
The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education is concerned that there is no system or strategy for coordination of technical assistance centers to promote the systemic reforms encouraged by the proposed Goals 2000 legislation and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) or to provide one-stop shopping for technical assistance for federal programs. The typical technical assistance center focuses on a particular categorical program or mission (e.g., Chapter 1, federal support for substance abuse prevention), with recipients of assistance generally limited to those who are funded or served by the program. The extensive opportunities for information sharing and training available through technology have not been fully realized or implemented by the department or technical assistance providers. Currently, few state and local administrators or educators are aware of the ED-supported technical assistance available to their state, district, or schools.(10)
A 1991 report by ED's Office of the Inspector General was critical of the department's approach to providing technical assistance. The OIG listed several problems afflicting the system:
1. Similar services are provided by centers supported by different programs, both within and across offices. This is true for both technical assistance and information dissemination. The problem afflicts Chapter 1, Office of Vocational and Adult Education and Office of Educational Research and Improvement programs.
2. There is no departmental plan "to ensure adequate coordination and avoid, or at least minimize, duplication and overlap."
3. Centers may not be located where they are needed. The rationale for the location of centers is unclear.(11)
The department is taking steps to analyze existing technical service activities and identify some needed legislative changes.
1. The Department of Education should develop a strategy for technical assistance and information dissemination to promote the Goals 2000, themes of equity, access, and achievement.
The department must decide who its customers are, what the purposes of the technical assistance centers should be, how prescriptive it wants to be, and the best vehicles to provide that assistance to effect educational change. A strategy is currently being developed by the department for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization.
2. The Department of Education should create multi-purpose technical assistance centers that serve several programs and focus on a variety of issues, in contrast to those related to specific programs.
By aligning the functions of the various categorical centers, assistance providers would address the needs of all children in a school, district, or state in a unified way, rather than just helping to fix one program at a time. Coordinated support, or one-stop shopping, would be available to states and local districts in applying federal resources to systemic reform. Efficiencies would result from reducing the number of centers, which would decrease overhead.
Ten regional centers should be created, eliminating 49 categorical centers and the 50 state contacts in the National Diffusion Network. The 49 categorical technical assistance centers to be eliminated include: six Drug-Free Schools Regional Centers ($18.1 million), 16 Title VII Multifunctional Resource Centers ($11 million), two Title VII Evaluation Assistance Centers ($1.7 million), six Chapter 1 Technical Assistance Centers ($5 million), 10 Rural Chapter 1 Technical Assistance Centers ($5 million), three Migrant Program Coordination Centers ($3 million), and six Indian Technical Assistance Centers ($2.3 million).
Centers should be required to maintain staff expertise in each of the federal program areas, be accessible to its customers, and meet their needs in a timely manner. State and local education agencies and schools should be provided with prompt access to federal priorities, policies, and guidelines through an electronic network. Federally funded toll-free hotlines should supplement the computer network information exchanges.
3. The Department of Education should foster development of a national electronic network that allows states, local agencies, teachers, and administrators to access research and exemplary practice information easily and share ideas and feedback among themselves through "electronic bulletin boards."
This action should be implemented as part of Issue ED08: "Create a Single Point of Contact for Program and Grant Information," described earlier in this report, or an expanded AskERIC.
4. The Department of Education should establish the laboratories as institutions directed toward assisting state and local education agencies as they plan and implement systemic reform.
ED should then enhance the close contact with school districts and state agencies across the country by assisting local agencies with improvements and reform and engaging customers as more active partners.
Some savings may be achieved through consolidation of functions and elimination of administrative and program duplication. These savings, however, would then be applied, through the use of a hotline and electronic bulletin board, to improve and extend technical assistance to better serve ED's customers.
1. U.S. Department of Education (ED), Office of the Inspector General, The Education Department's Use of Technical Assistance Centers and Clearinghouses for Providing Technical Assistance and Disseminating Information, Management Improvement Report No. 91-11 (Atlanta, Georgia, 1991), p. 3.
2. U.S. Department of Education, Assistance to the States: A Directory and Summary of Projects and Programs Funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (Washington, D.C. 1990), p. 2.
3. Atkinson, Richard C., and Gregg B. Jackson, eds., Research and Education Reform, Roles for the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1992), p. 71.
4. Ibid., p. 83.
5. Ibid., p. 139.
6. Ibid., p. 3.
7. Ibid., p. 78.
8. Ibid., p. 77.
9. Interviews with Office of Policy and Planning staff, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C., July 1993.
11. ED, The Education Department's Use of Technical Assistance Centers and Clearinghouses for Providing Technical Asistance and Disseminating Information, p. 5.
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