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Senate Takes Up Bill on Education Research, Colleges Balance Free Speech and Harassment Protection

Senate Takes Up Bill on Education Research

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee voted to approve the reauthorization of an expired federal law regarding education research. Enacted in 2002, the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) requires the conducting of research and collection of data on education in the country, but it expired in 2008. During an Executive Session yesterday, the HELP Committee advanced its proposed ESRA rewrite of the Advancing Research in Education Act (S. 3392). Education Week covers some of the big changes presented in the bill, including: finding a more reliable way of measuring poverty rates in schools, authorizing a new data-innovation grant to support states in data collection, and new requirements to ensure greater diversity of authorship in research projects funded by the Institute for Education Sciences. The bill still needs to pass the full Senate before it heads to the House. 

According to Politico, many education organizations have requested further adjustments—such as the collection of information on school shootings and on emerging technologies. The Alliance For Learning Innovation—of which our national policy affiliate is a member—has called for the bill to authorize a new research and development arm of the Department of Education. This could be something akin to the US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency  (DARPA)—which has played a role in the development of innovations like the internet, personal computers, and GPS. We’ll be watching to see how this federal policy unfolds.

College Campuses Balance Free Speech and Harassment Protections

According to CNN, a Palestinian flag was draped over the menorah on the New Haven Green over the weekend, during the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. Yale University promptly issued a statement condemning "the desecration… [which] conveys a deeply antisemitic message to Jewish residents of New Haven, including members of the Yale community.” These local events follow a Congressional hearing last week in which the presidents of Harvard, MIT, and the University of Pennsylvania were questioned about the rise of antisemitism on their campuses. Shortly thereafter, the three presidents came under public scrutiny over whether their campuses had sufficient policies regarding genocidal statements. Penn President Liz Magill resigned.

David French wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times on Sunday, arguing that—as private universities—none of these schools are legally bound by First Amendment free speech considerations. In contrast, because they receive federal funds, they are required to protect students against discriminatory harassment. 

Going forward, a neutral position on speech, coupled with a clear delineation as to when it crosses over into harassment—fairly and universally applied on campuses—might best allow students to wrestle appropriately with a diversity of ideas.

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