The government dismantling of ERIC Clearinghouses is another important issue for which the education community has mostly rolled over and played dead.
Is there any federal commision of child abuse or intellectual outrage for which educators will march on Washington?]
Published in U. S. Department of Education
AERA Comments on ERIC Statement of Work
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May 9, 2003
The Honorable Rod Paige
Secretary of Education
Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202
RE: ERIC Draft Statement of Work (SOW)
Dear Mr. Secretary:
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is pleased to have the opportunity to offer comments on the ERIC Draft Statement of Work for the operation of an online bibliographic and full-text ERIC database of education journal articles and non-journal materials. Founded in 1916, AERA is the national association of over 20,000 researchers dedicated to the advancement of sound science in education and the widest possible dissemination and use of this knowledge in policy and practice. As part of our mission, we publish peer-reviewed journals and books, convene an annual meeting based on merit review of proposals for papers and panels, and undertake other programs and policies to promote the infrastructure of education research.
AERA commends the Department of Education for recognizing the importance of the ERIC database and investing care in the preparation of a Draft Statement of Work, including a schedule of deliverables, performance standards, and measures for the assessment of performance. We see in the SOW important elements that could improve the performance of the current ERIC system, a number of which have been encouraged by the ERIC Clearinghouses over the years. We share the Department’s goal of providing a database that is more timely and readily accessible, that puts in place more rigorous selection criteria, that emphasizes electronic submission and expands the amount of full-text materials, and that improves the content coding and metatagging to enhance search capacity on the database.
We have substantial concerns, however, that rather than building on the strengths of the ERIC Clearinghouses as they have evolved since 1966, the proposed “new” ERIC will simply dismantle the system. Our concerns include the following:
Elimination of Valuable Clearinghouse Functions. The new ERIC is a centralized system that functionally transforms ERIC into only a database. Clearinghouses serve a purpose that extends well beyond the construction of a high quality, user-friendly database. Everyday Clearinghouses field thousands of e-mails and calls from persons needing to connect with educational resources to do their work well. Ask ERIC, user-oriented websites, the ERIC Digests, electronic journals, and specialized databases are among the tangible Clearinghouse products made available to educators, policymakers, the library community, students, and researchers in overwhelming numbers. The elimination of such functions underestimates the complexity of meaningful access and use. Given our shared commitment to research-based practice and policy as articulated in “No Child Left Behind,” we need to strengthen and not reduce access to experts and expertise that a distributed clearinghouse model can provide.
Limiting Access to Knowledge. Several aspects of the SOW raise questions as to whether the scope and quality of the database, however inadvertently, will be reduced.
The SOW suggests a limiting of the high quality work in the ERIC database. Designating an “approved” list of journals “directly related to education” could seriously compromise the scope of high-quality published knowledge relevant to education that is now made accessible to educators, policymakers, and other consumers and users of the database. A database that interrogates and evaluates the quality of articles and material from across scholarly domains (irrespective of where they are published) would offer a more robust and useful service to practitioners, students, and researchers. Many journals and other information sources publish education-related materials of merit that need to be assembled and integrated into a cohesive database. It is far better to make decisions about inclusion in the database based on the topical relevance and merit of the articles.
Of considerable concern is that, under the new ERIC, the designated contractor would use only three content experts in each of the current Clearinghouse topic areas to help determine what journals and materials to include in the database. This amount of input is far too limited to cover the broad number of topics (and subtopics) required under Section 172 of the Education Sciences Reform Act. It is hard to see how this approach could bring the rich expertise currently available on an ongoing basis in the Clearinghouses.
A related concern relates to the abstracting and indexing functions. The SOW encourages the contractor to use publisher and author abstracts and indexing information. We are concerned that this approach minimizes the expertise and knowledge essential to quality indexing and abstracting and thus the quality of the searches possible with this database. We are similarly concerned that the SOW calls for the contractor to use automated indexing insofar as feasible.
While this requirement is not absolute, it similarly underestimates the amount of expert knowledge required for sophisticated indexing.
We trust that these concerns and others you receive in public comment help in the revision of the Statement of Work. In undertaking that revision, we urge the Department to consider how best to construct this database and a clearinghouse system to increase genuine access and use of research knowledge. We believe that significant quality improvements in ERIC can and should be made, but that we need to consider the role of clearinghouses and ensure that vital functions are not lost in moving to the next generation of database construction, dissemination, and support. We value the opportunity of offering these comments. AERA and our leadership are available to help in any way we can.
Felice J. Levine, Ph.D.
Hilda Borko, Ph.D.
Cc: Grover J. Whitehurst
Institute of Education Sciences