The Wall Street Journal - Broad Foundation and Harvard Launch New Education Research Center

September 25, 2008

By Mike Spector

NEW YORK -- The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation announced the creation of a new education research center at Harvard University in an effort to close achievement gaps in U.S. public schools.

The center, which will be called the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University, or EdLabs, launches with a budget of $44 million with the goal of finding ways to improve education practices across the U.S.

While the scientific community has the National Institutes of Health and U.S. defense has the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, "public education has no such laboratory," said Eli Broad, one of the Broad foundation's founders, during a news conference at the Clinton Global Initiative in midtown Manhattan.

The new research center will test ideas in U.S.'s three largest school districts: New York, Washington and Chicago. Initially, the center's leaders say it plans to: build a core database that can track impacts on student performance; test various student incentives to see if they change student behaviors and attitudes; rigorously examine existing practices; and share findings with policy makers, including quantifying the expected "return" from an investment in a school or district.

The center plans to spend $9 million on researchers at Harvard, $3 million on three research and development teams in each school pilot district and $32 million on developing and executing one or two innovations and academic interventions annually in each of those districts.

Leaders launching the center didn't specify what these innovations would be, but said their goal was to come up with new solutions to close the achievement gap among students of different backgrounds.

Lawrence Summers, the former Harvard president who will serve as chair of the center's outside advisory board, noted that former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor set a 25-year timeframe for when affirmative action in education should no longer be necessary. "We're 20% through" that timeframe, he said, and "we have not closed the gap 20%."

Joel Klein, chancellor of New York City schools, said Americans should be "shocked we have racial and ethnic achievement gaps 50 years after Brown v. Board."

Asked if the establishment of the center was an implicit rebuke to the federal Education Department, which does its own research, Mr. Summers said, "It's not a rebuke to any individual."

He said the center was established in part on the theory, that "war is too important to be left just to generals … finance is too important to be left just to financiers. Education is too important to be left just to those who've been a part of the system."

Roland Fryer, a Harvard economics professor and research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, will serve as the center's chief executive.

Write to Mike Spector at

See also: Roland Fryer