Education Research Centers in Texas, A History
In 2006, the 79th Texas Legislature (3rd called session) identified the need for connecting educational information sources into a longitudinal data warehouse for the use of policy and practice. Legislators authorized the creation of three Education Research Centers (ERCs) to house Texas data and facilitate research that benefits all levels of education in Texas. The ERCs were to provide access to high quality, student-level data from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), and other sources of educational information for the state of Texas. The ERC data resources would span from the Pre-K level through higher education (P-16) and into the Texas workforce; it would host longitudinal information dating back from 1990 to current day. Researchers would be able to use this rich warehouse of data to follow individual Texas students from their first day in school to their last day on the job.
A year following the 79th Texas Legislature, three ERC sites were selected to receive state funding to develop and begin operating data centers. These centers were all located at institutions of higher education in Texas: The University of Texas at Austin (Texas ERC), The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD ERC), and Texas A & M University (TAMU ERC). By September of 2008 these centers were permitted to host the state data and allow researchers access to data for advisory board-approved research projects. The ERC advisory board played a key-role in oversight, research and proposal review, security measures, and general operation of the ERCs. There was a steep learning curve for all involved in the process. The operation of the ERCs as a fully functioning State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) in this time provided both the state and higher education host sites with valuable information on governance and implementation. Developing and operating ERCs necessitated all those involved to maneuver the intricacies involved with providing rich streams of confidential student-level information for researchers while providing the highest levels of security and privacy possible.
In May 2012, at the close of five years, the state sent out a new Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for the renewal of the ERCs per legislative requirement. An important part of the RFQ and the continuation of the ERCs was the capacity for self-sustainability as state funding was non-renewable. After a long wait, new contracts for continuation were sent to two ERC locations (Texas ERC and UTD ERC) in May of 2013.
Around the same time the ERC contracts were sent to the two institutions, a legislative bill addressing the ERCs (HB 2103) had already been filed and was largely through the 2013 83rd Texas Legislature. This bill was created to better align ERCs to state priorities, amend state laws to fix implementation issues, and streamline authority and oversight to reduce the complexity. HB 2103 passed both houses easily and was signed into law by the summer of 2013. Because HB 2103 authorized changes in the ERC law, contract negotiations had to begin anew for the two ERC locations. At the same time, new Texas Administrative Code (operating guidelines that follow Texas Education Codes) also had to be written to mirror the changed legislation and administer the new ERC rules and regulations.
In Fall 2013, the two year logjam ended. New legislation and rules have created a more streamlined process for oversight and function of the ERCs. Given the new statute, the ERCs will be less likely to be stalled by the previous complex political and bureaucratic implementation issues. The future is promising for the ERCs to facilitate research projects, partnerships, and funding resources to help improve data usage and educational outcomes in the state of Texas.
The Texas ERC at The University of Texas at Austin
Headquartered at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), The Texas ERC is established within a higher education setting unmatched in both its depth and diversity of resources. UT Austin is a leading provider of education and research in the state of Texas and the nation at large. The Texas ERC works closely with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board staff to address policy areas affecting both K-12 and postsecondary education. In doing so, both entities work to find potential solutions to student success throughout the education pipeline.
In addition, UT Austin ERC has partnered with other universities as well as other colleges and departments at UT Austin. Researchers have access to the UT Austin ERC data from locations at Texas State University and The University of Texas at San Antonio. Within UT Austin the Department of Economics has partnered on many projects and assisted with upgrading computer infrastructure. As such, the Texas ERC has access to a wealth of experts to call upon and collaborate with, from a range of fields which address educational interests and outcomes. In addition, the Texas ERC has many partners outside UT Austin and collaborates with other university researchers, non-profit research organizations, and education collaboratives.
The Texas ERC data repository itself is a State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) which contains a broad range of connected, student- and school-level data. These data include all public education information from P-12 schools from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), information from both public and private higher education institutions from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), and post-education data from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). The integrated nature of this database allows researchers to follow the educational trajectory Texas students take from elementary school through postsecondary institutions and into their careers. Additionally, several national datasets are also hosted by the ERC including those from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) and the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES). These data points allow for wider connections the beyond the state. The Texas ERC warehouse holds one of the largest and most complete SLDS in the nation.
Past research completed at the Texas ERC has varied in topics. Some research has focused on transitions-middle to high school as well as critical transitions between high school and higher education. Other studies have focused on the achievement of special populations including Limited English Proficient (LEP) students or immigrant groups in high school as well as developmental education courses in higher education. Finally, a larger portion of studies have spoken to the growing demographic gaps in Texas, especially with the increasing Latino population in Texas. Current studies include evaluating the effects of private-public partnerships in education as well as a joint research and demonstration project by the Ray Marshall Center and the Texas Workforce Commission, funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration. Studies completed at the ERC all take advantage of the increased data capacity and the longitudinal linkages allowing for more in-depth findings and outcomes which speak to the full scope of students’ educational careers.