The roots of WestEd go back to 1966, when Congress funded regional laboratories across the country to find practical ways to improve the education of our nation's children. Charged with "bridging the gap between research and practice," a number of the original 20 Regional Educational Laboratories grew beyond their initial charge and developed into successful organizations.
Two in particular — the Southwest Regional Educational Laboratory (SWRL) and the Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development (FWL) — evolved beyond their laboratory roots, eventually merging in 1995 to form WestEd.
In our over 40 years of service, WestEd has positively impacted the lives of millions of children and adults through research in education and human development; publishing and disseminating hundreds of books, briefs, and manuals; working on thousands of projects; and hosting and presenting professional development events.
Below is just a small sample of our accomplishments.
1966 - 1976
SWRL developed its Beginning Reading Program (BRP), featuring the "I See Sam" reading series. During the 1970s, more than a million children learned to read using BRP, arguably one of the most significant contributions of any of the laboratories. Controlled studies of impact consistently revealed stunning results in terms of the BRP students' reading comprehension and other desirable outcomes.
FWL developed teacher "minicourses" on a variety of subjects. Each minicourse provided a model of specific classroom strategies or behaviors, gave teachers a chance to practice the strategies, then provided feedback. Minicourses were distributed throughout the country, and the approach was adapted for use in other professions beyond K–12 education.
1976 - 1986
FWL's landmark Beginning Teacher Evaluation Study identified teacher characteristics and skills that contribute positively to student performance. The study focused national attention on "Academic Learning Time," a concept soon picked up and extended by countless other researchers and educators.
SWRL developed the Curriculum Alignment Program for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The program began in two elementary schools and, as it proved effective, was soon expanded by the district to every LAUSD elementary school.
1986 - 1996
By the late 1980s, SWRL's Human Development Program — precursor to WestEd's current Health and Human Development Program — gained a national reputation for its work preventing risky behavior, such as alcohol and other drug use, and for promoting healthy development among youth.
SWRL built a comprehensive suite of related activities, including research and evaluation, statewide surveys, product development, and direct services that address the whole range of factors shown by research to be important in young people's healthy development.
FWL developed teacher cases to improve teacher education and effectiveness in the classroom. The lab's work in this area was on the cutting edge of what has been called a "quiet revolution in teacher education."
Increasingly, both SWRL and FWL began to influence policies at the state and national levels. For example, the 1988 Hawkins-Stafford Amendments re-authorizing the federal Chapter 1 program reflected the findings from FWL's 1987 "Study of the Whole-Day Experiences of Chapter 1 Students."
In 1995, FWL and SWRL merged to form WestEd.
1996 - Present
Since the 1990s, WestEd's Center for Child and Family Studies has had enormous influence on national, regional, and local policies and practices related to the care of young children. Our Program for Infant/Toddler Care (PITC) has become the most widely used system for training caregivers of infants and toddlers in the United States. In 2002, PITC was selected by the National Center for Children in Poverty as a model initiative to support infants, toddlers, and their families.
WestEd's Assessment and Standards Development Services program has helped shape effective statewide assessment and accountability systems nationwide. For a decade, WestEd's Western Regional Educational Laboratory was formally designated by the U.S. Department of Education as the lead laboratory in assessment.
WestEd now boasts more than 600 staff — including many national leaders in the fields of education and human development — working in 16 offices across the country.
With numerous projects at the national, state, district, and school levels, WestEd's work is far-reaching with one major goal: improving learning at all stages of life — our principal focus for over 40 years.