1984–1990 | 1991–1995 | 1996–2000 | 2001–Present
NCREL—originally named the Educational Laboratory for Economic Development in the Midwest, Inc.—came into being on February 6, 1984, when its Articles of Incorporation were filed with the Illinois Secretary of State. On July 16, 1984, the Technical Proposal to establish the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory was submitted to the National Institute of Education (NIE), the predecessor agency to what is now the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education. In crafting the proposal, the chief state school officers of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, together with higher education representatives of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) and Teacher Education Council of State Colleges and Universities (TECSCU), identified general regional needs and characteristics. These included needs for both urban and rural settings, the demands of a high-technology society, a need to provide professional development, and a general need to improve instruction.
On October 1, 1984, NIE awarded a contract totaling $7.4 million for a five-year period to the Educational Laboratory for Economic Development in the Midwest, Inc., to form the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. The total contract amount included $700,000 for first-year planning. The interim Board of Directors of seven members (one from each of the NCREL states) appointed Russell Zwoyer as Interim Executive Director. In 1985, the permanent Board of Directors was established, and Tom Olson was appointed Executive Director. NIE awarded a supplemental contract of $66,675 to fund Secondary Schools Recognition Conferences.
Jane Arends (formerly NCREL's director of instructional quality and equality) was named Executive Director in 1986, followed by Jeri Nowakowski (formerly on the faculty of Northern Illinois University) in 1988. By this time, the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) had replaced NIE and NCREL was a year off the recompetition cycle. Consequently, OERI granted NCREL a one-year extension to time the ending of its contract with that of the other regional educational laboratories. Following are highlights of NCREL's accomplishments under its first contract with the U.S. Department of Education:
- Provided telecommunications-supported staff development to improve reading instruction in 17 rural Wisconsin districts through the Wisconsin Rural Reading Improvement Project. The project later (1992) went on to earn approval from the Program Effectiveness Panel of the U.S. Department of Education for dissemination through its National Diffusion Network (NDN).
- Created a network of urban schools in the region to accelerate the learning of at-risk students through fundamental school restructuring.
- Established an initial network of 19 major universities in the region to promote change and improvement in preservice education.
- Created a two-way regional dissemination system by working with and through intermediaries.
- Provided training and consultation to support educational improvement.
- Worked with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in producing video programming and supporting print materials to provide high-quality staff development to states and school districts via satellite.
- Sponsored regional conferences to provide current information on educational issues.
- Sponsored annual state policy seminars to support policy study and analysis in each of its seven states.
- Created a network of assessment, testing, or accountability directors.
- Conducted research to develop a solid foundation for services and products focusing on higher-order thinking.
- Developed a research-based model of learning and instruction for teachers and administrators that was practical, easy to understand, and had applications to the content areas.