SRRI was founded in 1987 through the efforts of its first director, Jack Lochhead. Initially, the Institute was conceived as the synthesis of three components:
- science education research projects, which at that time had established a ten-year funding history;
- the General Education Basic Math Program, originating through a grant from the Exxon Foundation but having acquired State funding, and
- the Cognitive Processes Research Group, an informal association of faculty researchers from several University schools and colleges.
Unfortunately, the Basic Math Program, existing as it did outside traditional University structures, was an early casualty of the severe budget cuts of the 1990s. Since then, the Institute has relied entirely on external grant funding, primarily from the National Science Foundation.