By Sara Kerr, Kate Tromble, and Laney Umland
As we pass the one-year mark of schools and districts’ shift to remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are reminded of the importance for education to be continuously evolving to meet the growing needs of students and communities. Particularly given the pandemic’s disparate impact on Black and Latino students, students with disabilities, English learners, and students experiencing poverty.
Results for America’s new Moneyball for Education report offers concrete steps federal policymakers can implement to advance the use of data, evidence, and evaluation to solve some of our nation’s most pressing education problems.
Within the five recommendations, we identify specific actions the U.S Department of Education (ED) and Congress can take now, as well as thoughts on larger policy changes to begin working toward in the future.
RFA’s five Moneyball for Education recommendations include:
1. Revise and Align the Definition of “Evidence-Based”
- NOW: ED should strengthen existing guidance to clarify the current definition and encourage SEAs, LEAs, and schools to more deeply consult the evidence base as they select and implement evidence-based interventions.
- LATER: Congress should move toward a streamlined definition of “evidence-based” that more directly promotes innovation, continuous improvement, and scaling of proven K–12 interventions.
2. Shift Additional Competitive and Formula Funding to Evidence-Based Approaches
- NOW: ED should prioritize evidence of effectiveness in all of its competitive grant programs — including those in ESSA, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, and Title III of the Higher Education Act — through tiered-evidence frameworks, evidence preference points, and other evidence-driven strategies.
- NOW: ED should use available tools such as conducting research and providing technical assistance to help SEAs and LEAs increase their use of evidence-based approaches in school improvement plans.
- NOW: ED should fund an independent study or Congress should ask for a US Government Accountability Office (GAO) study of how the evidence-based allowable-use provisions have been implemented since ESSA’s enactment in 2015.
- NOW: IES should publish a biannual determination of the state of the evidence base — beyond what clears the bar for inclusion in IES’s What Works Clearinghouse — for each of the 15 reasonably available provisions that SEAs can rely on in the absence of conducting their own literature reviews.
- LATER: Congress should expand the allowable-use and reasonably available provisions in ESSA to change them from an exception to the default rule.
- LATER: Congress should incentivize SEAs and LEAs to shift more formula funds to evidence-based approaches.
3. Invest 1% of Federal Education Program Funds in Evaluations
- NOW: ED should allocate 0.5% of its discretionary program funding to evaluate the effectiveness of its grant programs.
- LATER: Congress should require the secretary of education to set aside at least 1% of discretionary program funds for evaluation.
4. Build a Larger and More-Effective Evaluation, Research, and Development Infrastructure
- NOW: Congress should increase the Education Innovation and Research Program appropriation from $190 million in FY20 to $500 million in FY21.
- LATER: Congress should double the IES budget from $623 million to $1.25 billion.
5. Produce More-Relevant, More-Meaningful, and More-Accessible Data to Support States, Districts, and Schools
- NOW: ED should support SEAs in making sure new school-level spending data reports are effectively communicated to the public.
- NOW: ED should fully implement the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018.
- LATER: ED should help SEAs improve state longitudinal data systems to better link data sources across the pre-kindergarten through workforce (P-20) continuum.
Education leaders have made strides towards embracing data and evidence to achieve better, more equitable outcomes for students. We must build on the existing momentum and continue to move forward with a renewed commitment to evidence-based policymaking to ensure recovery is swift and lasting.