Commissioner, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance &
Chief Evaluation Officer, U.S. Department of Education
(Remarks made on November 17, 2022, at Results for America’s 2022 Invest in What Works Federal Standards of Excellence events.)
If you walk into almost any kindergarten classroom today, you’ll almost always find a “Star Chart.” It’s usually displayed with pride next to the chalkboard in the front of the room. On it, the name of every student in the class. And next to each name, a long row of stars, each signifying a task earnestly mastered by a young learner. (More than forty years later, I can still remember the pride associated with finally getting a gold star for “can tie shoes,” which I was seriously delayed in getting due to an overabundance of shoes secured with Velcro in my youth.)
Today, I’m very proud to acknowledge that the U.S. Department of Education has received its own gold star. It was bestowed by Results for America, which advocates for the use of evidence in federal, state, and policymaking to improve outcomes for students, families, and communities, as part of its 2022 Federal Standards of Excellence program. Each year, participating federal agencies are evaluated on their progress in using high-quality evidence as a “north star” in policymaking. This year, Education was recognized alongside two other agencies – the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the U.S. Agency for International Development – as a top-scorer, earning the “Gold” designation.
ED’s national leadership in using evidence to inform policymaking has been a journey that now spans more than two decades. Its roots can be traced to the 107th Congress, which in 2001 reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 as the No Child Left Behind Act and, in 2002, passed the Education Sciences Reform Act. The latter authorized the founding of a group toward which I’m somewhat partial: the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). (I would invite you to join my colleagues and me in celebrating #IESat20, now through mid-2023!) But no single event, and no distinct component of the Department, is individually responsible for our success building evidence about “what works” in education and putting that evidence to work to better serve learners, educators, and communities. I often say “evidence-building is a team sport at the Department of Education,” and it truly does take the commitment of talented professionals from across the organization to make it a reality.
This year, that team has been particularly busy. Department-wide, we have supported states, school districts, and institutions of higher education in their continued efforts to meet the challenge of pandemic recovery. Much of that work has focused on the use of evidence-based practices to accelerate learning for all students, making the most of historic investments in education such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) and American Rescue Plan (ARP) Acts. Key partners in that work include IES’ Regional Educational Laboratories, operated by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE); the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Comprehensive Centers; the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services’ Technical Assistance and Research Centers; and the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development’s Grant Policy Office.
Elsewhere in the Department, the emphasis has been on evidence-building. Here, IES has taken a particular leadership role. The National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES’) School Pulse Panel is a critical new component in our evidence-building infrastructure. The Pulse allows us to more rapidly collect and report descriptive information about conditions on the ground in our nation’s schools, addressing topics from the extent of staffing shortages to the programs schools are offering to support learning acceleration. That and other information supports a vibrant research and development infrastructure, led by the National Centers for Education Research (NCER) and Special Education Research (NCSER). In addition to their regular education grant programs, both Centers ran special competitions in Fiscal Year 2022 specifically designed to support pandemic recovery, including those aimed at better leveraging longitudinal data to support state recovery policymaking and building evidence about the approaches states and districts used to address the pandemic, and, when possible, their effectiveness.
In Fiscal Year 2023, more good work is already underway.
First, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge an important investment this most recent Congress has made in the evidence-building work of the Department: authority as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022 to reserve up to one-half of one percent from selected programs authorized by the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, to support high-quality research and evaluation related to the Department’s postsecondary programs. A similar set-aside for the Department’s K-12 programs dramatically catalyzed our ability to build and use evidence there – and I have every confidence this new authority, if continued, would do the same for our postsecondary portfolio.
Second, and consistent with my belief that “evidence building is a team sport,” I want to take a moment to encourage you to join the team! As an initial step, I’d like to invite you to join me and special guests from the Department in our new webinar series creatively entitled “Evidence-based Policymaking at ED: Introducing the U.S. Department of Education’s Inaugural Learning Agenda.” Across three installments, we’ll discuss the Department’s evidence-building priorities in three areas: the educator workforce; meeting students’ social, emotional, and academic needs; and increasing postsecondary value. In each, we’ll dig a bit deeper into each topic and its nexus with an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
I hope – but cannot promise – that Education will, this time next year, report that we’ve earned another gold star for building and using evidence in service of smart policymaking. What I can promise is that, because both educators and education policymakers will continue to need high-quality evidence to do their best work on behalf of the nation’s learners, we will do our best to help them meet challenges both old and new. Thanks to Results for America for today’s recognition, and to all those who support our nation’s students, educators, and communities every day.