Evidence, data should drive LEAs’ decisions, report says

Some consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on education are already known and severe while others are still emerging. Paired with systematic issues that predate the public health crisis, education leaders should let evidence and data drive the difficult decisions that lie ahead, according to a report from Results for America.

According to 2021 Moneyball for Education Policy Recommendations, the needs of students and staff are increasing while state and local government revenues, two major sources of public education funding, are heading for major declines across the country.

“This dynamic of increased need and declining resources is heightened for students who have been held farthest from opportunity by the inequities in our society and our public systems, including K–12 education: students of color, students from low-income families, English language learners, and students with disabilities,” the report states. “In many cases, these same students are suffering disproportionately from the virus itself, bearing the unique burden of complex health and economic harms that the pandemic has exacerbated.”

In California, however, there has been an influx of dollars in recent times though current funding will presumably run out in the coming years. Thinking sustainably will be key in the long-term.

There is also a growing urgency to ensure racial justice and equitable economic mobility for students who fall into those groups, according to the report.

Officials should include evidence and data in decision making

All that considered, the organization found that it is time for education leaders at all levels to embrace and use evidence and data to inform their policymaking. “Doing so is not a solution on its own, either for new challenges like COVID-19 or for long-standing challenges like systemic racism, but it is absolutely necessary to help make the most effective and the most equitable use of all available resources to improve opportunities and outcomes for all students,” the report asserts.

The report, published in March, updates RFA’s 2015 recommendations on how federal education policy should use data, evidence and evaluation to solve the field’s most pressing problems. Recommendations made then have been apparent in policy that has come out since, like the commitment to evidence-based decision making solidified in the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Principles outlined by RFA call on government and other leaders to help improve outcomes for students, families and communities.

These principles include:

  • Building evidence about the practices, policies and programs that will achieve the most effective and efficient results so that policymakers can make better decisions.
  • Investing limited taxpayer dollars in practices, policies and programs that use data, evidence and evaluation to demonstrate how they work.
  • Directing funds away from practices, policies and programs that consistently fail to achieve measurable outcomes.

With longstanding bipartisan support, the principles reflect “what Americans want from their government at this time of great uncertainty and heightened need,” RFA said, citing a May 2020 poll conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, which found that 92 percent of Americans felt government should use evidence and data to inform decisions.

The report notes that the United States Department of Education and Congress can do more to embrace these principles in how they approach decisions and how they influence states and LEAs approach decisions.

Additionally, RFA identified five actions that can be taken to support the recommendations. These include revising and aligning the definition of the term “evidence-based”; shifting additional competitive and formula funding to evidence-based approaches; and building larger and more effective evaluation, research and development infrastructure.