NEPC Review: Better Evidence, Better Choices, Better Schools: State Supports for Evidence-Based School Improvement and the Every Student Succeeds Act (Center for American Progress and the Knowledge Alliance, August 2016)
Better Evidence, Better Choices, Better Schools, a recent report from the Center for American Progress and the Knowledge Alliance, focuses on the evidence-based research provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA provisions ask districts and schools to consider various sources of evidence, make judgments about the strength and reliability of that evidence, and use that evidence to justify their choices of interventions. Contrasting these new standards with the scientifically based research requirements featured in previous federal legislation, the report aims to provide guidance for the state and local education agencies now tasked with implementing evidence-based school improvement practices. The guidance consists of eight recommendations for implementing evidence-based reform strategies: defining roles, using evidence clearinghouses, supporting robust decision-making, ensuring high-quality service providers, promoting communication, partnering with intermediate organizations, facilitating effective implementation and promoting continuous learning. While helpful general pieces of advice, these recommendations remain relatively vague and are grounded in neither the existing research literature nor the empirical study featured in the report. The nebulous idea of evidence-based policy is easy to agree about, but skims over more challenging questions. For instance, what counts as evidence, and who is able (and authorized) to determine what kinds of evidence are most relevant to local contexts? While this report raises a number of important issues, it leaves these more difficult questions unexplored.