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What the Presidential Election Might Mean for Evidence-Based Reform

Watching the presidential debates, I wasn't terribly surprised to see that evidence-based reform in education was not mentioned. In a rational world it would have been, but maybe that is just my own irrational world view.

Still, it is possible to anticipate what the future might be for evidence-based reform in Obama or Romney administrations. Arne Duncan says he's staying, so a second Obama administration will surely build on the first. This is mostly good news. The current administration, especially the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has spoken strongly in favor of evidence-based policies. The current administration began i3, which is the most important concrete step ever taken toward evidence-based reform, and it favors ARPA-ED, which would also apply evidence to accelerate technology innovation in education.

Where the Obama administration has not yet gone is toward using evidence-proven approaches to improve outcomes in the main federal investments in education: Title I, School Improvement Grants, IDEA, and so on. As the economy improves and schools have more breathing space, this may change, but moving evidence into policy still has a ways to go.

What would a Romney administration do? In his education positions, Romney sounds more moderate than he does in other areas, and I think he genuinely wants to improve education and make it more cost-effective. In the United Kingdom, the conservative government of David Cameron has been far more favorable to evidence-based reform than was the previous Labor government. So one could hope that a Romney administration might similarly focus on finding out what works and supporting it. On the other hand, while it is true that more money does not automatically improve outcomes, it is also true that things that do improve outcomes will cost something in the short term. If a Romney presidency means substantial cuts in education funding, schools will be hunkering down to protect staff, not looking for proven approaches.

Whoever wins the election is likely to face a divided and polarized Congress and a raft of politically charged problems. But wouldn't it be great if the next administration embraces evidence as a way forward through the difficulties our schools face?

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