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New Initiative Is Creating Evidence-Based Guidelines for Educators

Carnine: Database will vet, curate and organize resources based on scientific research and on data from high-performing schools, districts and states.

This is a black-and-white photo of the Titanic.
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Policymakers, administrators and teachers in the United States, from the federal level to the classroom, operate as sea captains did before 1914. At that time, captains could sail anywhere they wanted and make decisions as they saw fit. Then the Titanic sank. The subsequent public outcry led to the adoption of the International Convention for Maritime Safety Standards, known as Safety of Life at Sea, or SOLAS. This coherent set of guardrails and guidelines impacted all aspects of seafaring, including where captains could sail. While costing captains some freedom, it empowered those who had a genuine concern for safety and benefited their passengers. 

Similarly, educators share a deep concern for the well-being of their students, families and communities. However, they lack the life-saving constraints and coherent, systemwide guidance SOLAS gives sea captains.

In 2023, a team of education leaders and researchers launched the (EAC) to address harms caused by the absence of SOLAS-like guidance. We saw too many education initiatives that were initially successful fail to endure because of a lack of consistent licensure, accreditation, continuing education or accountability grounded in evidence.

To fill this void, our are creating guidance for decisionmakers in the form of . These are being vetted, curated and organized based on scientific research and on data from high-performing schools, districts and states that consistently produce strong results, especially for marginalized populations. These resources, focused on academic achievement and social-emotional well-being, could become the basis for specific education policies, programs, and practices. They will be accessible on our website, distributed through collaborating partner organizations and promulgated through convenings with education agencies.

Just as the maritime safety standards improved safety and saved lives, the EAC is committed to constraining the use of non-evidence-based programs that cause waste and even harm. For example, , an  intervention targeted to lowest-achieving first graders, has been used with at an per child, which has resulted in total expenditures of $2.5 billion. But, as noted in the , “Reading Recovery students subsequently fell behind and by than similar students who hadn’t had the tutoring, according to a [December 2022] . The tutoring seemed to harm them.”

 Even the much-touted reading initiative that moved Mississippi from the lowest-performing state on fourth-grade NAEP reading scores to 21st in the nation, may have serious flaws. EAC co-founder Kelly Butler, CEO of Mississippi’s , worries that not all components of the state’s education system are being held to the same level of accountability, which can undermine sustainability.

To fulfill its mission, EAC’s first goal is to make evidence the basis for licensure, educator preparation programs, and continuing education. Toward this end, we are collaborating with national organizations including , at the Hunt Institute, , , and the to identify evidence-based resources for licensure, educator preparation and continuing education. We plan to present the results of these collaborations to an audience of higher education professors through the Alabama Department of Education, through the University of North Dakota at a conference for K-12 educators from across the state and through the New Hampshire Department of Education’s conference for teachers and administrators. We are also identifying selection criteria for model policies as a first step in recruiting and convening a coalition of states that will audit the degree to which their licensure, educator preparation programs, accountability and continuing education policies align with the evidence-based resources identified by the EAC and other trustworthy organizations.

To ensure that successful reform efforts will be sustainable, our second goal requires focusing on what is necessary to make evidence central to decisionmaking in nine major components of the U.S. education system: educator preparation, state policy, district and school leadership, assessment, parent and family advocacy, professional learning, linguistic diversity, special education and instructional materials. These components are represented by nine EAC teams that are identifying and organizing evidence-based resources for use by education decisionmakers. Already, Stephanie Stollar, co-lead of the EAC’s educator preparation team, is advising the leaders of 12 educator preparation programs on the use of evidence-based resources and practices to ensure new teachers are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to improve student achievement.

Because education is a complex, multifaceted system, decisionmakers need to adopt a systems perspective, recognizing that failure of one component can impact the effectiveness of the entire ecosystem. Once the full set of constraints and guidance is in place, accountability will be possible and will contribute to educational equity by significantly and permanently improving the achievement and social-emotional and behavioral well-being of all students — with special attention to those with learning differences and other marginalized groups.

In the for the transformation of the profession into an evidence-based system, educators will relinquish certain freedoms — notably the leeway to employ ineffective practices — but will gain guidance that empowers them to fulfill their original purpose by profoundly impacting the future of students, families and communities. The alternative is to continue rearranging the deck chairs under the guise of education reform.

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