Evidence-Informed Innovation and Improvement


January 6, 2015


Whenever I get together with my fellow members of Knowledge Alliance, we spend time discussing how research, evaluation, and data use can further support the improvement goals of state education leaders. Daily, staff from our nearly 20 member organizations help apply research and data to address educational challenges ranging from improving early-childhood education to increasing postsecondary and career readiness and success. We support the improvement of entire education systems and communities as well as the instruction of individual teachers and learning of individual students. Our members know firsthand the deep commitment that state leaders have to educational improvement and their interest in providing innovative solutions to long-term educational challenges.

Each of our members could cite numerous examples of the types of research and evaluation questions we receive from state leaders, but let me review some from my own organization’s recent experience. In one state, leaders are interested in knowing how their innovative college scholarship program is working to educate and retain young people. In another, state education leaders are interested in knowing how a statewide grassroots effort they support to improve educational outcomes is doing. In several of our states, leaders want to know their progress on innovations to promote teacher effectiveness.

We also know from state leaders that they often feel hampered in their efforts to produce and use evidence by a lack of capacity and resources to conduct the evaluations they need to guide their efforts. In this regard, it is good news that additional support for evaluation efforts comes this week from the U.S. Department of Education (ED). In its recently released ESEA Flexibility Renewal Guidance, the Department states that “given the range of SEA and LEA strategies being implemented under ESEA flexibility, ED is interested in working with SEAs to evaluate and learn from different state and local approaches, including providing some funding for such evaluations.”

Although the details of this funding opportunity are buried deep in the frequently asked questions section of the guidance and may only be of interest to a few states, the guidance ED is providing is worth noting by all state leaders. Through this guidance, the Department takes a valuable step to help some states pursue reform efforts that are based on evidence, and thereby helping all states learn lessons from these evaluations that can be applied to their own improvement efforts. This is good news for those who believe that evidence can lead the way to successful and sustained educational innovation and improvement.

Steve Fleischman is CEO of Education Northwest and chairperson of the Knowledge Alliance Board of Directors. Knowledge Alliance is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization focused on learning and applying what works to dramatically improve K–12 public education. Knowledge Alliance advocates for the greater use of research-based knowledge in education policy and practice at the federal, state, and local levels. The organization is comprised of leading education organizations that are dedicated to solving some of the biggest problems facing our schools today through the development and use of high-quality, relevant research.