By Michele Jolin, CEO and Co-Founder, Results for America; Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
Could a significant investment in evidence-based education funding signal the beginning of the end of partisan gridlock in Washington? There is certainly some modest cause for hope.
Earlier this year, both houses of the U.S. Congress agreed on a bipartisan spending plan and in the last several days passed a long-stalled bill dealing with American infrastructure. Then, in the last week, Congress broke more than 8 years of stalled action with the first major, bipartisan legislative overhaul to our nation's education system since the 2002 No Child Left Behind law. And it could be a game changer for federal education funding.
To be sure, there are critics of the new education bill on both the left and the right. But this education legislation includes important provisions that turn us to the future by ensuring that data and evidence are used to invest in what works.
The new bill, called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), includes provisions that could shift more than $2 billion in federal funds, in each of the next four years, toward building and using evidence to improve education outcomes. It passed the U.S. House by a strong bipartisan vote of 359-64 and sailed through the U.S. Senate with a vote of 85-12. President Obama signed this bipartisan bill into law quickly -- just a day after the Senate passed it.
Could this bill, and its evidence provisions, be a model for future bipartisan cooperation, at least when it comes to education? United States Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), both Moneyball for Government Federal All-Stars, have been working together to champion evidence in education. They both supported this bill and worked to make it stronger. United States Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee also sees hope for bipartisan success in education. On lessons learned from this bill, she said, "These are not extreme partisan issues, we all have common ground, we have to listen to each other."
The success of the ESSA also proves that Democrats and Republicans agree on prioritizing data and evidence - and that Congress can make meaningful, bipartisan progress on pressing challenges through the wide embrace of what works. This is an example of what it looks like when government plays Moneyball.
It represents an important win for Congressional leaders and the Obama Administration who have made evidence a priority - but an even bigger win for our nation's students and educators. In exchange for greater flexibility, this bill calls on schools to spend more of their funds on evidence-based strategies that are likely to have the most success.
Here's how the new ESSA could change the game - and brighten the future - for American students through the use of data, evidence, and evaluation:
Education Innovation and Research: For the first time, this bill authorizes a "Grants for Education Innovation and Research" program to develop, implement, replicate, and scale up evidence-based innovations to improve student outcomes;
Pay for Success: Thanks to this bill, for the first time local school districts will be allowed to invest their federal drop-out prevention funds (Title I, Part D) and student safety and health funds (Title IV, Part A, Sec. 4108) in Pay for Success initiatives;
Directing Formula Funds to Evidence-Based Solutions: For the first time, this bill defines the term "evidence-based" and requires local school districts and individual schools to include "evidence-based interventions" - those that demonstrate strong, moderate, or promising levels of evidence - in their plans for improving low-performing schools;
Directing Competitive Funds to Evidence-Based Solutions: The bill requires the U.S. Department of Education to give priority to applicants demonstrating strong, moderate, or promising levels of evidence in seven competitive grant programs;
Building the Evidence Base: ESSA allows the U.S. Department of Education to invest up to 0.5 percent of ESEA program funds (except ESEA Title I funds and other programs that already have evaluation set-asides) in program evaluations to find out what is working; and
Programs with Track Records of Success: The bill reauthorizes two grant programs that grant awards to entities with track records of success in educator development (SEED) and replicating and expanding high-quality charter schools.
Earlier this year, several of these provisions were included in the joint Results for America-American Enterprise Institute report, "Moneyball for Education: Using Data, Evidence, and Evaluation to Improve Federal Education Policy." Results for America, is proud to have partnered with bipartisan legislators, Administration officials and members of our Invest in What Works coalition to develop and support these critical evidence-based policy provisions. The Members of Congress from both parties who worked to strengthen the impact of federal investment in education deserve tremendous credit for their efforts to improve outcomes and invest in what works. So does the Obama Administration, which has made investing in what works a key priority in education.
The ESSA updates and expands the No Child Left Behind Act, but it also shows Congress and the Administration a bipartisan path out of political gridlock: investing in what works yields both bipartisan success and better outcomes. With a spending showdown still facing the Congress, the bipartisan, bicameral cooperation - and the embrace of evidence - that led to this legislative victory gives us hope. After all, we have more information than ever before about what is working for our nation's young people, their families and communities. Our nation's leaders need to make sure that knowledge is used to make progress on our most pressing challenges.