Investing in what works for our kids (The Hill)

By Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)

America’s students face stiff competition from classmates and from around the world. Today’s job market is shaped by an increasingly competitive global economy, and government budgets at all levels are under increased pressure to do more with less. With all of these challenges, how do we best prepare American students for success?

We believe America must invest in what works. Across the country, there are brilliant students, dedicated teachers and groundbreaking schools making real progress. We should support their accomplishments by helping all schools and districts innovate and adopt approaches that enable American students to succeed. By supporting measures that increase the availability and use of data-driven solutions to our schools’ most pressing problems, federal lawmakers can help encourage our nation’s educators to find the most successful, impactful ways to increase student learning. 

Especially in a time of fiscal challenges, we must determine how best to spend existing funds to improve student outcomes and be better stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Too often, public education dollars are spent on programs that fail to achieve what they are designed to do. That must stop. By focusing our collective efforts on evidence about what works and — even more importantly — using that data to make better-informed decisions, we can help our children succeed in the classroom.

This approach is what some call evidence-based policymaking, or taking a “Moneyball” approach to government. In a new report on the subject, organizations like Results for America and the American Enterprise Institute demonstrate this bipartisan idea could be successfully applied to education.

That is why we have turned our attention to education programs that achieve meaningful results. By focusing on results and creating incentives for programs that are successful, cost-effective and make a real difference, we can help students accelerate their learning. This approach saves money down the road by obviating the need for costly remediation and puts the money where it can be most effective right from the start. Kids should start on a clear path to success, and not be stuck trying to wander on over to it later.

We are proud to have already collaborated on a number of efforts to ensure America invests in what works. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, of which we are both members, recently passed a bill to fix the broken No Child Left Behind Act. As part of that process, we developed and passed a bipartisan amendment to create an evidence-based innovation fund that would test promising new ideas, build the knowledge base of what works, and invest in scaling ideas that are proven to work.

States or school districts would, for the first time, be able to use federal funds to invest in strategies and programs that deliver proven results, an approach sometimes called Pay for Success. Pay for Success also has applications in healthcare, job training, child care and other critical areas. We have introduced legislation to encourage more of these kinds of projects across the country.

These efforts represent smart governance and will ensure that more and more students have access to programs that actually help them grow and learn. It will also ensure that schools use taxpayer dollars in the most efficient and effective way possible. 

This is an approach everyone can support, regardless of political party. To help our children achieve lasting success, we should invest in education programs driven by the best data and most compelling evidence. After all, our kids and grandkids are counting on us.

Hatch is Utah’s senior senator, serving since 1977. He is chairman of the Finance Committee and also sits on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; and Judiciary committees. Bennet is Colorado’s senior senator, serving since 2009. He sits on the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; and Finance committees.