Democratizing Evidence in Education

Background

In February 2017, the William T. Grant Foundation convened a group of education leaders to explore an important issue: how to expand and diversify stakeholder participation in the production and use of research evidence in education policy and practice. The premise of the convening was that the ongoing development of an education system that values equity and excellence depends on the active and informed participation of key stakeholders. Inspired by this notion of democratizing evidence in education, a group of volunteers from the convening drafted a Statement of Principles and Implementation Strategies for wider dissemination and engagement. On this website, you can learn more about these principles—and become a signatory to show your support for them.

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A Statement of Principles

Democratizing evidence is about ensuring that diverse stakeholders—people of different civic and professional roles, ages, race, ethnicity, income, and segments of society—have the power and opportunity to participate in producing and using research evidence to improve education for all.

The Need

A healthy democracy depends upon people’s informed participation in decision-making, particularly in the life-defining, universal arena of education. In our information-rich, technology-driven and divided society, we are constantly challenged to ensure that all citizens, particularly those who have been underserved, have a role in decisions about education. Accessible, accurate evidence is a critical support for this participation.

Education has made significant progress over the past two decades in producing and using evidence in support of policy and practice. Yet progress has been slow and, at times, has alienated practitioners and communities. For example, some practitioners are frustrated by how evidence has been used for high-stakes accountability. Communities and researchers do not routinely collaborate to determine the problems to study. And many teachers lack easy access to data and research findings that would support improvements in teaching and learning.

In this context, the civic and public purposes of research—as well as its practical value for schools and communities—are too often lost. We face a critical need to improve how evidence is produced and applied in education policy and practice. As people debate how to address the crisis of education inequality in the United States, we have an opportunity to democratize the way that evidence is produced and used to foster equity, improvement, and innovation.

The Vision

Democratizing evidence means recognizing the promise of education research as a vehicle for public engagement and educational equity. Good evidence used in meaningful ways can influence new education programs, guide teachers’ day-to-day decisions in classrooms, and assist parents in advocating for their children’s needs. It can also expose inequitable opportunities to learn, and it can empower public action. If this vision is realized, we can imagine a world where it is common practice for parents and teachers to use jargon-free research products to inform their decisions; where research questions are shaped by the life experiences of young people and educators. Imagine an engaged public where students, parents, teachers, policy makers and professional researchers come together to analyze data and formulate questions that can improve education practice. These ways of using evidence ought to be part of what it means to democratize evidence in education.

Guiding Principles

Democratizing evidence means empowering stakeholders to make evidence-informed decisions. The effort should be guided by four principles:

Inclusive engagement

An inclusive and diverse group of stakeholders—students, educators, researchers, families, communities, and people of different ethnicities, races, socioeconomic statuses—must participate as informed voices in shaping the production and use of research. It is particularly important to ensure the engagement of those most adversely affected by education inequality.

Participation across the research process

Stakeholder participation should span the entire spectrum of research production and use; it should include identifying problems to study, developing research agendas, conducting research, interpreting findings, and using research evidence to design and implement policy and practice.

Responsive research agendas

Research should address high priority problems of practice and policy so that all students can benefit and succeed.

Responsible evidence production and use

To create a more evidence-informed education system, all stakeholders must respect scientific inquiry and reporting while recognizing the place of community values in education decision-making.

Democratizing evidence is rooted in values that recognize people’s right and responsibility to participate in the policy decisions that affect their lives. It is also practical: evidence will be more useful when it reflects the voices of those whose daily experiences lend them expertise in defining and addressing complex education challenges. This is the time to take action on the democratization of evidence in education.