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Education experts strive to shape national policy

September 04, 2008

While America’s presidential candidates stump for education reform, some of the nation’s most distinguished scholars are developing research-based recommendations to help our country’s next leader formulate effective education policies. 

The National Academy of Education has asked leading experts in education leadership and policy to participate in an edifying White Paper Initiative, which will provide the candidates with the best research-based evidence on select education policy issues.  Among the esteemed contributors are ASU Professor Alfredo J. Artiles and Regents Professor David C. Berliner, both with the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education. 

The NAEd appointed six panels of researchers and scholars to each produce a 20-page white paper succinctly addressing the following six policy areas:

• Teacher quality

• Standards and assessments

• Time for learning

• Math and science education

• Reading and literacy education

• Equity and excellence in American education 

“The level of experience and the knowledge that committee members bring are critical assets for crafting thoughtful analyses and recommendations on these reform issues,” said Artiles, an expert on culture and disabilities in education. “The goal is to synthesize critically and highlight the areas that need attention in education policy and reform,” he said. “It’s a unique opportunity to provide input in the shaping of the new administration’s policy in education. I’m glad the National Academy has launched this initiative.” 

The draft white papers underwent a rigorous peer review process earlier this month in Washington, D.C., where the authors of the various White papers convened to discuss the issues, review redundancies and develop policy recommendations. A second round of peer reviews with independent experts will be conducted at the end of the summer. The report will be shared with the presidential candidates and unveiled by the NAEd on Nov. 18 at an event co-hosted with the National Academy of Sciences. 

Artiles’ panel was asked to examine how policies have addressed structural inequities for learning and educational outcomes. Specifically, the group examined the research that addressed equity concerns related to outcome gaps across various racial and socioeconomic groups. Achievement levels and other educational outcome indicators were reviewed longitudinally and comparatively (in relation to other groups). The bulk of the analysis was done with research produced in the U.S., though some attention was given to international comparison studies. 

The NAEd sought Berliner’s venerated perspective on time for learning. He said his panel focused on extended learning opportunities, such as after school programs, to address the need for a higher level of student accomplishment.

“We looked at how to provide more learning opportunities for more students, particularly for those students whose achievement levels are low,” Berliner said. He added that the panel also looked at ways to reorganize school calendars, taking into consideration the fact many women are working mothers. “About 70 percent of all women with children are in the workforce. Having children out of school and unsupervised is not healthy for communities.” 

Artiles explained that the focus of his working group is timely considering current federal policies' emphasis on standards and accountability across different student subgroups, such as English language learners, students with disabilities, low-income students, and racial minority students.  He explained that “a significant challenge for the next administration will be to strengthen a focus on equity and excellence while it provides the necessary resources to achieve policy goals. This can be done in part by emphasizing not only equity in outcomes, but also equity in opportunities and access. The purpose of the White paper initiative is to offer rigorous syntheses of research evidence to guide future education policy.” 

Berliner noted that a non-partisan project such as the White Paper Initiative never before has been undertaken by an independent education organization such as the NAEd. “What we’re trying to do is downplay ideology and play up research as a guiding force in education policy,” he said.