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New initiative to deepen ties between K-12 research, policy

The Answer Lab will bring a quick-response mentality to those seeking solutions to policy problems

By Ross Brenneman

The Answer Lab

For all the mountains of education research that exists, mining it for answers to specific questions can be a major barrier for policymakers and administrators who want to implement changes that can best improve schools.

A new project out of USC Rossier aims to build a stronger bridge between those professionals and the solutions they actually need. The Answer Lab, founded within the Center on Education Policy, Equity and Governance (CEPEG), pairs policymaker and administrator questions to top experts in the education field. Those experts synthesize the existing research into briefs that are both understandable and direct.

Morgan Polikoff

Morgan Polikoff

Associate Professor of Education Morgan Polikoff, a co-director of CEPEG, first envisioned something like The Answer Lab in a column co-written for the Brookings Institution with Harvard senior lecturer Carrier Conaway. Polikoff sees the lab as a more powerful—and faster—way to integrate research with the needs of policy.

“There have been lots of efforts to connect research to policy; some of these have succeeded, and many have not,” Polikoff said. “I’m excited about this new approach, which I think addresses many of the shortcomings of prior efforts by taking questions directly from policymakers and giving them clear answers in formats they can readily use.”

Supported with funding from the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), the lab has solicited questions from several superintendents so far. Polikoff then finds national experts to provide two-page briefs analyzing possible solutions and making recommendations for action.

The lab launched with two initial briefs. For a request to learn what district policies and practices can best promote a positive school climate and reduce the need for student disciplinary referrals, Polikoff turned to Kaitlin P. Anderson of Lehigh University. For a question about how to improve academic achievement among students with disabilities, he turned to Douglas Fuchs and Lynn S. Fuchs of Vanderbilt University. Upcoming briefs focus on designing effective mathematics professional development and supporting English Learners in the classroom.

“We are focusing on K-12 policy,” Polikoff said, “but I think the idea of The Answer Lab could work in just about any field. I hope others take what we’ve started here and run with it.”

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