AERA submitted comments this month to the Commission for Evidence-based Policymaking in response to a request for comments to inform the commission’s work and provide feedback on core questions. AERA’s comments covered both the exemplars of the evidence base in the field of education research and also responsible pathways to providing access to administrative data consonant with privacy protection.
“The Commission for Evidence-based Policymaking has the opportunity to substantially advance information-informed policy decisions that will vastly improve broad outcomes for citizens of the United States,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. “It also can play a critical leadership role in establishing how to expand access to administrative, survey, and linked data consonant with appropriate concerns for privacy and protecting confidentiality.”
The AERA letter raised two important opening points. The first called on the commission to consider the importance of protecting the independence of statistical agencies and insulating their heads from political influence—goals that would be enhanced through presidential appointment of directors of statistical agencies.
The second urged the commission to consider the need for a federal student unit record system that captures the full experience of postsecondary education at the individual student level and allows for aggregation to improve our understanding of this vital component of our education and human capital development system.
In addition, AERA reinforced four guiding principles.
1. Define “evidence” and “effectiveness” broadly to account for the spectrum of outcomes significant to assessing program and policy goals.
2. Ensure a robust understanding of the methodologies essential to studying effectiveness, short- and long-term consequences, and unintended effects. These would include but not be limited to experimental and quasi-experimental methods, longitudinal designs, statistical matching, and so forth.
3. Examine and invest in making accessible federal data assets, including administrative information, under institutional arrangements and data use agreements that maximize the capacity to examine policies and programs consonant with privacy provisions and confidentiality protections. Review current data-use agreements and data-management plans to maximize access under conditions of data security.
4. Evaluate the leadership of statistical agencies, maximizing autonomy to allow for expert advice based on sound evidence and to safeguard statistical agencies from political influence. Leadership should reflect technical expertise and understanding of data use.