Focus on Regulation, Not Just Legislation

Editor’s Note: The Department of Education’s use of evidence is governed by the Data Quality Act and OIRA’s implementing Information Quality Guidelines. Education’s Department-specific guidelines may be found here, OIRA’s “Final Information Quality Bulletin for Peer Review”is available here.

From: Education Week

Note: This week, Deven Carlson, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Oklahoma University, is guest-blogging. His work explores education policy and politics.


Scholars of education policy and politics have devoted considerable effort to understanding federal education policy from a legislative perspective. We have great analyses of No Child Left Behind, and terrific work on ESSA is sure to come in the near future. However, we have paid very little attention to analyzing policy made via the regulatory process. How has the regulatory activity of USED changed over time? Do regulations cover a wider range of issues and topics than they did 5, 10, or 25 years ago? How many and which interest and advocacy groups comment on proposed rules? What do those comments say? Do they seem to have any effect on the substance of proposed regulations? We haven’t paid enough attention to the regulatory process to answer even fairly basic questions like these.

As something of an aside, several foundations and scholars have expressed interest in assessing the use of evidence in the policymaking process. These assessments seem to generally conclude that evidence has relatively little influence in this process. However, these conclusions are largely based on analyses of the legislative process. In my view, evidence seems much more likely to influence the substance of regulations, where the issues at hand are often more technical and less visible. Indeed, evidence is unlikely to convince a legislator whether or not to support requiring test-based accountability systems in legislation. It is much more likely, for example, to influence whether regulations allow those systems to consider both student achievement levels and student achievement growth, or just levels. The use and influence of evidence in the education regulatory process is something I plan to study in the near future.

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