President Barack Obama this coming Monday will submit his fiscal year 2013 budget request to Congress. These are budget-conscious times, as the political events of 2011 showed. That’s why the White House should work hard to ensure that as much money as possible is directed toward programs that are proven to work rather than just to the places where money was spent in years past. If every public dollar is to stretch further than before, then legislators can make serious efforts to steer funds toward proven programs and interventions—in other words, toward “what works.”
In the educational arena these may be programs that try to improve literacy rates among struggling students in low-income or minority school districts, for instance, or aim to improve outcomes for children learning English as a second language. Even where federal programs support state or local governments, federal agencies should ideally seek to ensure that funds are directed toward approaches that work.
A second, obvious challenge presents itself immediately, though: How will legislators and on-the-ground decision-makers know which programs are proven effective and which aren’t? One solution to finding and funding “what works” already exists in the world of education. A number of online platforms strive to provide lawmakers, school officials, and foundations making philanthropic donations with comprehensive information about the effectiveness of a wide range of education programs.
These “what works” platforms are in their infancy but they represent a promising step toward evidence-based public decision-making in education. Kristina Costa presents several that the Obama administration and Congress should examine as they negotiate federal spending on education in the FY 2013 federal budget beginning in October this year.
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