By Troy Miller, Senior Researcher and Policy Analyst, Florida College Access Network
You can’t spell “research” without “search,” right? Sure, Google is one way to find research on education policy and issues but who has the time to sift through the thousands upon thousands of results you get from a basic internet search? Finding good data to use for a report, grant proposal, newsletter, or some other use is essential. We all need to support the claims we make and provide a background of issues for those reading, but this process can be time consuming and frustrating! Here are some national and state-level education policy research and data resources that make my life as a researcher easier. I hope you will find these helpful as well.
National Education Policy Center (NEPC)
The National Education Policy Center has a sterling reputation for producing high-quality, peer-reviewed research due to the expertise their wide network of research fellows (professors, experts) bring to the table. I like searching by topic, and then narrowing by the type of publication I am looking for. NEPC contributors write policy briefs, legislative briefs, research briefs, policy memos and blog posts. I always make a point to search my topic in NEPC’s Best of the Ed Blog – the entries are written by national experts that do an admirable job of putting policy and reform issues into context. Make sure and sign up for their publication alerts (found on their website banner).
The best thing about PolicyDirect is that it was designed with the intention to make high quality research easily available to the public. It’s a database of education research that has been vetted by a group of scholars to ensure that only the most influential and relevant studies are included. Some of the research topics featured on PolicyDirect include financial aid, student learning outcomes, developmental education and employment outcomes. The resource is managed by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. that promotes access and success to higher education for all students.
PCN (Pathways to College Network) Online Library
The PCN Online Library features an expansive collection of articles reports and briefs. The reach is far wider here than the previously mentioned websites, which offers some benefits. First is volume, there are more than a thousand reports and each one of them is annotated, which makes thumbing through them an easy chore. Each report also has a “Show Similar Items” feature, so if you like how it sounds you can click which will reveal another five sources that are related to the original one. I also like using the keywords when I am in the beginning phases of a research project. Subscribe to their newsletter to stay current with the latest research and resources related to college preparation, access, financial aid and success (found on their website banner).
Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE)
The CPRE unites researchers from seven of the nation’s leading research universities (Penn, Colombia, Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin-Madison) and focuses on K-12 education reform. Some of the consortium’s featured topics include Common Core Standards, data use, teacher quality, and school accountability. The number of research reports, policy briefs, journal articles and papers is somewhat limited compared to the other sites, which is a result of the rigorous selection process their publications go through. As with some of the other sites, the CPRE has a mailing list I subscribe to.
Community College Research Center (CCRC)
Some of the nation’s most cutting edge research on issues affecting community colleges is being done at the CCRC. Their consortium of researchers investigates topics like student pathways and outcomes, workforce education, adult education, retention, graduation and access for minority and low-income students. When you visit CCRC’s site, click “Links” to check out a list of dozens of related sites, find the link at the bottom of the page for their blog and subscribe to their newsletter. I also like the “Did You Know” link of the home page; it will take you to fast facts based on community college research that you can learn more about.
Institute of Education Sciences What Works Clearinghouse
The U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse has gone through some changes over the last few years that have made it more relevant to the public. When it was launched in 2002, very few studies met the strict standards for publication, which made its impact on policy more marginal than what it was intended to. There are thousands of articles on the website, which can make finding what you’re looking for a challenge, so try using the “Find What Works!” feature to locate studies found to have the most impact. The Clearinghouse is particularly strong for education policy and programs related to math, literacy and early child education.
The Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA)
OPPAGA is the research arm of the Florida Legislature and was started in 1994 to help improve the performance and accountability of the state’s government. The Office provides analysis on state sponsored education programs from pre-K through higher education and offers online visitors a variety of ways to engage with issues. You can follow the link to “Government Program Summaries (GPS)” to get quick overviews of 200 different state programs. From there you can get answers to questions like “How are public schools held accountable for student performance?” and get connected to relevant reports OPPAGA has published. Don’t forget to subscribe to their newsletters (home page, on the left), they send their reports as well as other related research each Friday afternoon.
BONUS: Florida House of Representative Education Fact Sheets
The House of Representatives is in the process of updating their Fact Sheets to reflect the latest legislative changes, but I find this resource useful because it’s both easy to read and dense with the Florida law and policy background on education topics you need on-hand sometimes. If you need to see what the law is on the books for something like “Differentiated Accountability,” you could search the Florida Statutes, but I would suggest checking this out first. It’s much easier to navigate and read without the legalese. In 5-10 minutes, you’ll get the need-to-know legislative information on education that you’re looking for by reading these Fact Sheets.
Florida Department of Education: Florida College System Reports and Evaluations
Here you can find reports done by the Florida Department of Education’s Research and Evaluation unit related to the access and success of students attending Florida College System institutions. There’s a report published about every month or so on topics such as dual enrollment, enrollment patterns and other indicators of student success. Within the reports you’ll find Florida data from the state’s renowned student database. In contrast to OPPAGA, which focuses heavily on the fiscal impact of education programs, the reports found here give readers an overview of trends related to student outcomes. You can view their monthly newsletters and also subscribe to them here and if you’re looking for reports on Florida’s K-12 public school system, you can find them here.
The seven websites I listed above serve as a good “launch pad” for education policy research projects. Knowing where to start makes for a more efficient use of time and will improve the overall quality of the research goal you have in mind. These are websites that will hopefully prevent you from doing a broad sweep of the internet for an issue, but if you have to go that route, try Google Scholar first. It has better search functions and a citation manager that comes in handy. One last tip is to subscribe to the Lumina Foundation for Education’s daily Higher Ed News e-newsletter. You’ll get a list of national and state headlines for higher education access, success and completion issues before the day starts. By doing this, you also have recent education policy headlines in your email inbox you can search at any time.
Where are the first places you look when doing education policy research? Take a minute to tell us which ones are your favorites by commenting below.
~Follow Troy Miller on twitter @TroyMillerFCAN