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Families & the Community Opinion

It’s Hard to Stay on Top of Education Policy. You’ve Got to Have a Strategy

Email updates, journals, Twitter, and more
By Deven E. Carlson — January 13, 2020 3 min read
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As an academic who primarily focuses on education policy, I’m mainly concerned with keeping up to date on research in that realm. Today’s fast-paced environment makes it challenging to stay on top of all the latest developments in the field. Over time, I’ve devised a number of strategies to help make sure that relevant research papers, think tank reports, and Capitol Hill hearings cross my radar. Keeping apprised of developments on these fronts allows me to usefully contribute to the research and policy discussions of the day and ensures that I can provide my students with up-to-date information.

First, I subscribe to email updates from two working paper series, EdWorkingPapers and the National Bureau of Economic Research. EdWorkingPapers is a relatively recent addition to the education research scene, but it has quickly established itself as a go-to source for the latest education policy scholarship. NBER papers are broader in scope—they cover a wide variety of topics—but the weekly email blast typically contains at least one or two papers addressing education.

Today's fast-paced environment makes it challenging to stay on top of all the latest developments in the field."

In addition to staying on top of working papers, I also make sure to keep up with the latest peer-reviewed work by subscribing to several journals, which release the tables of contents of each new issue via email.

The list of journals one could subscribe to is almost endless, but the ones I pay attention to include Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Education Finance and Policy, Educational Researcher, and Economics of Education Review. Even though I’ve typically seen a number of working papers in advance of their publication, there are always a few articles that I missed that catch my eye. And while most of these journals are unfortunately locked away behind paywalls, a quick Google Scholar search of the title will usually return an ungated version of the paper.

Third, I regularly visit the websites of the major policy evaluation firms to see what they’ve been working on. Places like Mathematica, RAND Corporation, MDRC, Abt Associates, the Urban Institute, American Institutes for Research, and others do terrific education policy work. And because only a portion of these evaluations ever make it into the peer-reviewed literature, I make a point to routinely check and see if these policy and research organizations have recently released any briefs or reports that pique my interest.

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As part of the annual release of the 2020 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings, Education Week reached out to a handful of influential scholars from this year’s rankings to find out how they stay informed.

Read the full package, along with original analysis of this year’s new Edu-Scholar data by the EdWeek Research Center.

Beyond keeping up with education research, I’m also on the mailing lists of the major think tanks that address education politics, policy, and practice, including the Fordham Institute, the Center for American Progress, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Brookings Institution. To make sure I’m getting the full picture, I skim the output of organizations that straddle the line between research and advocacy, such as the Center for Reinventing Public Education or the National Education Policy Center. I glance at a couple of those daily email blasts from Washington, D.C., organizations that give a run-down of what is happening on the Hill or in the U.S. Department of Education. I occasionally take a peek at online edu-journalism outlets, like Chalkbeat or the Hechinger Report.

Most important on this front, though, is my regular perusal of EdWeek, which is unparalleled in its coverage of all aspects of education. It has great policy coverage at both the state and, especially, federal level. It regularly features the perspectives of educators and folks doing the important on-the-ground work. And the opinion pieces are routinely well-crafted and thought-provoking. Of course, none of this will be news to anyone reading this piece.

Finally, an overview of my approach to staying on top of the latest developments in education wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Twitter, which provides me with an invaluable connection to the broader education community. A quick scroll through my timeline can both alert me to interesting research and scholarly discussions and distill reactions to the political event or policy debate of the day.

Now, there are aspects of Twitter that promote negativity and incivility, but in my experience those downsides can be mostly eliminated by carefully curating the list of folks you follow and exerting the willpower to disengage from unproductive interactions. Overall, I’m consistently surprised at just how useful Twitter can be in keeping me up to date on the latest education developments.

Together, these strategies and resources allow me to stay current in the classroom and help ensure that I can contribute to the research and policy debates of the day.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 15, 2020 edition of Education Week as How I Curate My News And Research Diet

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