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Evidence Matters: U.S. Education Department Finalizes EDGAR Rules

By Michele McNeil — August 14, 2013 1 min read
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There’s this very important, but very wonky, thing called EDGAR that spells out the rules under which the U.S. Department of Education operates.

And the “Education Department General Administrative Regulations” have just undergone a pretty substantial change.

Back in January, I told you about how the governmentwide push to introduce more evidence into decisionmaking was reaching into the Education Department, which was already embracing the importance of evidence as part of its Investing in Innovation grant program. To institutionalize these practices, the department was seeking to amend EDGAR to accomplish two main goals: reward projects that already have established a research-based track record of success, and encourage grant winners to produce rigorous evidence detailing the extent to which their project does—or does not—work.

Yesterday, the new rules became final, with only minor, technical changes.

“It now enables the department to integrate the use of evidence into the discretionary grant process in a way that makes it clear what they mean when they say evidence,” said Michele McLaughlin, the president of the Knowledge Alliance, a national association of research groups based in Washington."It could be a big step toward infusing evidence in how grants are awarded.”

These new rules will serve as an umbrella over all the department’s competitive programs, potentially governing more than $2 billion in grants. They will not apply to large, hallmark grants—such as Title I—that are given to states under a formula set by law.

However, in perhaps a foreshadowing of things to come, the White House late last month issued a memo to all agency heads on how to further advance an evidence and innovation agenda. The memo recommends that small slices of formula-grant programs (which would include Title I and special education grants) could be set aside for states to award competitively to recipients. Or, federal departments could conduct competitions (such as future Race to the Tops) in which points are awarded to states that use evidence as they spend their separate formula funds.

The memo reads:

Agencies can improve the effectiveness of formula grant programs by using competitive grants to encourage adoption of evidence-based approaches within formula grants. For instance, agency competitions can give preference points to state and local applicants implementing evidence-based practices with their formula funds. And formula grants to states can include set-asides for states to award competitively to promote use of evidence.

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