Publications and Reports

Featured Reports

Grantees regularly submit findings and publish journals articles, working papers, reports, and other publications related to the work we've funded. One noteworthy example is below.

Evidence Use and the Common Core Standards Movement: From Problem Definition to Policy Adoption

Lorraine M. McDonnell and M. Stephen Weatherford
American Journal of Education, University of Chicago Press

Throughout the history of public schooling in the United States, each state has had its own unique K–12 academic standards. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), recently adopted in 46 states, mark a major change. Now a student can move from Connecticut to California and upon entering a new school, be taught based on the same mathematics and English language standards. Research evidence was an integral part of the fast-moving Common Core movement, and Lorraine M. McDonnell and M. Stephen Weatherford have examined how education research was used to develop and promote the standards.

In this article, they present their findings with a focus on how the use of research evidence varied over stages of the process. They draw on elite interviews to illustrate that CCSS developers and promoters used research in much the same way that policy analysis would predict. Although research evidence was a major resource, it was combined with other types of evidence (e.g., personal experience, professional judgment, public opinion) depending on the political and policy goals at different stages of the process.

"In the first stage, policy entrepreneurs used research primarily in defining a set of problems for which they already had a solution." Research evidence was used to highlight significant variability across state standards as well as the difference between state standards and those of high-performing countries. Although research was widely cited to support the standards, the research and policy communities disagreed as to what the research actually said. "All researchers could say with certainty is that, at best, the common standards might be a necessary, but not sufficient condition for improved educational outcomes." The use of research was also impacted by a limited supply of relevant research and the need to include expert judgment from outside of the research community.

In the second stage of developing the standards, the political context was a powerful incentive for the use of research evidence. "Leaders of the CCSS initiative acknowledged that their commitment to ground the effort in research and evidence was a strategy to avoid past ideological debates stemming from the curriculum wars of the 1990s." So emphasizing the use of research did have the effect of lowering the political heat and sharpening the problem focus.

By the third stage, as states considered adoption of the standards, the rationale for the Common Core was well developed and generally accepted. Consequently, the political context only required that the narrative be tailored to specific audiences. Advocating for state adoption became like a political campaign in an effort to influence the state board of education vote required in most states.

These findings indicate the need for a more nuanced expectation for how research can or will be used to create and implement policy. The full text of the paper is included below. It includes a detailed look at the use of research evidence as goals and participants shifted over the course of the CCSS process.

The researchers are continuing to follow the Common Core movement, including the use of research at the implementation stage. In their forthcoming paper in Educational Researcher, they will focus on how the interest groups supporting the CCSS have used different kinds of evidence in developing and implementing the standards, and the counter-arguments and strategies of recently-emerging opposition groups.

McDonnell, L.M. & Weatherford, M.S. (2013). Evidence use and the Common Core State Standards movement: from problem definition to policy adoption. American Journal of Education.