Evidence and Ideas for Change Introducing the Center on Education Data and Policy
Sarah Rosen Wartell
Display Date

Among the Urban Institute’s many unique strengths is our ability to amass, manage, and mine enormous datasets, use new technology like cloud computing to improve our research, and offer data-rich tools to help policymakers and others make informed decisions. Our newly launched Center on Education Data and Policy and its innovative Education Data Explorer embody all these capacities—and more—in its mission to understand and improve students’ lives.
Led by my colleague Matthew Chingos, the center treats data as a key to unlocking better evidence-driven policymaking and practice—and ultimately, better outcomes for students. As Matt emphasizes, when policy decisions are made without rigorous data to back them up, we risk worsening inequities in our education system or leaving the best solutions on the table. Also important is the lived experience of students, teachers, families, and administrators. Data combined with people’s stories can help provide additional insights for decisionmakers seeking to improve student outcomes.
Our Center on Education Data and Policy is taking a few approaches that make Urban uniquely positioned to help elevate the national dialogue about students’ education, from prekindergarten through higher education. Our recent collaboration with David Leonhardt of the New York Timeswho examined how the college-dropout crisis contributes to inequality—is an example of the kind of rigorous analysis we can deliver.


  • We put sophisticated analytic models in the hands of advocates, policymakers, and others so they can see how policy changes would play out in the real world. Urban’s school funding simulators, for instance, allow state policymakers to dig into their state’s funding formula to see how changes would affect districts, student populations, and the overall budget.
  • We deliver quick-turnaround analyses of pressing issues to inform policy debates as they happen. Most recently, days after presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren released her proposal to forgive large amounts of student debt, we published an analysis of how benefits would be distributed among different groups of Americans.
  • We democratize data to ensure that everyone working to improve outcomes for students can make decisions grounded in sound data. For example, our college affordability website offers an easy-to-navigate comprehensive picture of how much it costs to provide an education, what different students spend to attend college, whether their investment pays off, and more.

And now, with our Education Data Explorer, Urban is increasing people’s access to data even further by drawing on cutting-edge technology to bring all publicly available data on schools, districts, and colleges under the same roof for the first time. We’ve also standardized the information so it’s easy to access data, measure change over time, and make connections across datasets.
We unveiled the data portal recently to a select group of changemakers during an Urban event moderated by the New York Times’s Leonhardt. His discussion with former Secretaries of Education John King, Arne Duncan, and Rod Paige focused on how data and technology can accelerate solutions for the most vulnerable students. The robust conversation identified promising areas of research the Center on Education Data and Policy could dive into, including improving data on early childhood education, understanding what it would take to ensure educational equity in the K-12 space, and providing evidence on the outcomes higher education policies are and are not producing.
I invite you to test out the beta version of the Explorer, share with your networks, and let us know what you think. I’m also eager to hear your thoughts on our new center as well as your ideas on what kind of education data and research are needed to help expand opportunity and ensure a prosperous future for all students.

Research Areas Education
Policy Centers Center on Education Data and Policy