Our Issues

The US education system has the potential to increase socioeconomic mobility and address growing inequality. Yet education policy debates continue to be dominated by personal experience and politics rather than rigorous scientific evidence, despite rapid growth in the availability of data and the technology to analyze them.

Academic research is rarely accessible and timely enough to inform imminent policy decisions, and punditry and advocacy can lack rigor and independence. Policymakers need work that combines the best elements of both—accessibility, timeliness, rigor, and independence—by harnessing the power of data and research to tackle pressing education policy challenges.

The Urban Institute’s Center on Education Data and Policy undertakes policy-relevant research on a wide range of issues from prekindergarten through postsecondary education, including research on universal prekindergarten programs, school choice, teacher diversity, school segregation, college affordability, and student loan debt. We also advance evidence-based analysis throughout the field by creating tools that make data easier for everyone to access and analyze.

Our Approach

Like many academic researchers, we seek to answer hard questions through long-term projects aimed at building an evidence base for effective policymaking. These projects range from the evaluation of policies to the analysis of administrative datasets to the synthesis and translation of high-quality research.

We are also nimble enough to produce quick-turnaround, digestible, and evidence-based analyses and recommendations that inform policy debates as they happen. We can react quickly to proposals from legislators and candidates for public office by drawing on the significant repository of data at our fingertips. We understand that elevating the debate requires producing the right evidence at the right time and putting it into the right hands.

Beyond the research, we believe in democratizing education data. In our Education Data Portal, we have collected and cleaned a wealth of publicly available education data and harmonized variables so users can more easily view trends over time. We are working to build user-friendly interfaces and tools that will allow anyone, regardless of statistical training, to access and analyze education data. We believe education policy informed by hard data and rigorous research, rather than personal experience and ideology, is critical to realizing the education system’s potential to increase socioeconomic mobility and address growing inequality.

We are keenly aware that educational institutions operate at the intersection of multiple policy areas, such as housing, criminal justice, and health. We collaborate with scholars across Urban to bring diverse expertise and an interdisciplinary approach to policy research. Our work aims to improve policy and practice at the federal, state, and local levels.

Our Impact

Policymakers regularly call upon our experts to help make sense of the complex world of higher education finance and K–12 policy. Our researchers have testified before Congress and state and local legislative bodies on school vouchers, class size, school discipline, student loans, college costs, and the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

Through our growing portfolio of data visualizations, tools, and dashboards, we are informing decisions at the federal, state, and local levels. Urban research has been influential on both sides of the aisle. In a public speech in 2017, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos cited Urban’s study of the long-term effects of private school choice in lifting up choice programs. That same year, Senate Democrats referenced Urban research on how prospective college students use earnings information in a letter to DeVos opposing a Department of Education decision.

Other notable recent contributions include influencing how journalists, policymakers, and the public understand state performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress through a widely cited report and interactive data tool; testifying before Congress at three hearings on the Higher Education Act; helping four states understand how changes to their school funding formulas would affect students through interactive modeling tools; and providing data that helped advocates in New Orleans make the case for changing the city’s school bus policy.