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—rigor, timeliness, accessibility, and independence—by harnessing the power of data and research to tackle pressing education policy challenges.

The Education Policy Program undertakes policy-relevant research on a wide range of issues from prekindergarten through postsecondary education, including research on universal prekindergarten programs, school choice, student transportation, school funding, college affordability, student loan debt, and personalized learning. Our program stands alongside and connects with education-related research throughout the Urban Institute.

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 randomized experiments of interventions 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.

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. One example: Urban researchers’ work on the student financial aid application process helped guide policy discussions and build momentum toward today's simpler process, which eliminates some hurdles low-income students face in applying to college.

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. We also created interactive features to infuse data into discussions of college affordability and the financing of public higher education.