In This Article The Policy Context of United States Educational Innovation and Improvement

  • Introduction

Education The Policy Context of United States Educational Innovation and Improvement
by
Donald J. Peurach, Anna T. Foster
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0249

Introduction

The purpose of this contribution to Oxford Bibliographies in Education is to establish context for the series of articles on improvement-focused educational research, a developing field aimed at producing and using knowledge to address problems, needs, and opportunities grounded deeply in practice contexts. This article frames the policy context of educational innovation and improvement in the United States from which improvement-focused educational research has emerged and in which it is currently developing. We conceptualize “policy” broadly as initiatives and movements that aim to drive the agenda for (and pursuit of) educational innovation as advanced both (a) within and by branches and agencies of government and (b) outside of government, by philanthropies, non-profit organizations, associations, and interest groups. We focus specifically on federal and national policy initiatives since the 1950s that have shared the central priorities of improvement-focused educational research: i.e., effecting innovation and improvement in instructional practice, its organization, and its management, with the primary goals of improving quality and reducing disparities in students’ educational experiences and outcomes. This is for three reasons: (1) the 1950s mark a pivot in societal ambitions for public education in the United States, beyond universal access to public schools to excellence and equity in students’ educational experiences and outcomes; (2) the 1950s mark the beginning of a decades-long period of increasing federal engagement in public education, with a central focus on improving educational quality and reducing educational disparities; and (3) investment in educational research and development in the United States has played out largely at the national level, with weak state investment and with state policy agendas for innovation and improvement shaped heavily by national-level policy activity. Understanding the policy context of improvement-focused educational research, thus, is an interpretive exercise that requires examining patterns of thought and action in this complex idea space. To support readers in this exercise, this article is structured in three parts: (1) an examination of the broader US educational policy context; (2) an examination of what we describe as a “resource-based approach” to educational innovation and improvement; and (3) an examination of what we describe as the “practice-based approach” to educational innovation and improvement. Since the 1950s, the resource-based approach has been a chief focus of federal and national policy. The practice-based approach has developed concurrently and in interaction with the resource-based approach, though absent commensurate federal policy support. Together, the resource-based and practice-based approaches to educational innovation and improvement provide a framework for understanding the policy contexts from which improvement-focused educational research has emerged and in which it is developing.

Overview: The Broader US Education Policy Context

The following sources were selected to support readers in examining the broader US education policy context as (a) fragmented, plural, and contentious by design, and increasingly so since the 1950s, yet (b) increasingly centered on improving quality and reducing disparities in students’ educational experiences and outcomes. This policy context has initiatives and movements pushing and pulling within the formal governance structure (federal, state, and local), in interaction with non-governmental organizations operating in the public sphere. But to argue that this policy context is fragmented, plural, and contentious is not to argue that it is chaotic. Rather, since the 1950s, societal ambitions for public schooling and the education policy agenda have sustained a focus on two key objectives: improving the quality of students’ educational experiences and outcomes while, at the same time, reducing disparities among them.

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