National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance

Meeting the Moment: The Role of Evidence-Based Practice in Innovation and Improvement

On March 5, 2024, the U.S. Department of Education convened state education agency (SEA) leaders and their teams to an event called “Meeting the Moment: How State Leaders are Using Innovation for Impact.” As part of this meeting, my colleagues and I presented IES initiatives that support the use of evidence-based practices in states and districts. Below are my remarks that introduce this important work.

Thank you – and good morning, everyone. It truly is a privilege to be with you today.

If you don’t know IES, we are the Department’s independent research, statistics, and evaluation office. Perhaps many of you know us better by two of our signature programs: the What Works Clearinghouse and the Regional Educational Labs.

I’m excited to be here to learn alongside each of you as you share the good work your states are doing.

In just a few minutes, we’re going to hear from my IES colleagues about work they’re doing, and resources they’re creating, on improving teaching and learning. I’m hopeful that you’ll see they can be used across many of the initiatives you’re pioneering.

As you might imagine, coming from an outfit named IES, what they’ll be sharing falls into the category of “evidence-based practices.” That is, practices that high-quality research has shown improved student outcomes in the past, or at the very least has suggested are likely to do so in the future.

Before they do, I want to talk briefly about evidence-based practice more generally. In this cone of silence that is a ballroom filled with 250 people, I’m going to offer one statement that might be a little provocative, and then I’m going to make an ask of each of you.

Here’s the provocative bit: Increasingly, I worry that “evidence-based practice” is becoming a buzzword. And that, like many buzzwords, people are translating it into “yada, yada, yada” when they hear the phrase. Or, worse, the phrase “evidence-based practice” is evoking skepticism such that people dismiss the concept when they hear it. Often, this is paired with concerns that the available evidence is misaligned to what educators and policymakers most need, or that it doesn’t feel like a fit to their context.  

Unfortunately, not leaning into high-quality evidence is, I think, a huge risk for us all.

It’s my absolute belief that, as a nation, we will not reach the goal of every student having the opportunity to achieve their full potential and then realizing that potential, and we will not ensure that every educator has the preparation and support to do their best work and then see that work done, without a sustained commitment to evidence-based practice. Without a commitment to supporting high-quality evidence use for the long-haul and a commitment to learn from that use by building high-quality evidence.

Absent a belief in, the use of, and efforts to sustain evidence-based practice, I do not believe we will “meet the moment” or “raise the bar” as the Secretary has just challenged us to do.  

This brings me to my ask of you. Here it is: use the high-quality evidence like that which my colleagues are about to show you to ground your initiatives, to support the professional development of the educators in your state, and to make smart policy. Indeed, I know many of you already are.

But as you do expect, dare I say demand (in a collegial way), more and better from the process of evidence building and use so that it is truly meeting your needs and the needs of the districts and communities you serve. You can do so in at least five ways:

  • Expect that you should be a full partner in the process of identifying the issues around which you need more evidence;
  • Expect that as we build new evidence we do so together, and with the authentic engagement of the communities that we hope to benefit;
  • Expect that, together, we find ways to make meaning of what we’re learning, and then communicating those learnings, in ways that aren’t just “right” when viewed through the lens of rigorous research but also “rich” in terms of the depth of content and the nuance needed by those who we expect to use that evidence;
  • Expect that we’re collaborating to place what we’ve learned into the hands of educators, policymakers, and those who support them ... and in ways they can most effectively use those learnings; and finally
  • Expect that you will be able to get the assistance you need implementing and sustaining evidence-based practices—and, if you’re willing, get assistance building evidence about your own programs.

I believe unfailingly in the potential of evidence-based practice, and of our work together, to transform students’ lives. As a leader of evidence builders, let me say we will expect these same five things of ourselves in service of that belief becoming a reality. We would welcome accountability from you, as users of that evidence, as we move forward.

With that, let me cede the floor to my colleagues. Thank you again for the opportunity to be here.

Have questions about these remarks? Please email me at

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