Influence: A Study of the Factors Influencing Education Policy

Christopher B. Swanson and Janelle Barlage
Editorial Projects in Education Research Center
December 2006

The modern Thomas B. Fordham Foundation turns ten this year, and as part of our obligatory navel-gazing we set out to determine whether any of our research studies have had much influence on public policy. Regardless of the outcome, we thought we might learn something from the blockbusters of the past decade. For example, were the most influential studies also the best ones or did something else explain their prominence? So we contracted with the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, publishers of Education Week, to find out. They surveyed a host of education insiders, analyzed citations in academic journals, and tallied media hits. They computed scores across those three categories and identified 13 studies that stood head and shoulders above the rest. The list is indisputably eclectic. The studies range from large-scale assessments (National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study [TIMSS]) to evaluations of specific interventions (class-size reduction and vouchers) to commission reports (National Reading Panel, National Commission on Teaching and America's Future), to data analyses (Education Trust on teacher quality, Jay Greene on graduation rates). Alas, no Fordham studies made the cut, though we had a hand in the American Diploma Project, which did (tied for last place). The Research Center also queried insiders about the relative influence of organizations, individuals, and information sources in education. (Here we fared somewhat better.) The results are interesting if not too surprising; Bill Gates and his billions wield enormous influence. Kati Haycock and her colleagues at Education Trust have dominated the education policy debate in recent years (think: No Child Left Behind). Perhaps you disagree. View the report here and let the parlor games begin.

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