Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) - Aligning and Supporting Policy Development
The decisions of policymakers in the statehouses affect the teaching and learning in the schoolhouses. During the Regional Educational Laboratory contract for FY19962000, SEDLs State Policy Planning Service conducted research and provided information services to policymakers so they could make informed decisions based on research and practice.
SEDLs policy research focused on the following school reform strategies as they played out in selected states and local districts: resource allocation in local districts, teacher mentoring, policymaker participation in community dialogues on education reform, and the charter school as a policy instrument affecting school-site influence over education reform. The topics, which are critical to state and local decision-makers, also provided the foundation for some of SEDLs current policy work.
One such study is SEDLs examination of district-level resource allocation. Researchers compared resource allocation patterns among low-, mid-, and high-performing districts in Texas to determine what those patterns reveal about the relationship between resource allocation and student performance. SEDLs preliminary study findings of the are reported in Resource Allocation Practices and Student Achievement: An Examination of District Expenditures by Performance Level with Interviews from Twenty-One Districts. That work established the foundation for SEDLs current policy study on district resource allocation in the Southwestern Region.
SEDL also conducted a descriptive study of school site programs that provide teacher mentoring. Staff conducted in-depth studies of three district programs (urban, suburban, and rural) established in response to an unfunded state mandate stipulating that districts provide mentoring for new teachers. SEDLs findings are available in Mentoring Beginning Teachers: Lessons from the Experience in Texas.
Policymaker participation in community dialogues on education reform
SEDL examined study circles, one public engagement model, and how they might more closely link policymakers and their constituents. SEDL staff worked with two statewide organizations, Arkansas Friends for Better Schools and the Oklahoma League of Women Voters, to organize and conduct study circles about education reform in 15 communities across both states. SEDL researchers examined the role that public engagement played in assisting policymakers to establish closer ties to their constituents. Approximately 875 citizens, including 20 policymakers, participated in study circles in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Calling the Roll: Study Circles for Better Schools policy research report discusses the research findings. SEDL also produced other products to assist educators and community representatives interested in using study circles. The Calling the Roll: Study Circles for Better Schools video tells the story of policymakers and community members exchanging ideas about education policy. Two complementary guides, one designed for community representatives and the other for policymakers, are Making the Most of the Connection: A Guide to Involving Policymakers in a Community Dialogue on Education and Making the Most of the Connection: A Policymakers Guide to Participating in a Community Dialogue on Education.
SEDL's work on charters, a unique policy instrument for increasing school-site control over education reform, examined the establishment and design of charter schools in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. SEDL produced three papers on charter school efforts: Redefining Education Governance: The Charter School Concept, Variations on Autonomy: Charter School Laws in the Southwestern Region, and Designs for School-Site Reform: Charter Schools in New Mexico and Texas.
Policy information services
SEDL's State Policy Planning Service provided information services to state policymakers and key staff analysts in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. During the FY19962000 contract, SEDL responded to 155 information requests from policymakers and analysts. In addition, SEDL regularly convened a regional policy network consisting of education policy analysts from legislative committees, governors offices, and departments of education in the five states. That network exchanged information on common interests, such as accountability, teacher compensation, teacher shortages, school facilities, and the effect of welfare reform on education. SEDL also produces a policy briefing series, Insights on Education Policy, Practice, and Research, that addresses topics of interest to network members.