Following the Evidence for Effective Policy with Darleen Opfer
September 12, 2023
Following the Evidence for Effective Policy with Darleen Opfer

We all want what’s best for our learners, but oftentimes biases get in the way of having productive conversations about what learning should look like in the classroom. Instead, we need to have evidence- and research-based conversations that support what truly works for our children.

This week on the podcast, I’m talking with Darleen Opfer of RAND, a nonprofit organization that’s committed to low income and minority students. Darleen started as a special education teacher but quickly saw a need for changes in schools and went on a mission to impact education policy for the better.

We talk about the loss of critical thinking skills as lawmakers remove topics from curriculum in some states, how demographics and culture impact both teaching and students success, and the impact of making decisions without sound and bipartisan research to back them up.

We can all be active in policy making, starting at our own schools level. Parent and teacher involvement is vital in ensuring that we focus on overall coherence in our schools.

Listen in!

About Darleen Opfer:

Darleen began her career as a special education teacher in Florida and then Virginia. After earning her Ph.D. in education policy at the University of Virginia, she became a professor of education policy. She served in that role at Georgia State University, Ohio State University, and the University of Cambridge, U.K.. Throughout her career, her focus has been on using evidence to improve schools for low-income and minority students.

In 2011 she joined RAND as Director of RAND Education. In October 2018 she was promoted to Vice President and became Director of the RAND Education and Labor Research Division; she also holds RAND’s Distinguished Chair in Education Policy. Darleen has conducted policy research studies for several local, state and national governments on issues that affect teachers and schools, including recruitment and retention, professional development, and impact of policies on teacher practice. Recently, she’s been conducting research on teachers’ use of curriculum and how coherent instructional systems impact low income and minority students’ achievement.

In addition to her research, she frequently serves as an advisor to international agencies and countries on teaching and teacher education including in Croatia, India, Israel, Norway, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and the OECD.

Jump in the Conversation:

[1:35] – Where Darleen’s journey of school transformation began
[2:53] – Why policy doesn’t always work
[3:18] – What RAND Corporation does
[4:30] – What’s happening in politics with some of the key education conversations
[5:58] – Dropping curricula, which means they’re dropping things that are necessary for critical thinking
[7:24] – How RAND gets research out there to impact policy and education change
[9:18] – Impact of 4-day schools – the research
[11:44] – Solutions for low income and minority students
[13:32] – Districts and schools that focus on coherence are more effective
[16:50] – Demographic shifts and class culture
[20:27] – The idea of transferring paraprofessionals to teachers using stackable credentials
[22:51] – TALIS (Teaching and Learning International Survey) Video Study
[27:15] – Resources for infusing nonpartisan views in the classroom
[30:00] – How parents and educators can influence educational policy
[35:51] – Turbo Time
[36:50] – What people need to know about creating equity and access for all our learners
[38:25] – Darleen’s Magic Wand
[39:42] – Maureen’s Takeaways

Links & Resources



Latest Episodes

Unlocking the World of Literacy with Marnie Ginsburg

Reading is simple, right? Not for everyone, and it’s especially challenging for those who don’t have access to all the tools and resources they need to be successful. This week we hear from Marnie Ginsburg, founder of Reading Simplified, who has dedicated her career...

Leading Like a Teacher with Miriam Plotinsky

The further away administrators get from their roots as teachers, the more they forget what it’s like to be in the trenches. The result is often either a real or perceived lack of empathy for teachers. Both teachers and administrators have vital roles in the school,...

Early Life Nutrition is Key to Wellness with Cynthia Jackson

Hopefully we all know the importance of nutrition early in life, but not enough schools offer nutrition education. And since children often do what their parents do, adults’ poor food choices get passed down generation after generation. This week on the podcast, I’m...

Latest Blog Posts

Why Isn’t Educational Change Happening?

School change is so much harder than I thought! When I did my doctoral research on school innovation and created a hands-on learning school-within-a-school in the 90s, I had no idea that I’d spend the next few decades making tiny changes. Changes that often...

Instilling a Practice of Gratitude in Uncertain Times

Thanksgiving looks different this year. Traditions are being shattered in 2020 and new realities are emerging. Thanksgiving is no exception. After Canada’s Thanksgiving in October, COVID statistics jumped, reminding us that, sadly, the pandemic isn’t taking a break...

Building Interdisciplinary Learning into Traditional Classrooms

A traditional classroom setting is just that...traditional. Teachers must teach specific subjects for a required amount of time, often using prescribed curriculum materials that may be a decade old. There’s little consideration for the individual learner--their...

Coming Soon!
Listen to Education Evolution on Apple Podcasts
Listen to Education Evolution on Spotify
Listen to Education Evolution on Stitcher
Listen on Google Play Music

Related Posts

Leading Like a Teacher with Miriam Plotinsky

Leading Like a Teacher with Miriam Plotinsky

This week on the podcast, we’re welcoming back author and educator Miriam Plotinsky. She’s sharing about her latest book, Lead Like a Teacher, and talking about what school leaders can do to build more trust and a more collaborative school environment.

Sign Up for Podcast & Blog Announcements and Get our Free Guide: Five Interdependent Hacks to Lead the Creation of a Learner-Centered Culture!

By providing your email address you are agreeing to receive email communications from Education Evolution. You can unsubscribe at any time.