Education policy analysts study educational systems to transform them. Through careful analysis of educational outcomes, laws, rules, and regulations, education policy analysts explore answers to questions such as: What legislative and institutional programs serve students? What critical programs need increased funding? How can lawmakers transform school policies and practices to meet the aims of diversity, justice, and freedom?
Transforming education policy starts with individuals willing to change their own thoughts and actions. “All of us in the academy and in the culture as a whole are called to renew our minds if we are to transform educational institutions—and society—so that the way we live, teach, and work can reflect our joy in cultural diversity, our passion for justice, and our love of freedom,” bell hooks wrote in Teaching to Transgress.
Those interested in effecting change in schools as education policy analysts should understand the role and how to become one, such as through an advanced education.
US Education Policy by the Numbers
Education policy affects huge swaths of the US population. In 2020, 49.4 million public school students were enrolled in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Around 19.4 million students enrolled in college at least part time, and around 3.7 million teachers taught in public or private pre-K through 12th grade schools that same year.
To support so many students, the US enacts policy decisions at the local, state, and national levels. According to 2022 reports from the Education Data Initiative:
- The US contributes 11.6 percent of all public funding toward education.
- K-12 schools spend $666.9 billion annually on education, equating to $13,185 per student.
- Public postsecondary schools spend, on average, $28,977 per student annually.
Funding for education translates to educational legislation, bringing new policies affecting schools across the nation. The Education Commission of the States staff tracked more than 9,500 bills introduced in state legislatures pertaining to the US in 2021, according to EdNote. Of these bills, more than 1,770 were either enacted or vetoed.
Demand for Education Policy Analysts
With education policy constantly shifting, the need is great for competent education policy analysts to study and report on school systems, programs, infrastructure, curriculum, and processes.
Education policy analysts shape education. They uncover, track, research, and report on the key issues in America’s public schools. Moreover, they use data and compelling argumentation to recommend specific policies and platforms while considering how education policies affect stakeholders: students, teachers, parents and guardians, administrators, and even entire communities.
Without education policy analysts, it would be impossible to reliably gauge the impact of a new education policy.
- Do new math and science curricula improve student outcomes?
- Does a more comprehensive free lunch program help to lower student truancy and attrition?
- Do teachers feel supported by a new administrative change?
Education policy analysts study questions like these and more, providing crucial insight to lawmakers and community members affected by educational changes.
Responsibilities of an Education Policy Analyst
In general, policy analysts work to influence political decisions. The day-to-day work of education policy analysts can include interventions at any point in the education policy life cycle. Education policy analyst work includes:
- Researching policy data related to educational trends or specific education policies
- Analyzing potential policies and making recommendations about whether to implement or reject proposed policies related to education
- Evaluating the outcomes of existing education policies
- Sharing information with lawmakers, government officials, and the public
More specifically, education policy analytics can be broken down into the following activities:
- Collecting and analyzing information (e.g., survey data collected from standardized test results and students, parents, and stakeholders)
- Conducting cost-benefit analyses of proposed education policy legislation
- Evaluating how education policies affect the public
- Forecasting political, economic, and social trends that may affect educational systems
- Monitoring policy activities related to higher education at the local, state, and federal levels
- Reporting findings by publishing analytical briefs or giving presentations to important stakeholders
- Tracking events, policy decisions, and trends with implications for the education landscape
- Using qualitative and quantitative sources and methodologies to collect data and conduct research
Where Do Education Policy Analysts Work?
Given their broad skill sets in research, data collection and analysis, legal analysis, education theory, and communication, education policy analysts are well suited to work in many different organizations within the educational system:
- Government agencies. Education policy analysts may work directly for a local, state, or federal government education agency. At the federal level, education policy analysts work for the US Department of Education. At the local level, policy analysts may work on school boards or in school district administration.
- Schools and school boards. School districts, colleges, and universities may employ education policy analysts to understand how their schools are running and what support they need.
- Nonprofits. Education nonprofit organizations can support schools with limited funding and resources. The education policy analysts who work for these organizations may push for policy changes to address opportunity gaps, for example.
- Policy institutes. Some policy institutes specialize in education reform. To make their case to lawmakers, think tanks need education policy analysts to study specific trends in education and make policy recommendations.
Educational Requirements for an Education Policy Analyst
The responsibilities of an education policy analyst are technical and wide-ranging, so the right education is key. Professionals in this role must be comfortable working with data. They must also be experts in communicating their findings to diverse, nonexpert audiences. Job listings for education policy analysts frequently solicit candidates with experience working in education (as researchers, teachers, or administrators) and policy analysis. Typical educational pathways to becoming an education policy analyst include:
- Earning at least a bachelor’s degree plus two or more years of working in a relevant field (in education, nonprofit work, legislation, or policy analysis)
- Earning a graduate degree in a specialized field related to education policy such as public policy, public affairs, public administration, curriculum design, economics, or statistics
Job Outlook and Salary for an Education Policy Analyst
While the US Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect specific information on the job outlook and salary for an education policy analyst, Payscale reports that the average education policy analyst salary in July 2022 was $61,425 per year. The total compensation for this role ranged from $45,000 to $88,000 per year.
Salary and total compensation for education policy analysts may vary widely based on a person’s geographic location and work setting. (For example, government agencies may have a lower limit to how much they are able to pay education policy analysts compared with a policy institute.)
Cultivate Diversity and Inclusion With a Career in Education
Education policy is complex and continually changing. To push for equity and accessibility in education, schools need education policy analysts to alert leaders to important trends and to evaluate how well policies are (or aren’t) working for students.
Do you enjoy working with data and care about promoting diversity and inclusion in education? Consider the Online MEd in Education Policy and Leadership at American University, a program rooted in social justice and anti-racism whose curriculum emphasizes inclusion and equity in education. Explore AU’s program and start your path towards a career in education policy.