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Working in Education Policy: Degree Requirements and Career Opportunities

Education policymakers have a great responsibility. Their decisions affect public education opportunities for children today and lead to changes that can impact future generations. Getting involved in education policy is a way to contribute to a better-educated society.

Many people are involved in the formulation and evaluation of education policy. People who work on education policies—from research analysts to advisors and advocates—play a crucial role in determining how our schools operate and how we can meet the needs of students of all ages.

What Is Education Policy?

Education policy consists of the learning standards, established procedures, and structure for our educational systems. These principles and rules influence big decisions such as funding and program priorities. Typically, education policy work happens within different levels of government or in institutions that work alongside government.

In the United States, education is primarily the responsibility of parents and local/state governments. Today’s policymakers grapple with issues of school choice, academic performance, racial achievement gaps, school safety, standardized testing, funding, and more. Their decisions can affect investments in school infrastructure, class sizes, teaching methods, curriculum, content, graduation requirements, the values schools are expected to support, and other facets of educational life.

Federal, state, and local educational policies play a significant role in the ongoing efforts to create effective and equitable educational systems. Educational policies guide the decisions and actions taken by local school districts, so it’s important policymakers understand all of the potential impacts of the policies they endorse.

Policymakers often draw on the knowledge and experiences of teachers and administrators since they’re the ones charged with implementing policies, and their input usually results in better outcomes.

Careers in Education Policy

There are a number of careers in this vital field. Different roles carry specific education and experience requirements, as well as unique areas of focus and influence, but they all help in shaping education.

Many ideas for poli­cies and laws began with policy analysts. These are individuals who provide information, analysis, and recommendations to policymak­ers. They write reports, papers, fact sheets, and even books. They may also write editorials for newspapers, magazines, or blogs, and issue guides providing facts, graphs, and answers to common questions to help inform and gain support from the media, academia, and the public. Additionally, many offer briefings to members of Congress. Senior staff members may appear on news broadcasts or may even testify before a House or Senate committee.

A few of the different education policy job titles you may come across include:

  • Education Policy Analyst or Education Policy Research Analyst: An education policy analyst (also sometimes called public policy analyst) looks at education systems and analyzes policy to determine if it’s meeting its objectives or if changes are needed. Policy analysts research topics, collect data, analyze information, monitor events, write reports, and make recommendations, advocating for what they consider to be critical elements and appropriate funding. Some analysts have jobs that resemble those of statisticians. Responsibilities include developing and applying statistical methods to collect, organize, interpret, and summarize data to provide useful information to policymakers.
  • Education Researcher: An education researcher reads or develops education-related academic studies, synthesizes key findings, and makes recommendations. They may track state education-related legislative activity, write policy briefs, and respond to information requests.
  • Education Program Analyst: Education program analysts often work for the government at the local, state, or federal level. They examine current education programs and serve as consultants for the management of those programs. They conduct cost studies, write reports, and make recommendations for improvements.
  • Education Policy Advisor: Education policy advisors aid policy planning and implementation by maintaining relationships with both internal and external stakeholders. They usually have in-depth knowledge of educational systems and issues. They contribute to policy guidance and make recommendations for potential adjustments to policy positions.

Each of these jobs involves analyzing information to find ways to bring about positive changes in education. These behind-the-scene roles are very influential. The policies they help develop can lead to changes that will impact the future of education in America.

Salary and Career Outlook for Education Policy Jobs

People in professions that focus on education policy know their efforts matter because when they succeed, kids have a better chance at learning and fulfilling their potential.

Jobs that involve work with education policy are at the local, state, or federal level in government agencies or with lobbying or advocacy groups, private businesses, or nonprofits. The degree needed will depend on the job. Requirements can vary, ranging from a bachelor’s to a Juris Doctor (J.D.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.).

Those interested in the field may pursue degrees in education, education administration, public policy, public policy analysis, public policy management, psychology, social science, statistics, or other related areas.

Salaries can vary greatly depending on the job itself, geographic location, employer, experience, and education level. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates jobs for political scientists (which includes policy analysts) are expected to grow 5% from 2018 to 2028.

An informal survey (February 2020) of live job listings in education policy in the United States provides a snapshot of some of the available jobs and the average salary for each.

PayscaleIndeedGlassdoorTotal Average
Education/Public Policy Analyst$58,210$67,213$58,926$61,450
Education Researcher$63,000$59,473$54,411$58,961
Education Program Analyst $64,804$67,931$56,342$63,026
Research Analyst $63,823$67,663$69,035$66,840
Education Policy Advisor $73,191$68,159$56,342$65,897

Data collected from Payscale, Indeed, and Glassdoor (February 2020)

How to Begin a Career in Education Policy

To prepare yourself for a career in education policy, evaluate your skills, knowledge, experience, and abilities, and compare them to common requirements in this industry, which may include:

  • Knowledge of current education policy
  • Ability to think in strategic, conceptual, and creative ways
  • Analytical skills
  • Verbal communication and writing skills
  • Ability to work both independently and collaboratively
  • Experience working with educational programs

Education and experience requirements vary depending on the job and the employer. People in the field commonly hold a degree in education, education or business administration, psychology, political science, or public policy. Many (not all) hold a master’s degree in one of these areas of study, which may be fairly general—such as a master’s in public policy—or more specific, such as a master’s in education policy and management. Senior level jobs may require other advanced degrees, such as a J.D., Ed.S., or Ph.D., depending on their focus on regulations and law, educational practice, or academic research.

The expertise needed for a particular job can be gained in many ways, including internships, volunteer gigs, and part-time work. For example, a former teacher’s popular blog and freelance articles caught the attention of a think tank, which offered the writer a job as an analyst.

When narrowing down your areas of interest, consider both the education required and the day-to-day work involved in each position. For example:

Education policy analysts are responsible for analyzing, evaluating, and reporting on education programs, including budgets, staffing, content, and structure. Most hold an advanced degree (such as a master’s or a Ph.D.) and many have prior experience in the education field.

Education policy advisors are usually senior-level members of a team who work with administrators and elected officials. They typically have advanced degrees and substantial work experience. They tend to be organized individuals with excellent communication and interpersonal skills. College professors and attorneys often serve as policy advisors.

Education researchers often have a doctorate and hands-on teaching and/or educational administration experience. They use quantitative and qualitative research methodologies to identify problems and develop possible solutions.

All of these jobs require reading and digesting complex informa­tion and the ability to communicate effectively through speaking and writing. Each requires patience to study one subject in depth for long periods. People in these jobs must be self-starters who work independently, but also work well in groups.

Finding the Right Fit: Education Policy Employers

Are you most interested in policy research, policy development, policy implementation, or policy advocacy? Knowing what’s important to you will help you find an employer and position that’s a good match for your abilities and interests.

Jobs involved with education policy may be found with:

Each of these employers is involved in some aspect of education policy. The key is finding the right fit for your skills and interests. For example, if you like doing in-depth research on a particular policy issue, you may prefer to work in academia or for a research institute. If you like persuading others of the value of certain policies, you may want to look for a job at an advocacy organization. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty details of policy design, you may want to work for a government agency or as an aid to a member of the legislature.

Many employers have specific political points of view about education policy. Education policy is an often hotly debated set of topics because of its importance: it touches all communities and families. It’s important to do your homework to find a prospective employer that espouses principles and values that you share from your own experiences, beliefs, and research.

Education Policy Resources

Here are a just a few resources for people interested in education policy who want to stay informed about the field.

  • Education Week: This respected publication has a blog that publishes posts in its “Politics and Policy” channel about K-12 educational systems as well as the latest on legal developments.
  • Eduwonk: Eduwonk is a blog that focuses on education policy and politics.
  • Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM): APPAM is an association dedicated to improving public policy.
  • Public Policy Lab: Public Policy Lab is a nonprofit that works with the government on policies for low-income and at-risk communities.
  • New America: New America is one of many left-leaning think tanks that works on public and education policies.
  • American Enterprise Institute: AEI is one of many right-leaning think tanks that works on public and education policies.
  • American Institutes for Research: AIR is a social science research and program evaluation organization that focuses on education in its research agenda.
  • Learning Policy Institute: The Learning Policy Institute conducts independent research to improve education policy and practice.
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