An examination of the bidirectional relationship between federal civil rights guidance and research

Maria M. Lewis, Sarah Kern


As the primary agency responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws in the educational context, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) issues policy guidance to help ensure that school districts and universities understand their legal obligations. These policy guidance documents have direct connections to topics studied by educational researchers (e.g., disproportionality in special education, race conscious admissions policies in higher education, transgender student inclusion, etc.). However, we do not have an empirical understanding of how this guidance is used by the research community. Nor do we have a strong grasp on the extent to which this guidance is explicitly informed by research. It is important to acquire an empirical understanding of the bidirectional relationship between research and educational policy in the context of civil rights enforcement in order to determine areas of strength and those in need of improvement. Specifically, this study poses the following research questions: 1) How often and in what ways do scholars explicitly use OCR policy guidance to inform their research? What are the characteristics of this research? 2) Conversely, how often and in what ways does OCR explicitly use research to inform policy guidance? What are the characteristics of research cited in OCR guidance?


education policy; civil rights; research use; education law

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Copyright (c) 2020 Maria Lewis, Sarah Kern


Contact EPAA//AAPE at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College