Brown University Department of Education professors John Papay and John Tyler teamed up with Brown UEP alumna Mary Laski, along with Harvard Graduate School of Education Assistant Professor of Economics and Education Eric Taylor, on their publication, “Learning Job Skills from Colleagues at Work: Evidence from a Field Experiment Using Teacher Performance Data.”
“Writing,” Clint Smith announced to a packed auditorium in Barus and Holley on Tuesday, Oct. 26, “is a means of wrestling with questions I don’t have answers to.” Smith – a writer, teacher, TED Talks speaker, Harvard University Ph.D. candidate, and 2014 National Poetry Slam champion – was presenting “Art and Critical Pedagogy: Using Poetry to Challenge Dominant Narratives” at the Education Department’s third Fall 2016 Speaker Series event.
Homer, Smith told the crowd, had an epic poem that was passed down from mouth to mouth. Writing only for the page is a false notion; poetry’s roots are as an oral art form. He then launched into a dynamic, thoughtful, and oftentimes hilarious presentation that had the rapt attention of more than 200 audience members, instructing his listeners on etiquette with a quick “snap during, clap after” request. During the rest of this talk, fingers snapped around the room at various times when his poems and statements resonated with audience members, quiet in sound but thunderous in reaction to and appreciation of his words.
Smith, who was born and raised in New Orleans, gave some background information on his relationships with his parents (urging audience members, when he spoke of his father’s experience obtaining an organ transplant, to sign up to be organ donors to help offset the transplant waiting lists that tend to be longer for people of color and people in poverty). Smith learned from his father at an early age – too early to fully understand at the time – that the implications of his decisions might result in different outcomes than for Smith’s non-black friends. Smith referred to Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old shot dead by police two years ago for holding a toy gun. Smith’s father’s fears had been real. When he recited one of his poems following that introduction, two lines in particular drove home what Clint had just spoken of: “Someone’s idea of implicit bias might be the reason you might not wake up in the morning,” and “I want to live in a world where my son isn’t presumed guilty from the moment he is born.”
Smith thanked Christina Villarreal, Brown’s director of secondary history education, for helping to reconceptualize the notion of history. History, Smith noted, doesn’t always address what isn’t convenient to the narrative. Thomas Jefferson is celebrated as a president and historical figure, but many stories ignore the fact that he was a racist and a slaveholder. Jefferson didn’t try to hide this but in fact spoke his thoughts openly and published them. In his mind, black people didn’t have the capacity to create art; if they did put words on a page, it couldn’t be called poetry. Blacks, Jefferson believed, didn’t have the capacity to love. The dominant American narrative, Smith explained, was a state-sanctioned policy to marginalize and dehumanize a race. When we think of the civil rights movement, we think of Martin Luther King, Jr. as a celebrated figure – but at the time, ⅔ of Americans disapproved of King, just as many Americans today mischaracterize or judge the Black People Matter movement. In our collective American social memory, we don’t talk about these things. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal is celebrated in history books, but the New Deal was written to deny black citizens access to the very benefits it promised Americans – Social Security, GI bill, mortgages, minimum wage, and more. The New Deal may have created the middle class, but it skipped a huge section of the country, and politicians legally enacted law barring blacks from social benefits – yet people today point fingers at black citizens, asking why blacks are more likely to live in poverty than others.
Look at our history, Smith implored. The first blacks were brought to America as slaves in 1619. The Emancipation Proclamation didn’t pass until 1863. Voting and civil rights weren’t passed until 1964 and 1965 – only 50 years ago – and there are still issues of inequality today. America, Smith stressed, enjoyed 350 years of history in which it was legal to dehumanize blacks. We need to talk about this in our classrooms, and most of us don’t. In response to that propagation of myth, Clint read from his poem, “Letter to Five of the Eight Presidents Who Owned Slaves While in Office.” When talking about getting both sides of the story, the poem stated, “At some point, you have to question who the writer is.”
We live in a world, Smith said, where blacks can be stopped, can be frisked, can have assumptions made about their personalities at first sight. There is duality in our history; Jefferson was a good president, AND he was a racist and a slave holder. Both sides exist; both sides should be acknowledged. Smith then read five poems, each one on what an inanimate object – an ocean, a cicada, a fire hydrant, a window, and a cathedral – would say to black boys. The audience was spellbound at these unusual but powerful narrative views.
Only moments later, versatile speaker Smith had the audience laughing at his descriptions of his failures as a basketball player. Smith had always been chosen among the first for teams – resulting in disaster, as described in one line from the next poem: “My jump shot be all elbow and no wrist.” Counting Descent, Smith acknowledged, was about speaking the truth – the whole truth.
Mike Brown was killed the same week that Smith started grad school, and Smith has been writing the book these past two years in a post-Ferguson context. Smith wanted to humanize death of and violence toward blacks; the feelings he is grappling with are real and visceral. We’re not defined, Smith stated, by the things that kill us or seek to render us obsolete. There is a U.S. history of violence against blacks, but it is also amazing how fundamental black culture is to U.S. history. Blacks helped build this country, and they are woven into its fabric.
My life has not been entirely defined by violence and fear, Smith continued. He has attempted to capture black resilience and joy amid the greater, sadder black American landscape. Both sides are important to understanding the black experience. He told of the sweetness (and, to his young self, embarrassment) of his parents dancing together in the kitchen to “Before I Let You Go” by Frankie Beverly and Maze, which later inspired him to capture that moment in a poem he read to the audience.
The writer/poet label, Smith restated, doesn’t necessitate answers; it’s a means of wrestling with questions. If we ask questions we already have the answers to, we negate that process. We need to rethink concepts and re-imagine who police are and what they do. Look at us now, Smith, who works with prisoners, asked the audience. We are a society that puts people into cages for life. Remember how the French used to cut off heads with a guillotine? For us that’s barbaric; for them it was a normal way of life. Someday we’ll look back at life imprisonment with similar eyes to looking at guillotines. We have 200,000 people in the United States serving life sentences in jails, and we haven’t pushed ourselves towards different solutions to our problems. Don’t just tinker, Smith appealed; tackle.
Smith’s last poem was about the trauma caused by Hurricane Katrina, and the audience reacted with enthusiastic snaps at the haunting line, “Can you claim something as your own if you don’t remember how you found it?”
In response to Smith’s invitation for questions, someone asked about the influence of his father. Smith cautioned teachers to be careful about filling a parent role for students. Many of the prisoners he’d worked with hadn’t had biological fathers, and Smith recognized that and was careful not to position himself as anything but a peer; anything else would be disingenuous. Look at the Moynihan report, Smith said; black family structure is being blamed for problems in black society. Racism is the reason for those problems, not female heads of households or non-nuclear families. Neither he nor anyone else should seek to fill in a family gap; instead, Smith engages with prisoners and learns from them. The classroom isn’t one-way, Smith told the audience full of future teacher leaders. Students bring ideas and knowledge into classrooms, too; it can and should be a shared collective experience. Don’t set out to teach; set out to engage.
Another question addressed the balance between criticism and exposure of history. Smith acknowledged that it’s a difficult balance; we want to show students that the world sees blacks as less than human but let them know they’re not responsible. Students need to be shown both sides: the world is set up for them to fail, but they have the agency to change things. Different decisions can be made. They can wield their power; they can build a different world.
What’s the difference for you, another student asked, between writing for the page versus the stage? Also, regarding Smith’s Ph.D. research at Harvard, how does Smith use poetry with prisoners?
Writing is a process and a practice, Smith responded. Several times, he has made himself do a “30 for 30,” writing a poem every single day for a month. Just as with sports, you have to practice to write; in his case, he had to write 25 bad poems in order to write 5 good ones. You have to do the work to create the work, he advised the audience.
As for the written page, Smith cautioned against positioning the page as more valuable than the stage. They are different genres that feed in different ways, and appearing in a reputable publication isn’t necessarily a bigger indication of success than winning a poetry slam. Smith did acknowledge that he wrote for the page in the case of Counting Descent to break out of a competitive context. He’d been writing poems to fit the 2.5-minute frame for slams, and he wanted to experiment with other lengths, which led to other material and expressions.
In Smith’s Ph.D. program at Harvard, there is a relationship between the social scientist and the artist. Both are part of him. What he internalizes academically often surfaces artistically, and writing is a form of expressing both personal and political values. His next book, Smith revealed, will focus on the relationship between education and incarceration.
In response to a question about using pedagogy to become a better person and the relationship between art and ethics, Smith said he entered grad school committed to avoiding inaccessibility; he’d been seeking the intellectual toolkit to name and understand things. He has the language to argue against misconceptions and misnomers and to challenge ideas like that of “black-on-black crime.” Smith enjoys his work in the prisons because he had wanted to be in a space that reminds him of why he came to this field of study. He doesn’t want to just read books; he wants to ground the knowledge he’s seeking and stay in touch with the reasons why he’s there.
In response to the final question – about whether he writes to challenge and assert himself – Smith stated that people write about poverty to legitimize themselves and their social institutions. Those people use narratives to benefit themselves without helping the people to whom the stories belong. It’s important to illuminate those people. It’s important to think about and account for the fact that this is people’s lives and not just a vehicle for people to gain tenure or publications or a name for themselves.
Smith thanked the crowd for coming and for asking great questions, and he offered to sign copies of Counting Descent. Thrilled by Smith’s performance, autograph seekers filled the hallway.
Urban Education Policy graduate student Madalyn Ciampi’s internship with Civic Nation has opened new doors for her – most recently, the doors to the home of Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden.
Civic Nation’s College Promise Campaign, which builds public support for making community college free of tuition and fees for students, intertwines with the White House, as the campaign stems from President Obama’s America’s Promise initiative.
Last week, Ciampi helped host a three-day “PromiseNet 2016” conference in Washington, D.C. as part of her internship. On the last day of the conference, she and her colleagues hosted a convening at the White House, and Dr. Jill Biden, the honorary chair of the campaign’s National Advisory Board, invited the group to a luncheon at her and the Vice President’s home before they returned to the White House for the National Advisory Board meeting.
When asked how her internship and passion for Civic Nation ties into her graduate studies at Brown University, Ciampi responded,
“I think that one of the most valuable components of the internship so far has been seeing the behind-the-scenes, hands-on aspect of education policy, which I feel really complements the classroom-based learning in UEP. The campaign is working to build public support, and this also involves promoting economic implications of making college accessible and affordable, to incentive governmental stakeholders, businesses, etc. to back the movement. I’ve also found the conversation around the importance of research in moving the College Promise forward to be really interesting, given that this is a huge component of UEP. In this respect I feel that the courses in the UEP program have prepared me to be much more well-versed in the work that I’m doing in my internship.
The internship component of my education has already benefited me greatly, and I am looking forward to seeing how it may continue to complement and build upon my classroom learning!”
On Thursday, Sept. 22, students, faculty and staff gathered over lunch in the Barus Building Dewey Conference Room for the first of the Department of Education’s four-part fall semester speaker series. Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy Associate Professor Nora Gordon kicked off the series with her dynamic presentation, “Medicaid, Special Education, and Children’s Access to Health Services.”
Dr. Gordon, a research associate of the National Bureau of Education Research and an expert on Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, has been studying school-based Medicaid billing for special education and trends in how states use categorical versus general aid for education. Looking around the room at various student teachers, she shared her excitement at talking about the project with people who have spent more time in schools than she has, then jokingly answered a query on how she balances teaching, research, advisory panels, and raising three kids (the secret to her success: an 8:30 p.m. bedtime). Then she briefed the audience on how in 1988 Congress authorized Medicaid to reimburse for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)-related services for children with special education needs. She had been surprised to learn just how large the Medicaid program is for school-aged children. Continue reading
The Brown Department of Education hosted another installment of its Speaker Series last week, and was proud to feature Dr. Ansley T. Erickson, Assistant Professor of History and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Erickson co-directs the collaborative and digital historical research project Educating Harlem. Dr. Erickson is a graduate of Brown University, class of 1995, with a B.A. in Education Studies and Political Science.
As Dr. Erickson began her talk, she remarked how the classroom where we were assembled coincidentally held special significance for her. The lecture hall was the location of her first Brown University Education class, taught by the legendary education reform leader Ted Sizer, the Founding Director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. We were further honored to have the late Sizer’s wife, Nancy Faust Sizer, present in the audience for Dr. Erickson’s presentation.
American schools today are starkly segregated by race and class. After a few decades of limited attention to this problem, advocates are calling for a new era of desegregation. Dr. Erickson walked the group through her research on the history of desegregation in Nashville, Tennessee, one of the longest-running, broadest, and most statistically successful school desegregation plans in the country, and indicated how her case study could offer important lessons, and at times cautions, for desegregation efforts going forward.
Dr. Erickson pointed out various systemic roadblocks to true integration. For example, despite the new illegality of school segregation in the 1960s, it continued to be unofficially enforced by the state due to federal suburban home financing only being available to white families. Once busing was introduced, a more genuine integration began, however this still raised the moral question of if a black student’s education was “equal” if they were systemically being told that in order to receive a quality education they must be removed from their communities.
Dr. Erickson argued that fostering equality today depends on reckoning with segregation’s deep roots, desegregation’s complex history, and considering these intricate questions.
The Brown Education Department Speaker Series held its second installment last week, and was proud to feature Dr. Douglas Harris, a Professor of Economics, the Schleider Foundation Chair in Public Education, and founder and Director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans (ERA-New Orleans) at Tulane University.
Dr. Harris delivered a presentation to the Department entitled “Taken by Storm: The Post-Katrina New Orleans School Reforms and their Effects on Students“. The school reforms put in place in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina represent the most intensive test-based and market-based school accountability system ever created in the United States. Collective bargaining ended, school choice expanded, and nearly all public schools were taken over by the state. Now ten years later, Harris’s study is providing New Orleans with the first examination of the effects of this package of reforms on student achievement.
Harris walked Education Department faculty and students through his research step by step, showing that even when controlling the data for other influences, over time the reformed system of schools had clear, statistically significant positive effects on student outcomes. Despite these encouraging initial results, Harris cautioned that this extreme overhaul approach may not be generalizable to other geographic locations, but was only successful in New Orleans due to a specific combination of circumstances, such as population characteristics and the rapid influx of passionate teachers to the area post-Katrina.
Students in the Urban Education Policy Program can apply for travel funding, allowing them to explore education conferences or attend meetings relevant to their internships. Current student Melissa Lovitz (UEP ’16) recently took advantage of this travel program, flying to Washington D.C. to attend ParentCamp USA, an “un-conference” opportunity for parents and teachers to come together and model the four core beliefs highlighted in the book “Beyond the Bakesale: The Essential Guide to Family-School Partnerships“.
Melissa was kind enough to share some of her thoughts and reflections on her experience at ParentCamp USA. Read her words below!
“As part of my internship at Achievement First in Rhode Island, I had the opportunity to attend the first ParentCamp USA at the U.S. Department of Education. Not only did I have an incredible time but I also learned a lot. What follows are three lessons I gained from my experience.
- Networking is essential
My first reaction following ParentCamp USA was “there was so much networking!” I quickly realized that relationships and connections are inexplicably valuable in this work. My favorite moments of the day were from the conversations I had and the individuals I met. I loved sharing insights, questions, and concerns. I also really appreciated hearing directly from parents about their experiences and ideas regarding family and community engagement. The ParentCamp USA space was designed so that everyone (researchers, students, nonprofit managers, parents, etc.) was considered important in the discussions and workshops. Therefore, it was easy to engage in meaningful exchanges. Over and over again I experienced moments when it “clicked” and I knew I was in the right field. I knew what I was talking about and felt confident participating. I was motivated by each person I met and by everything I was hearing and learning.
- Talking about parent engagement without parents is irresponsible
One of the most meaningful challenges I left ParentCamp USA grappling with is the question of whether parents are partners or simply puppets. Ideally, schools and families strive to achieve authentic partnerships based on trusting relationships and collaborations. However, in practice this is not always exhibited. More often, parent involvement is driven by the school’s terms rather than the families’. In this way, when parents’ voices and ideas are not aligned with the school’s ideas, parent involvement and participation is not always appreciated. Based on what we are learning in our UEP coursework and what I experienced at ParentCamp USA, effective, genuine family engagement cannot be achieved unless parents have equal status and importance in the school environment and their voices are acknowledged as critical in conversations about family engagement.
- Don’t underestimate the power of your “digital business card”
On the day of the event, #ParentCampUSA was the #2 trending hashtag on Twitter. In Co-Coordinator Dr. Joe Mazza’s opening remarks, Dr. Mazza urged ParentCamp USA attendees to participate in the “un-conference” online. He reminded us that networking is everywhere and explained the utility of each person’s “digital business card”. As we continue to live in a technologically consumed world, connections via social media can propel ideas forward and provide spaces to continue conversations well beyond the scope of a one-day event. While at first I was hesitant, because I was concerned I would be distracted, I did join the Twitter conversations and enjoyed seeing everyone’s thoughts and what they found important or valuable come up on the live feed throughout the day. This feature was especially influential for me during the closing session – a “smack down” designed to allow participants to share what they learned and their overall thoughts from the day.
ParentCamp USA inspired me to continue to learn about how to engage families, and to develop strategies that capitalize on the strengths and voices in each family and community.”
Thank you, Melissa!
This Saturday, November 14, 2015, the Graduate School held their annual Graduate Student Career Options Conference (GradCON); among the 42 Brown alumni invited to share their stories were two UEP Program alumni, Nikki Churchwell (UEP ’11) and Lindsey Cosgrove (UEP ’11).
Both shared how the knowledge and skills they gained from the UEP Program and Brown University prepared them to work in their current positions. Churchwell participated in the “Education” Alumni Panel, speaking of her experience working at Providence Plan and now as a Fellow at the U.S. Dept of Education. Cosgrove spearheaded the “Non-Profit” Alumni Panel, where she spoke of her role as Director of Institutional Philanthropy and Strategic Partnerships at Girl Scouts of Greater NY.
Current UEP students attending GradCON remarked that Churchwell and Cosgrove gave great advice on graduate school, interview prepping, and career choices, and appreciated the insight on how the skills and knowledge they gained during their UEP year were essential in moving forward into a career that fit their needs and interests.
This week, Providence Talks, an initiative founded in 2013 by the City of Providence in partnership with Brown University, held its first open policy forum at Brown in an event co-sponsored by the UEP Program. The Providence Talks initiative aims to improve the vocabularies of preschool children, thereby setting them up for success and shrinking the long-term achievement gap between students of low-income and high-income families. Providence was awarded $5 million after winning the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, a competition to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life. Now wrapping up its pilot phase and scheduled to scale to an additional 750 households within the next year, the wealth of data coming out of the Providence Talks project will be evaluated by Brown University and Urban Education Policy researchers in the years ahead in order to fine-tune what works and what does not work about the program.
The forum was open to the public and attended by members of the Brown and Providence communities. University of Chicago’s Dr. Dana Suskind, author of Thirty Million Words, spoke on the research that has lead to the development of this program, and panelists Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Bloomberg Philanthropies Anne Emig, Dr. Dana Suskind, and UEP Director Dr. Kenneth Wong answered a variety of questions about the program during an open Q&A session with the enthusiastic audience.
Jasamine Young-Paulhill was named the 2015 winner and the fourth recipient of the Ruth Simmons Urban Education Policy Scholarship. This full-tuition award is granted annually by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University to the UEP student who most epitomizes the former Brown University president’s commitment to education equity and social justice.
Young-Paulhill, a Philadelphia native, is a 2014 graduate of Oberlin College, with a BA in Hispanic Studies and Creative Writing. During the 2014-2015 academic year, she served with City Year Chicago as the extended learning time coordinator on her team, working to improve the daily attendance, academic performance, and social-emotional skills of 20–40 at-risk students on a daily basis. While at Oberlin, she was an America Reads tutor site leader for students in grades 3–5.
Read more about Jasamine and the Ruth J. Simmons Urban Education Policy Scholarship here.