The Brown Education Department Speaker Series Presents Dana Goldstein

Last week the Brown Education Department Speaker Series concluded for the semester with its fourth and final speaker of the year. The department welcomed Dana Goldstein, a 2006 Brown graduate, journalist, and the author of the New York Times bestseller The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession.

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In her book, Dana Goldstein asks, “Why is teaching the most controversial profession in America?” Historically, American public school teaching developed as an explicitly working class job. Yet at the same time that we pay public school teachers poorly, police their political activity, and prevent them from influencing the curriculum, we have come to expect teachers to play a key role in the eradication of poverty and inequality.

Goldstein outlined in her presentation how many attitudes about the school reform debate are old and cyclical rather than new conversations.  Moral panic, for example, has frequently caused us to focus on who is teaching rather than addressing structural issues. The concept of data-based reform is also not new, with the idea of pay tied to performance being almost a century old. Goldstein further outlined how valuable data that is not test scores is historically ignored, even if it yields important insights, such as how school funding correlates to teacher effectiveness. The media further exacerbates issues with this conversation by incentivizing focusing on extremes rather than on how to improve the average teacher.

Ultimately, Goldstein concluded by noting the underlying issue that education reform is usually done to teachers, not with teachers, and that if we are truly going to increase the prestige and effectiveness of American public school teaching, we need to use a new strategy: conceiving of teachers as intellectuals, and allowing them to collaborate to exercise real professional discretion and leadership.


The Brown Education Department Speaker Series Presents Dr. Ansley Erickson

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.

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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 Presents Dr. Douglas Harris

Douglas Harris_Headshot
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.

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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.

Student Perspective: Melissa Lovitz at ParentCamp USA

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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!

The Brown Education Department Speaker Series Presents Dr. Luther Spoehr

The Brown Education Department Speaker Series kicked off this week, and was proud to feature Dr. Luther Spoehr, a Senior Lecturer in Education and History at Brown University, and the Director of Brown Undergraduate Studies. Spoehr’s main activities at Brown involve teaching about the history of American higher education and the history of American school reform. His First-Year Seminar, “Campus on Fire,” looks at American colleges and universities in the 1960s. Other courses include a survey of the history of American higher education, the history of intercollegiate athletics, and the history of academic freedom. Dr. Spoehr also does work on best practices in the teaching of history and frequently consults with schools and school systems that want to improve their history teaching.

This Wednesday, Dr. Spoehr delivered a presentation to the Department of Education entitled “Francis and Ira’s (Sometimes) Excellent Adventures: Wayland, Magaziner, and Curriculum Reform at Brown,” a talk outlining the research Spoehr has conducted into Brown’s curriculum journey since the University’s founding in 1764.

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Dr. Spoehr began by discussing the University’s roots as a small school of approximately 80 male students, being taught Latin and the classics by a single professor, and then touched upon the (at the time) outlandish reforms implemented by President Francis Wayland in the 1800’s, allowing for modern languages and practical skills such as agriculture, and science and chemistry applied to the arts.  These reforms were considered a failure initially, supposedly attracting a lower caliber of students, but today are frequently sited as being “ahead of their time”.

Brown University’s “New Curriculum” of no required core curriculum or distribution requirements was not born until the 1960’s, when student activists led by undergraduate Ira Magaziner (whom Dr. Spoehr has had the privilege of interviewing for his research) pushed for more engaging and utilitarian courses.  Elements of Magaziner’s New Curriculum exist to this day at Brown University, and current faculty in the audience remarked that it is because of the lack of requirements at Brown that they can be sure that when they walk into a classroom, their students want to be there.

UEP Alumni Speak at GradCON ’15


UEP Alumni Nikki Churchwell and Lindsey Cosgrove pose for a photo with current UEP students at GradCON.

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.

UEP Program Co-Hosts “Providence Talks” First Policy Forum

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.

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Jasamine Young-Paulhill, UEP X, Named Ruth J. Simmons Scholar

JasamineJasamine 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.

UEP Professor Matthew Kraft in the News!

Yet again, Urban Education Policy Professor Matthew Kraft’s research is making headlines!  In this past week, his work on “The Underutilized Potential of Teacher-to-Parent Communication: Evidence from a Field Experiment” has been featured in The Boston Globe, and Education Week.   The study, which is co-authored by Todd Rogers, director of Harvard’s Student Social Support R&D Lab, is set for publication in the August 2015 issue of the academic journal Economics of Education Review.

Read the entire paper today, or check out the abstract below:

We study an intervention designed to increase the effectiveness of parental involvement in their children’s education. Each week we sent brief individualized messages from teachers to the parents of high school students in a credit recovery program. This light-touch communication increased the probability students earned credits by 6.5 percentage points – a 41% reduction in the proportion failing to earn credit. This improvement resulted primarily from preventing drop-outs, rather than from reducing failure or dismissal rates. The intervention shaped the content of parent-child conversations with messages emphasizing what students could improve, versus what students were doing well, producing the largest effects. Our results illustrate the underutilized potential of communication policies with clear but reasonable expectations for teachers and program designs that make communication efficient and effective.

Internship Spotlight: UEPs Reflect on their Year at Work

Arguably the most distinctive feature of the UEP year at Brown University is the nine-month internship component of our program. Our academically rigorous coursework in research and theory is grounded in the day-to-day realities of practice in an urban education policy setting. Students select internships based on their personal career goals and academic interests, and so our cohort finishes their year with a variety of unique real-world experiences.

As their internships come to an end, four members of the current UEP cohort were kind enough to share their experiences with us.  Their stories represent just a small sample of what a UEP internship has to offer – experiences local and far, with non-profits and school districts, in areas data-driven and policy-focused.  Read their words below!


Juan Carlos Carranza, College Visions

My internship site this year through the UEP program has been with College Visions (CV), a non-profit organization in Providence that empowers low-income and first-generation college-bound students to realize the promise of higher education by providing advising and resources to promote college enrollment, persistence, and graduation. Specifically, I have been working as a data analyst within the College Success Program, which follows students through college from enrollment to graduation.

Last semester, I cleaned and compiled student data and used it to calculate enrollment, 1-to-2-year persistence, and graduation rates for each cohort of students. This information has been useful in reporting information to funders, community members, and the board of directors. This semester I have helped create a data dashboard that will provide advisers and program directors with real-time information on program performance.

Before UEP, I worked as a College Adviser with the College Advising Corps (CAC) at a high school in Providence. My work with the CAC helped provide me with a knowledge of the college access landscape in Rhode Island and nationally. My desire to continue working on issues surrounding college access and success led me to choose College Visions as my internship site. Through my work at CV, I’ve been able to get a deeper understanding of the challenges and supports that students face when trying to attain a college degree. I’ve been able to sit in on various meetings and engage with stakeholders throughout the state who are working in partnership to improve the opportunities for students in Providence. After UEP, I hope to continue working to ensure that all students in Rhode Island have equal access to post-secondary opportunities and support throughout their journey to college attainment.


Mateus Baptista, El Rancho Unified School District

I am working as a research consultant for the El Rancho Unified School District in Pico Rivera, California. I am researching the district’s college-going culture and to what extent it exists. I report directly to the Superintendent of Schools and have built relationships with various stakeholders from the Mayor, the board president, to families and students. I am drawn to this research because I am committed to increasing first-generation college attendance particularly at four-year universities. As the lead on this research project, I have enormous flexibility along with the necessary supports. This research project allows me to deeply explore an issue and determine the root cause of low college matriculation rates.

I have learned most importantly that I enjoy research and the autonomy it provides. This has helped me solidify a desire to pursue a PhD in the near future.


Reilly Pharo Carter, Leadership for Educational Equity

My internship this year was with Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE), a nonpartisan, non-profit organization dedicated to empowering Teach For America corps members and alumni to grow as leaders in their communities and help build the movement for educational equity.

Through my work on their policy team, I focused on building members’ understanding and expertise relating to policy development and implementation. I work directly for the Senior Director of Policy Strategy and Support. Over the course of the year, my projects have ranged from the development of a new member toolkit aimed at building policy acumen for new members transitioning from the classroom to the policy world, to the support and planning of LEE’s annual Policy Leadership Academy, a three day, invitation-only conference for LEE’s most senior members.

I have deeply enjoyed my internship because it has provided me with opportunities to both expand my policy expertise, as well as expand the network of people I know in this field. My internship was virtual, so I was afforded a lot of flexibility and autonomy.

Sarah HalberstadtSarah Halberstadt, Annenberg Institute for School Reform

Through my internship as a Research Assistant at the Annenberg Center for School Reform, I have had the opportunity to use what I am learning in my UEP classes to help support the work of parents, young people, teachers, and activists at the front lines of education organizing.

I came to UEP straight from the classroom and knew that I wanted an internship that allowed me to practice policy analysis and research skills, but also enabled me to stay engaged with the people who I believe are the real education policy experts: students, educators, families, and communities. I got that opportunity through my work on Annenberg’s Pittsburgh Parent Power project funded by the Heinz Endowments in Pittsburgh.

From day one, the small team of Annenberg staff leading this project has included me in meaningful work. I have helped to revise and create curriculum and materials, I have traveled with the team to Pittsburgh to help facilitate cohort gatherings, and I have had the chance to learn from and amplify the voices of over fifty incredible parent organizers.

The best part of my internship has been watching very smart people work together and involve others in their work. I have had the chance to see what it looks like to effectively combine research and organizing in a way that brings people into, rather than excludes them from, education policy conversations.