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.”
Education Dept. Chair Kenneth Wong and Dr. Nora Gordon
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last week, the American Educational Research Association (AERA) announced the recipients of its Palmer O. Johnson Memorial Award. The Award is presented annually to recognize the highest quality of academic scholarship published in one of the AERA peer-reviewed research journals.
The UEP Program is proud to announce that the 2015 recipients are none other than Prof. Matthew A. Kraft and Prof. John P. Papay! Their paper “Can Professional Environments in Schools Promote Teacher Development? Explaining Heterogeneity in Returns to Teaching Experience” was published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis in December 2014. Read the entire paper, or check out the abstract below:
Mounting evidence suggests that the school context in which teaching and learning occurs can have important consequences for teachers’ career decisions, teacher effectiveness, and student achievement. Using a rich dataset from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, we investigate how an individual teacher’s effectiveness (as measured by contributions to student achievement) changes as they gain experience on the job. Specifically, we look at how the professional environment of the school influences the degree to which teachers become more effective over time. We construct our measure of the professional environment from teachers’ responses to state-wide surveys.
We find that there is large variation in the extent to which teachers improve, both across individual teachers and across schools. Teachers who work in more supportive environments improve at much greater rates than their peers in less supportive schools. On average, teachers working in schools at the 75th percentile of professional environment ratings improved 38 percent more than teachers in schools at the 25th percentile after ten years. These findings highlight the role of the organizational context in promoting or constraining teacher development. Transforming schools into organizations that support the learning of both students and teachers will be central to any successful effort to increase the human capital of the U.S. teaching force.
The Urban Education Policy program works to provide each student with valuable technical skills and enhanced perspectives to help advance future careers. As a tight-knit program, we remain closely connected with our alumni and enjoy celebrating their successes! We recently heard from a graduate who is working to accelerate the dialogue around early childhood absenteeism in Washington D.C.:
The two reports have received considerable media attention, including an NPR radio interview with Mike. The Washington Post and Education Week also ran stories on the work, (one of which was tweeted out by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan)!
Please join us in celebrating the work Mike Katz and his colleagues have accomplished by reading up on this interesting and important topic!
Last week, the Urban Education Policy Speaker Series was proud to feature its second presenter of the semester, Dr. Stella Flores, an Associate Professor of Public Policy and Higher Education at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. Dr. Flores has served as a program evaluator for the U.S. General Accountability Office, a program specialist for the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and a policy researcher for the Texas State Legislature and various city governments in Texas.
Drawing on her research on the impact of state and federal policies on college access and completion for low income and underrepresented populations, Dr. Flores delivered a presentation titled “Do English Language Learners Go to College? An Examination of Long-Term Educational Trajectories”, which explored the impact of interventions, such as participation in ELL programs, on student outcomes like high school graduation and college attendance.
UEP students were enthusiastic for the opportunity to hear Dr. Flores speak about her research. Current student Kirsten Schmitz remarked that “UEP students take Quantitative Research Methods and Data Analysis our first semester, and so Dr. Flores’ presentation was especially well-timed. It was empowering to engage with her data on a higher level, drawing on the skill set we’ve developed in class and applying it to her findings around English Language Learners and college access.”
While engaging, the presentation also illuminated another side of education research and analysis: that the data encountered in the real world is not as neat or complete as the problems practiced in a classroom setting. UEP student Mateus Baptista noted that Dr. Flores’s work highlighted “the clear limitations of data sets and how researchers can only work with what they are given.” For instance, no data was available to Dr. Flores on students’ parents’ education levels, a factor which clearly may have some influence on student outcomes. These limitations served as a welcome reminder of the realities of education practice and research.
The UEP program is so grateful that Dr. Flores was able to visit Brown for the second installment of the Speaker Series, and looks forward to resuming in the Spring semester with new presentations!
Dr. Kenneth Wong, Urban Education Policy Program Director, took time to discuss unique mayoral involvement in Seattle Public Schools. Dr. Wong has completed extensive research on school governance redesign, among other topics. Click here to listen to the full report.
Pierre Lucien, Lauren Combs, Natasha Noel, and Dimple Patel represent the UEP program on the Graduate Student Council.
As the Fall semester gets underway, many Urban Education Policy students find new ways to become engaged in the Brown University community. Four UEP IX students, Pierre Lucien, Lauren Combs, Natasha Noel, and Dimple Patel were elected by their peers to serve on the Graduate Student Council. Lucien will serve as the Master’s Advocate, an expansive position that functions as a liaison between master’s students and PhD students, as well as the overarching Graduate Student Council. Combs will support her cohort as the UEP representative, Noel will work as a Finance Committee member, and Patel as a Nominations Committee member. We are proud of our UEP IX student involvement, and look forward to future connections as the year continues.