CEPWC Profile: Daphna Bassok

Education Policy Assistant Professor Daphna Bassok is dedicated to improving student experiences, in early childhood or in graduate school.

Daphna Bassok, an Assistant Professor in the Education Policy program, does research aimed at understanding how early childhood education policy can be used to narrow achievement gaps.  Her work is the nucleus of one of UVA’s growing Education Policy groups.  In addition, Bassok provides valuable mentorship and leadership for the development of the new program, helping to train students from different backgrounds in preparation for a variety of education policy careers.

Daphna BassokHer own transition into education policy began when, after graduating college with a degree in economics and history, her interest in education led to a job as an assistant teacher in a K-2 classroom at a Montessori school.  When Bassok was unexpectedly asked to take over as the head teacher, she began to ask questions about how teachers are trained.  She also observed the disparity in school readiness between the children who had years of prior exposure to the Montessori program and those who were coming into her classroom without any exposure to a formal preschool setting.  Her experience, while rewarding, was a real life introduction both to the potential power of early childhood education and to the challenges early childhood educators face. Her questions and observations, combined with her background in economics, led her to complete a PhD in the Economics of Education from Stanford University before coming to UVA in 2009.

When considering a position at UVA, Bassok was attracted to the potential she saw at the Curry School for her work in early childhood education, as well as the opportunity to be part of developing the education policy program.  She specifically cites the research of CASTL, the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning: “UVA was incredibly appealing to me as someone with interests both in education policy and early childhood education.  Coming here gave me an opportunity both to help create a new education policy program that is oriented towards really applied, timely, big-picture policy research, and to work with a remarkable group of early childhood experts at CASTL, who do amazing work on the more micro-level aspects of early childhood teaching and learning experiences.  It’s a neat combination that I don’t think exists in many places.”

Her current research agenda includes work on the effects of pre-kindergarten on educational outcomes, the early childhood teacher labor force, the “academicization” of kindergarten, and the effects of universal pre-kindergarten on the private child care sector. Her work allows her to mentor multiple students, including Annie Rorem in the Batten School, and two of Curry’s MPP/PhD students, Eva Galdo and Scott Latham.  With Rorem, she is exploring the changing nature of kindergarten in the era of No Child Left Behind, and she and Latham are examining how alignment between preschool and kindergarten teachers impacts children’s transition into school. In collaboration with Luke Miller, a Curry Research Assistant Professor, and Galdo, she is studying the effects of Florida’s universal pre-k program on childcare availability. 

Bassok considers the research training of new scholars as critical to the mission of the Education Policy program at UVA, “We want to train students in a way that they can do high quality, rigorous, quantitative research on applied education policy questions so that we become one of the well-respected pathways for students to do that in the country. Our goal is to expose our students to the ed policy research landscape so that whether they go into an academic position or a think tank position, they’re keyed into the factors that matter and how they can use research to shape policy.”

As an early recruit to the Education Policy faculty, Bassok has worked closely with program director Jim Wyckoff to grow the PhD program and the associated Policy Lab.  In the years since her arrival, the group has grown from 4 people to a thriving research group including faculty members, post doctoral fellows, and 11 PhD students. As post-doctoral fellow Allison Atteberry explains, 'One of the things that makes Daphna such a great colleague is her ability to jump into a discussion about virtually any project, see through to the heart of it, and provide clear and kind feedback immediately. Her presence in our weekly Policy Lab meetings makes all our work better.' Bassok credits Wyckoff’s vision and collaborative focus as a strong driving force for the development of the program.

Other growth indicators Bassok points to are the Education Policy speaker series, which draws notable speakers from all over the country, and the formation of the joint MPP/PhD program which allows students to be introduced to a wide variety of public policy studies while experiencing the rigorous methods training and research-oriented curriculum of the Education Policy PhD program.

To read more about the work happening in the Center, please refer to our Working Paper series.