Education Policy Seminar Series - Spring 2021

For the current Education Policy Seminar Series, please visit our website. 

Spring 2021

Sara MeadEarly Learning in a Changing Landscape: Challenges, Opportunities, and Questions ​

Sara Mead, Assistant Superintendent for Early Learning, District of Columbia's State Education Agency
Monday, January 25, 2021, 12:00-1:15 PM  

Bio: Sara Mead is the Assistant Superintendent for Early Learning with the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the District of Columbia’s State Education Agency. In this role, she oversees the District’s strategy and implementation of state and local-level early childhood programs and policies, including child care licensure, subsidy, and quality improvement initiatives; early intervention; and early childhood systems-building in collaboration with other District government, philanthropic, community, and private partners. Prior to joining OSSE, Sara was a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, where she led the organization’s early childhood work and policy practice and provided strategic advising support to foundations, advocacy organizations, states, and early childhood operators. She previously directed the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative and worked for Education Sector, the Progressive Policy Institute, and the U.S. Department of Education. Her work has been featured in media outlets including The Washington Post, The New York Times, Slate, and USA Today, and U.S. News & World Report. From 2009-2017, Sara served on the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board, which authorizes charter schools in Washington, D.C. She currently chairs the board of the National Association for Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). The daughter, granddaughter, and sister of public and home school educators, she holds a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Vanderbilt University.

Abstract: Research demonstrates how the earliest years of children's lives lay the foundation for future learning and thriving. But early childhood learning and development has historically been an afterthought in U.S. education and public policies. U.S. public education systems don't start until age 5, and while most young children are in some form of regular childcare, these services are delivered through a fragmented patchwork of public, private, and inform arrangements. Despite growing recognition of the research on early childhood development, Americans remain conflicted about the role of formal care and education for young children as well as the responsibilities of parents, government, and civil society to support young children's learning and development. Over the past quarter century, states and the federal government have made increasing investments in expanding access to pre-k and early childhood programs, but large gaps in quality and access remain. This seminar will feature a candid discussion about why early care and education matter for children and society; the current state of early care and education in the United States; the factors driving increased focus on and demand for high-quality early care and education; barriers to expanding access to quality early learning; and opportunities for research, practice, and policy to work together to advance learning and support for young children and their families.  

Three peopleExcess in Texas: An investigation of the effect of state policies concerning excess credit hours on student success

Dominique Baker, Assistant Professor, Southern Methodist University 
Monday February 8, 2021, 12:00-1:15 PM 

Bio: Dominique Baker is an Assistant Professor of Education Policy in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University. Her research focuses on the way that education policy affects and shapes the access and success of minoritized students in higher education. She primarily investigates student financial aid, affirmative action and admissions policies, and policies that influence the ability to create an inclusive & equitable campus climate. Her work and expertise have been highlighted by the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Public Radio, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Inside Higher Ed, among others

Abstract: One way states have begun to focus on balancing the need to control student debt while encouraging on-time graduation is by implementing policies regarding “excess semester credit hours” (ESCH), defined as any credit hours above the cumulative number required for an undergraduate degree. These policies assess a fee to in-state students at public institutions when they exceed a set number of cumulative credit hours (e.g., students with more than the 120 credit hours needed for a bachelor’s degree). The aim of such policies is to discourage students from taking a large number of courses that are unnecessary for their degrees, thereby limiting both the time to degree and the undergraduate debt incurred. As of 2013, nine states had adopted some type of ESCH policy. Prior research, focused on nationwide, institution-level data, found little evidence that these types of policies increase degree production. The current study uses student-level data to investigate the extent to which an ESCH policy affects student success in Texas.

Three peopleDid Reopening Schools Increase the Spread of COVID-19? Evidence from Texas

Ron Zimmer, Director and Professor, University of Kentucky
Monday, March 1, 2021, 12:00-1:00 PM 

Bio: Dr. Ron Zimmer is a Professor and Director of the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration at University of Kentucky. Prior to coming to University of Kentucky, Dr. Zimmer was a faculty member at Vanderbilt University and spent a number years at the RAND Corporation. Dr. Zimmer has had editorship roles at Journal Policy Analysis & Management, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. and Economics of Education Review and a board member of each of these journals. Dr. Zimmer's research focuses on school choice and school finance which has led to a number of scholarly articles, book chapters, and monographs. Much of this research has been funded by an array of foundations, state governments, and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The findings from some of this research have been highlighted in major media outlets including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Education Week, ABC News, U.S. News and World Report, and CNN. Currently, Dr. Zimmer is co-leading a study funded by the Walton Family Foundation and Laura and John Arnold Foundation to evaluate Tennessee's Achievement School District, which is tasked with raising the performance of low performing schools.

Abstract: Across the nation, policymakers continue to make the difficult decision whether and when to open schools for in-person instruction. These decision makers are balancing the health concerns of the students, staff, and the larger community versus concerns of reduced student learning and social and emotional development through online instruction. In most cases, decision makers have made these decisions with limited evidence. This current study helps fill the void by collecting instruction modality and start dates for all of Texas’ school districts. These data are then merged with weekly county level data of confirmed COVID-19 cases and fatalities to analyze the impact school openings have on these health outcomes using an event study framework. 

Janelle ScottMaking Research Matter: Intermediaries, Mobilization, and Dissemination to the Public

Janelle Scott, Professor, University of California, Berkeley
Thursday March 25, 2021, 12:00-1:15 PM 

Bio: Janelle Scott is a Professor at the University of California, Berkeley in the Graduate School of Education and African American Studies Department. She holds the Robert C. and Mary Catherine Birgeneau Distinguished Chair in Educational Disparities. Scott earned a Ph.D. in Education Policy from the University of California, Los Angeles Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to earning her doctorate, she taught elementary school in Oakland, Calif.

Abstract: Policy makers increasingly call for evidence-based policy and practice in education. This push for evidence, as well as shifts in the politics of education, have given rise to intermediary organizations that serve multifunctional roles: advocacy, research, policy making, convening around educational policies that use incentives to drive school, teacher, and system improvements. Yet there are unsettled questions about the efficacy of reforms being rapidly adopted and spread across urban school districts, often based on the contradictory claims made by the intermediary sector. This talk will discuss findings from a collaborative study on the politics of research use (2011-2018) in four urban school districts, the implications of these findings for improving research utilization in policy and practice, and for mobilizing research evidence for policy makers and the public.

John HolbeinWhat we teach about race and gender: Representation in images and text of children’s books 

Anjali Adukia, Assistant Professor, University of Chicago
Monday April 19, 2021, 12:00-1:15 PM 
Virtual -

Bio: Anjali Adukia is an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and the College. In her work, she is interested in understanding how to reduce inequalities such that children from historically disadvantaged backgrounds have equal opportunities to fully develop their potential.  Her research is focused on understanding factors that motivate and shape behavior, preferences, attitudes, and educational decision-making, with a particular focus on early-life influences.  She examines how the provision of basic needs—such as safety, health, justice, and representation—can increase school participation and improve child outcomes in developing contexts.

Abstract: Books shape how children learn about society and social norms, in part through the representation of different characters. To better understand the messages children encounter in books, we introduce new machine-led methods for systematically converting images into data. We apply these image tools, along with using established text analysis methods, to measure the representation of race, gender, and age in children’s books commonly found in US schools and homes over the last century.  We find that books selected to highlight people of color, or females of all races, have increasingly over time depicted characters with darker skin tones; whereas ``mainstream'' books over the last two decades have increasingly depicted chromatically ambiguous characters with an increase in lighter skin tones. Children are consistently depicted with lighter skin than adults, despite no systematic differences in skin tones by age.  Comparing images and text, we find that females are more represented in images than in text. There is a persistent disproportionate representation of males, particularly White males, and lighter-skinned people relative to darker-skinned people.  Our data provide a view into the ``black box'' of education through children’s books in US schools and homes, highlighting what has changed and what has endured.