Class of 2017: Taking A Seat At The Table With DC Education Policy Makers

In the six years Veronica Katz has been working toward her Ph.D. in education policy at the Curry School of Education, exciting research findings have come as result of a partnership between the Curry School and the Washington D.C. Public School System.

When Katz arrived in 2011, Jim Wyckoff, a professor of education policy and director of the EdPolicyWorks research center, was beginning research on the DCPS IMPACT program, an innovative and somewhat controversial program for assessing teacher performance and improving teacher quality.

Katz quickly got involved in the project and before long was frequently taking the train to Washington to meet with school officials to discuss the IMPACT research, some of which is turning longstanding perceptions of teaching on their head.

Earlier this year, Katz co-authored an article with Wyckoff and others showing that teacher turnover, often rightly perceived as a problem for schools and student learning, actually improved student performance on average under IMPACT, the teacher-evaluation system used in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).

"I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to collaborate with such a thoughtful group of policymakers," Katz said, referring to her DCPS colleagues. "They are very clearly committed to improving outcomes for students."

Improving outcomes for public school students is what motivated Katz to come to the Curry School.

After completing her undergraduate degrees in anthropology and Spanish at Washington University in St. Louis, Katz accepted a position teaching 6th grade in south central Los Angeles as part of Teach for America. The experience was both challenging and transformative for Katz.

"When I was teaching in Los Angeles, I felt like I was on a sinking ship," Katz said. "I witnessed the need for systemic change in our public education system, especially for urban schools."

Her decision to come to the Curry School was catalyzed by her experiences in LA and her students there.

"I'm inspired by my students, the lives I touched and maybe changed, and the ones that I couldn't quite reach," Katz said. "I think of them often and even keep a picture on my desk to remind me why I'm here."

Katz's research interests focus on efforts to improve teacher quality. She remains especially committed to evaluating policies that aim to improve teacher quality in urban schools.

Katz identifies the opportunity to work closely with the policy makers and school leaders in the DC Public School System as among the most significant experiences that have shaped her time at UVA. A close second is the high level of mentoring she has received.

"Jim Wyckoff has been an amazing mentor," Katz said. "He has given me so many opportunities to do work that matters; he has encouraged me and supported me throughout my studies; and he sets an incredible example."

Katz has excelled as a doctoral student at the Curry School and plenty of colleagues in the field have taken note. In 2013, Katz was invited to participate in the American Enterprise Institute's Education Policy Academy. She was also awarded the American Educational Research Association's Minority Dissertation Fellowship and the National Academy of Education's Spencer 2015 Dissertation Fellowship.

"Veronica was a remarkable graduate student who, over the last six years has become a colleague," Wyckoff said. "Veronica has been indispensable as we built the infrastructure to support our work with policymakers in District of Columbia Public Schools. She has written a great dissertation that is informing the academic literature on teacher incentives and teacher retention and the work of policymakers in DC."

Originally from Corvallis, Oregon, Katz had this to say when asked to name one thing she learned here that surprised her: "Charlottesville might be the perfect place to live."

It is no surprise, then, that Katz has decided to stay in Charlottesville and will begin her role as a post-doctoral research associate with EdPolicyWorks and Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education upon graduation.