EdPolicyWorks Profiles Prof. Gibbs and Economics Graduate Student Zagardo


EdPolicyWorks continues its profile series with Chloe Gibbs, an assistant professor of public policy and education and Michelle Zagardo, a doctoral graduate student in the Department of Economics. They discuss how the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of EdPolicyWorks helps their research. 

Chloe Gibbs, Ph.DChloe Gibbs, an early career public policy and education assistant professor, knew early on that U.Va. was the place for her.

“Everyone kept telling me that Virginia was the place right now for education policy work,” said Gibbs, who joined the faculty of the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy with a courtesy appointment at the Curry School of Education, after receiving her Ph.D in 2012.

Gibbs arrived at U.Va. and immediately paired up with faculty and graduate students from EdPolicyWorks to start mapping out future research and papers, some of which are now making meaningful contributions to the field.

“Very few universities have researchers trained as economists, psychologists, etc., who truly collaborate and come together from different departments and schools,” explained Gibbs. “Having this community focused on education policy research is one of the most rewarding aspects of this job and very critical to the quality and relevance of the work.”

Gibbs’ research examines the impact of full-day kindergarten policies and the effects of Head Start, a federally funded preschool program serving low-income families. She investigates how these policies affect children, families, and educational systems in both the short- and longer-term on a range of outcomes. She is also interested in how early childhood programs engage and educate parents and how different preschool programs operate in conjunction or competition.

Michelle ZagardoLike Gibbs, Michelle Zagardo is committed to understanding issues in early childhood, but she didn’t start there. After working in middle schools in Chicago, she realized interventions needed to start early, as early as prekindergarten.

“There are vulnerable points in children’s’ development,” explained Zagardo, “and we want to understand how policies can provide supports during those times.”

As a doctoral student in the Department of Economics, Zagardo got a strong foundation of theory and statistics. Now she is adding more applied, hands-on work in her research at EdPolicyWorks.

“I’m getting trained in how to put that economics foundation to work,” said Zagardo. “I am learning how to think about these really big questions in a way that makes them feasible, on the ground.”

One project Zagardo and Gibbs are working on examines the effects of pre-kindergarten and Head Start program availability on maternal employment to assess whether fluctuations in available slots affect mothers’ workforce attachment. They are also working on the Louisiana Kindergarten Readiness Study in which they are exploring how parents make decisions about early childhood care and education arrangements for their children. 

Gibbs and Zagardo bring multiple perspectives and academic backgrounds to EdPolicyWorks, from human capital development to workforce policies, which fits well within this interdisciplinary community.

Gibbs described the regular group meetings, called Policy Labs where all the faculty and students at EdPolicyWorks discuss research in progress, as an intellectual and scholarly community focused around policy. It seems that old idiom “two heads are better than one” may be true.

“It’s really helpful to get real-time feedback from a friendly, engaged audience when you are in the midst of doing research,” described Gibbs. “Even though many of us are working on very different topics, we all encounter many of the same methodological issues, and Policy Lab is a great venue to ensure that you can communicate clearly the relevance and contribution of what you are doing to those outside of your specific area.”

These Policy Labs, as well as the public Education Policy Seminar Series, are opportunities that Zagardo said made her feel like a member of the community.

“All the professors at EdPolicyWorks are open with their time,” said Zagardo. “They are all enthusiastic and love what they are doing.”

Gibbs agrees, and added that the goal in her work and her advice for graduate students is to “find questions you are passionate about and that you can answer well.”

Not all the research questions can be answered, but Gibbs and Zagardo are tackling some pretty important ones within their collaborative educational policy community.

Both Gibbs and Zagardo are affiliated with the Virginia Education Science Training (VEST) program at U.Va., sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences.

Read the other EdPolicyWorks profiles about Daphna Bassok and Eva Galdo, Ben Castleman and Kelli Bird, and Dan Player and Veronica Katz.

EdPolicyWorks is a joint collaboration between the Curry School of Education and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. EdPolicyWorks brings together researchers from across the University of Virginia and the State to focus on important questions of educational policy and the implications for the workforce.