Innovative problem-solving begins with evidence, built on knowledge accumulated over decades. Our work this year ranged from assessing the 2016 Presidential election’s educational impact to shedding new light on how poverty affects brain development in young children, to demonstrating that more military veterans struggle with the stresses of returning home than with combat trauma.

Swipe from left to right to choose a research area to explore in-depth, or simply scroll down the page to read the full article.


The Changing Education Landscape

TC faculty, especially in the Department of Education Policy & Social Analysis (EPSA), are assessing the education impact of the 2016 presidential election and the potential for increased privatization – support of charter schools and virtual charters, tax credits and vouchers – under U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. EPSA convened a major symposium in spring 2017, titled “Education: The Public Good or the Individual Good?” on the future of public education, expanded upon in TC Today magazine.

TC Today Cover Summer 2017

EDUCATION AT A CROSSROADS As the nation moves toward greater privatization of schools, TC faculty are leaders in analyzing the impact.

Faculty have also:

  • Published research finding that caps on charter school development often penalizes students in high-needs urban areas, where charters are most effective.
  • Entered the final phase of a major study on “collective capacity” – collaborations among school systems, state and local governments, businesses and nonprofits to improve educational outcomes. These efforts have become more significant as the federal government withdraws support for public education.
  • Assessed states’ readiness to implement the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, which gives states more education decision-making authority.

Designing Tests that Promote Learning

Traditional standardized tests have been faulted on the grounds that they are not useful for diagnostic and educational purposes, and that they rank students by narrow measures of ability, reinforcing existing inequities in society along race and class lines.  A new movement in testing, known as cognitive diagnostic assessment (or diagnostic classification models) seeks to create a new generation of tests to provide educators with assessments that are more informative and thus more useful to promote teaching and learning. The Measurement, Evaluation & Statistics program within TC’s Department of Human Development is a national leader in this field of cognitive diagnostic assessment, an approach that identifies specific knowledge and skills a student possesses or lacks. This past year, the group advanced the design of assessments that account for relationships between test takers’ performance and factors such as their socioeconomic status, the quality of their schools and their access to educational resources; and the assessment of young children’s mathematical “sub-skills,” including quick retrieval and number sense. 

Coping with Adversity

TC has become a world leader in identifying and addressing factors that affect people’s ability to cope with adversity caused by either internal stresses or external social forces.

Faculty and students at TC’s Resilience Center for Veterans & Families are focusing new attention on transition stress – the unfamiliar pressures caused by returning to civilian life – as the predominant issue for most military veterans rather than post-traumatic stress disorder, which affects a much smaller population.

TC faculty members also continued to break new ground in “the neuroscience of inequality,” documenting the toll that poverty takes on brain development in young children and revealing how stresses such as neighborhood violence or the loss of a parent can cause damage at the genetic level or influence adolescent functioning. Other work included:

  • Exploration of how young immigrant mothers cope with stress, how they parent, and the impact on their children’s academic readiness and ability to regulate their own emotions.
  • A partnership between TC and Germany’s Christian-Albrechts University of Kiel (CAU) centered on exploring – from a social science and linguistic point of view – the growing “anxiety culture” stemming from issues such as immigration, climate change, terrorism and the impact of digital media.

Research on Learning and Teaching

From its beginnings, TC has led in applying scientific methods to understanding how people of all ages and backgrounds learn, and how to shape teaching to meet their strengths and needs. We continue this work on several fronts, including:

Cognitive Learning

Our faculty are exploring cognitive processes that are essential to successful learning and how those processes change at different stages of development.

Building on prior research by TC faculty and students showing that young people are more likely to view themselves as potential scientists when they study the struggles of famous researchers, the College hosted a major conference on the positive value of failure in learning.

Faculty and students also continue to highlight the importance of argumentation as a learning tool, demonstrating that “apprentice argumentation” with an accomplished adult promotes faster development of critical reasoning skills, and that engaging in real or imagined dialogue with others makes students more likely to base their reasoning on evidence.

Other work continues in:

Organizational Learning

During a year when sexual harassment and gender discrimination were much in the news, Teachers College continued to break new ground in research focused on organizational change, leadership, conflict resolution, group dynamics, diversity, demography and inclusion. One TC study revealed that during the postdoctoral phase of their careers, women in the geosciences are significantly less likely to receive excellent recommendation letters than their male counterparts. Another demonstrated that older job applicants are likely to be viewed as less competent when described by their age, but not when described by a generational label. And still another proposed an approach for using the tensions that result from longstanding forms of cross-cultural and multicultural conflicts to spur increased institutional accountability for countering workplace bias and discrimination.

Faculty and students also validated and commercially licensed a scale that measures the “learning agility” of organizational leaders – their ability to adapt to new situations and learn new strategies and approaches. Proceeds from commercial use of the scale will partly support TC doctoral students. And in another promising area of organizational research – dynamic network theory, or the study of complex, interacting systems – our faculty advanced understanding of why organizations do or don’t achieve their goals, mapping the impact of elusive variables such as human emotions and constantly changing workplace contingencies.


Cultural Learning

TC was founded to create a new teaching force with the knowledge and skills to meet learners on their own cultural turf.

Building on that legacy, our 2017 Reimagining Education institute convened more than 300 educators from 20 states and four countries to consider ways to broaden norms of an education system that profoundly limit our society’s appreciation of many students and educators – particularly those of color. Strategies advanced by TC faculty include engaging students through culturally relevant techniques such as hip-hop pedagogy; creating culturally relevant, college-going cultures in schools; drawing on students’ early socialization around math concepts by family elders and community members; and including course content that fosters the “critical consciousness” to question the origins of holidays such as Columbus Day and to understand real-world events such as police killings of black men and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Research this past year by TC faculty and students:

TC also hosted the relaunch of Teacher Opportunity Corps (TOC II), a New York State program to recruit people from racially underrepresented groups into America’s predominantly white teaching force. The College has received a five-year state TOC II grant. The program is also being supported through a gift from the late Trustee Emerita Abby M. O’Neill.

Higher Education

The College continued to lead the conversation on improving American higher education, particularly for minority, low-income and first-generation students.

At the 20th-anniversary celebration of TC’s Community College Research Center (CCRC), Second Lady of the United States Jill Biden, herself a full-time community college professor, called for continuation of efforts to improve and expand access, graduation rates and job placements of community college students. 

TC faculty more than lived up to that mandate. Their work was prominently cited this year throughout a major report by the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (AAAS) on the future of undergraduate education, particularly with regard to improving teaching at undergraduate institutions and increasing access and affordability for low-income and minority students. The AAAS report also cited TC work highlighting the failures of remedial education at the nation’s community colleges and the potential for boosting college completion rates for underprepared students by using the “guided pathways” approach, which calls for choosing a program of study early in college and following a scripted plan to complete it. 

In other work, our faculty:

  • Championed broader use of quantitative observation to assess teaching quality in higher education classrooms and offered more nuanced analyses of when and why colleges emphasize or blend strategies such as lecturing and active learning. 
  • Documented the growing practice of dual enrollment – high school students taking college courses – and called for better state-level monitoring of dual enrollment students to determine where and why the strategy is resulting in higher rates of college enrollment and completion.  
  • Launched a new journal that offers scholarly research and practical analysis of education philanthropy, a $60 billion enterprise second only to religion in philanthropic giving within the United States.

Public Opinion and Policymaking

Public opinion shapes decisions by political leaders and policymakers. Understanding why the public thinks what it does – particularly in the era of viral web stories and social media – has become increasingly important to the study of public policy. TC faculty have explored the perceptions and motivations of America’s “opt out” movement – the backlash against standardized testing – and how the public’s reactions to international education assessments empowers governments to pursue specific education agendas; and began creation of a new public opinion survey instrument that will span TC’s core fields of education, health and psychology.

The Arts

Exhibitions in New York City and London during Fall 2016 by three late alumni showcased the College’s impact on Western art during the 20th century. In New York, the Guggenheim Museum mounted a retrospective of more than 100 works by Agnes Martin (M.A. ’52), one of the great painters of the Abstract Expressionist period, while the Studio Museum of Harlem exhibited works by Alma Thomas (M.A. ’34), hailed by The New York Times for her “joyful” abstracts. Georgia O’Keeffe, who studied at TC prior to World War I before becoming recognized as “the mother of American modernism,” was the focus of an exhibition at the Tate Modern in London.

An exhibition of videos projected onto the anchorage of New York City’s Manhattan Bridge in December 2017 featured the work of 11 students in TC’s Art & Art Education program. The 38-minute show was part of a Light Year, a monthly video art and mapping series using the bridge that is curated by Leo Kuelbs, a curator whose projection work has appeared in cities around the world.

A TC faculty member and two doctoral students created the M. Archive, a collection of previously unseen writings, letters and photographs harvested from the apartment of the late TC education philosopher Maxine Greene. The archive is accessible on the PocketKnowledge platform of the College’s Gottesman Libraries. The original hard copy materials have been archived in Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library.