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The Best Policy

A new department centralizes the College's interdisciplinary policy work.

A new department centralizes the College's interdisciplinary policy work 

By Patricia Lamiell

Teachers College, already an internationally renowned seat of education policy expertise and endeavors, has gathered its education policy faculty across a range of disciplines into a centralized unit. The new Department of Education Policy and Social Analysis (EPSA) will serve as a central academic hub for the College’s education policy work across all phases of educational and human development, with both a national and global focus. It will accept graduate students beginning Fall 2011.

The Department will continue the College’s history of preparing graduates for policy-related careers in academe, public or private enterprise, government, communities, and the non-profit education delivery sector. Its core areas of expertise will include early childhood education, charter schools and vouchers, home schooling, K-12 education reform, higher education policy, law and education, and the role of nonschool factors (such as demographic change, public health, and human services) in affecting education achievement and equity.

“The new department will create a more accessible and coherent experience for our policy-minded students,” TC President Susan Fuhrman said in remarks to alumni in Washington, D.C. in early January. “It will further strengthen our ability to analyze the tradeoffs between investing in one sector of the education or social infrastructure versus another.”

EPSA will be headed by Jeffrey Henig, Professor of Political Science and Education, a widely published expert in the privatization of education, race and urban politics, the politics of urban education reform, and school choice. In an announcement on the new department’s Web site, Henig said, Teachers College, “already known for shaping data-driven policy choices in education circles, is now poised to become the pre-eminent training ground for future education policy leaders.”

The new department will house four masters and doctoral programs of longstanding and high regard:  Economics and Education, Politics and Education, and Sociology and Education, as well as the College’s Leadership Policy and Politics program, which will be added as a platform for interdisciplinary graduate degrees and to prepare students for such positions as policy analyst, policy advocate, and educational researcher. The Leadership Policy and Politics program will also develop students’ skills in the political, economic, and legal analysis of education policy.

“TC has had substantial expertise in many dimensions of education policy, but it was scattered throughout the college,” Henig said in an interview. The new department will create “an intellectual community among faculty and students where we can build on a reputation for quality research and preparation of policymakers and policy-shapers,” he added. 

The new department will include faculty who have national and global stature in all aspects of education policy. A partial list includes:

●    Sharon Lynn Kagan, in early childhood policy;
●    Michael Rebell, in equity funding law;
●    Jay Heubert, in education law;
●    Thomas Bailey, in higher education (including community colleges) and workplace preparedness;
●    Henry Levin, in economics and education;
●    Aaron Pallas, in testing and measurement;
●    Amy Stuart Wells, in segregation and race;
●    Luis Huerta, in privatization and school choice.

In addition to its own programs, the department will work with other units of the College to give greater prominence to the policy implications of their basic research and practical experience in areas such as early childhood and cognitive development, nutrition, international education and health. It will house a wide range of activities that already provide internships, networking and research opportunities to students throughout the College, including the Policy Internship Program, Policy Student Network; Policy Bag Lunch Series; Policy Fellowships; and Policy Concentration for students who are not majoring in one of the EPSA programs.

Henig said the new department will help draw attention to the interaction between schools and their broader environment. For example, it will apply its ongoing research on the connection between communities’ social, economic and political contexts and students’ academic success to help inform public policy deliberations at all levels of government.

Fuhrman, an alumna of TC’s Policy and Education program, has been deeply involved in education policy and research throughout her career. She is the founding Director and Chair of the Management Committee of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE), a group of the nation's top research institutions on education reform, policy, and finance; and President of the National Academy of Education. In January 2009, she was named co-chair of a new Roundtable on Education Systems and Accountability (RESA), established at the request of the U.S. Department of Education by the National Research Council’s Board on Testing and Assessment.

Other TC graduates who currently hold prominent positions in education policy include Merryl Tisch, New York State Board of Regents Chancellor; Howell Wechsler, director of the Division of Adolescent and School Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the U.S. Department of Education; David Johns, a staff member of the Senate Education Committee; MaryEllen McGuire, a staff member at the Domestic Policy Council at the White House; and John King, deputy commissioner of education for New York State.

Henig said a main goal of the new Department is to make the College’s high-quality work more visible, relevant and useful in the current national policy debates among educators, economists, politicians, policymakers and private business. For example, corporations and philanthropists, whose role in financing education ventures is steadily expanding, are increasingly prominent in setting education policy, often without input from education policy experts, Henig said. “We want to make sure that we’re in the ring when these issues are discussed, and that we’re bringing into the debate the very self-conscious thinking of preK-through-higher ed professionals.”

By centralizing its highly respected policy work in a single department, TC climbs even higher in the top tier of education schools in the field of education policy research, Henig said. TC is number five on U.S. News & World Report’s 2010 ranking of the best graduate schools of education in education policy. Among the top five, three – including TC -- now have departments dedicated to education policy.

The new department is another step in the College’s efforts over the past few years to establish itself the world’s most well-known address for research and professional training in the area of public policy. Henig emphasized that the measure of the department’s success will lie in its long-term impact on the knowledge base and sophistication of collective efforts to broadly improve education – and not just on tomorrow’s headlines. “I think in terms of decades” he said. “You want to be doing research now that people will be talking about 10 years from now.”

To learn more about EPSA, visit the department’s Website at

Published Monday, Feb. 7, 2011


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