Why I Went Back to School: Ph.D. candidate Basil Smikle on why he's studying education policy at TC

Two decades of melding politics and public policy have helped me understand how the constraints of legislatures and bu­reaucracies shape policy and how constituencies set agendas to push policy preferences. So why am I pursuing doc­toral studies in politics and education?

My answer: For rigorous training by Teachers College to properly evaluate the interconnections among scholar­ship, political engagement and policy outcomes, locally and nationally.

Case in point: the politics around school choice and the Common Core State Standards.

In New York, Mayor de Blasio’s refusal to co-locate a few charter schools exacerbated his rift with Governor Cuomo, who supports charters. The resulting media maelstrom further polarized the two leaders.

In New Jersey, State Assembly Member Mila Jasey, a long-time charter supporter, has been redistricted to represent wealthy suburban voters who oppose charter schools in their neighbor­hoods. She co-sponsored a bill to place a three-year moratorium on charter approvals and expansions.

In New Orleans, 90 percent of students attend charters. Speaking for many critics, scholar Kristen Buras wrote that “the city’s public schools [became] a playground for outsiders only instead of spending money, education entre­preneurs would pocket it.” The new superintendent wants to return schools to local control after 10 years under state governance. Have charters created stu­dent achievement gains that merit such a move, or are organized labor and others paring down charter hegemony?

Meanwhile Hillary Clinton navigates the influence of the same wealthy, conser­vative donors that influenced President Obama’s education agenda. Yet among her closest allies is AFT President Randi Weingarten, a staunch opponent of Wall Street money in schools. Jeb Bush, a strong Common Core supporter in Florida, courts voters who have wearied of the new standards.

Understanding this mix of politics, money and history requires the cross-disciplinary expertise that TC provides. Professors who have spent decades studying the charter school movement, high-stakes testing and teacher quality can explain why approaches help one population and fail another. They look beyond correlations to determine cause-and-effect relationships.

Institutions like TC stand as a powerful corrective to the public’s impatience to find a silver bullet to “fix” education. From my perspective, then, going back to school was necessary and warranted. —Basil Smikle

Basil Smikle, a Ph.D. student in TC's Department of Education Policy & Social Analysis, is Executive Director of the New York State Democratic Party

The views expressed in the previous article are solely those of the speakers to whom they are attributed. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty, administration, or staff either of Teachers College or of Columbia University.

(Published 6/15/2015)

Published Tuesday, Sep. 8, 2015

Why I Went Back to School: Ph.D. candidate Basil Smikle on why he's studying education policy at TC

Two decades of melding politics and public policy have helped me understand how the constraints of legislatures and bu­reaucracies shape policy and how constituencies set agendas to push policy preferences. So why am I pursuing doc­toral studies in politics and education?

My answer: For rigorous training by Teachers College to properly evaluate the interconnections among scholar­ship, political engagement and policy outcomes, locally and nationally.

Case in point: the politics around school choice and the Common Core State Standards.

In New York, Mayor de Blasio’s refusal to co-locate a few charter schools exacerbated his rift with Governor Cuomo, who supports charters. The resulting media maelstrom further polarized the two leaders.

In New Jersey, State Assembly Member Mila Jasey, a long-time charter supporter, has been redistricted to represent wealthy suburban voters who oppose charter schools in their neighbor­hoods. She co-sponsored a bill to place a three-year moratorium on charter approvals and expansions.

In New Orleans, 90 percent of students attend charters. Speaking for many critics, scholar Kristen Buras wrote that “the city’s public schools [became] a playground for outsiders only instead of spending money, education entre­preneurs would pocket it.” The new superintendent wants to return schools to local control after 10 years under state governance. Have charters created stu­dent achievement gains that merit such a move, or are organized labor and others paring down charter hegemony?

Meanwhile Hillary Clinton navigates the influence of the same wealthy, conser­vative donors that influenced President Obama’s education agenda. Yet among her closest allies is AFT President Randi Weingarten, a staunch opponent of Wall Street money in schools. Jeb Bush, a strong Common Core supporter in Florida, courts voters who have wearied of the new standards.

Understanding this mix of politics, money and history requires the cross-disciplinary expertise that TC provides. Professors who have spent decades studying the charter school movement, high-stakes testing and teacher quality can explain why approaches help one population and fail another. They look beyond correlations to determine cause-and-effect relationships.

Institutions like TC stand as a powerful corrective to the public’s impatience to find a silver bullet to “fix” education. From my perspective, then, going back to school was necessary and warranted. —Basil Smikle

Basil Smikle, a Ph.D. student in TC's Department of Education Policy & Social Analysis, is Executive Director of the New York State Democratic Party

The views expressed in the previous article are solely those of the speakers to whom they are attributed. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty, administration, or staff either of Teachers College or of Columbia University.

(Published 6/15/2015)

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