2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Kagan Sidebar

Last spring, when Teachers College created the new position of Associate Dean for Policy/Director of the Office of Policy and Research, the only real question was whether Lynn Kagan would agree to take the job.

Kagan-the Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Early Childhood and Family Policy, and co-director with Jeanne Brooks-Gunn of the National Center for Children and Families-is a presence in both the front ranks of scholarship and the world's major policy arenas. Her academic publications include Reinventing Early Care and Education: A Vision for a Quality System; Putting Families First: America's Family Support Movement and the Challenge of Change; and Integrating Services for Children and Families. She also recently guest-edited a special issue on international education for Phi Delta Kappan, the nation's leading educational magazine.

Moreover, Kagan has helped design countless pieces of legislation, chaired numerous national commissions, developed the National Education Goals Panel's position on school readiness, and developed and help implement early childhood education standards for many U.S. states and other nations. During 2004, she received the Distinguished Service Award of the Council of Chief State School Officers, for which  past honorees include former President Bill Clinton, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and TC trustee and Yale University school development pioneer James Comer.

"When you to talk to governors or visit people in Washington," says Darlyne Bailey, TC's Vice President and Dean, "they say, ‘Oh, you're at Teachers College-how is Lynn?'"

Kagan, whose first job was teaching in the federal Head Start program, describes herself as "the child of social activists" who has devoted her career to "improving the life and learning conditions for low-income children and families." 

Among her insights about how to get policy implemented: 

  • Ground your recommendations in strong research. "In specifying the elements of a high-quality early childhood education, we've made our case, in part, because the research is clear about the impact of high-quality services on children's developmental outcomes. It doesn't hurt that funds invested in young children's services also show terrific return on investment."

  • Get top-level buy-in from the start. "We never go into a country unless we're meeting with the ministers of education, human services or social services. In the U.S., if there's a big chance of a governor adopting our policies, or if there's a legislative movement or a particularly strong advocacy community, that's where I'll go."

  • Provide policymakers with a clear road map for excellence. "We've compared existing state statutes with a set of our own national recommendations for what early childhood policies should ideally be. Policymakers always want to be much higher than where they are, but often are unclear about precisely which policies will get them there."

  • Be a good communicator. "People who make policies for children and families need to be current on the knowledge that resides in the academy and among practitioners. That knowledge is often so technical that it must be translated." 

  • Know your audience. "Before I go out to a state, I make sure I understand the prevailing political and economic conditions. If I'm talking to a governor, I study their two or three most recent policy stances. I want to know about their family situations, I want to know if there are any young children, if there are grandchildren. I really try to do my homework."

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