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TC Today - Spring / Summer 2015

TC Today - Spring / Summer 2015

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Future Leaders

Ph.D. candidate Basil Smikle on why he's studying education policy; twin sisters Alaa and Dalal Alhomaizi are mental health advocates in Kuwait

WHY I WENT BACK TO SCHOOL

Two decades of meldingpolitics 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

 

TWO AGAINST TABOO Dalal and Alaa Alhomaizi are making mental health public in Kuwait

All societies stigmatize mental health issues. However, in many developing countries, people with mental illness also worry about shaming their families. For example, in Kuwait, a collectivist society, family members with autism, schizophrenia and other disorders often live in secrecy.

Yet family members also unconditionally support each other. Consider Dalal and Alaa Alhomaizi, Kuwaiti twin sisters who braved community disap­proval to study psychology at Boston’s Northeastern University. The twins worked as research assistants at the Chester M. Pierce Global Psychiatry Department at Massachusetts General Hospital and began conducting their own stud­ies. They also launched Standing for Psychological and Education Awareness in Kuwait (SPEAK), a culturally competent, evidence-based anti-stigma campaign to legitimize the mental health field and strengthen rights for people with mental illness.

As TC clinical psychology master’s degree students mentored by global health authority Lena Verdeli, the Alhomaizi sisters, who graduated in May, continued to lead SPEAK, making numerous public presentations in the United States and Kuwait. They have given a TEDx talk and raised nearly $300,000 to stage a major conference with the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health.

“We each have our own work, but we’re better as a team,” says Alaa, and Dalal adds “we wish we’d been quintuplets — then we’d have more people working on this.”. — JOE LEVINE

Published Friday, Jun. 5, 2015

Future Leaders

WHY I WENT BACK TO SCHOOL

Two decades of meldingpolitics 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

 

TWO AGAINST TABOO Dalal and Alaa Alhomaizi are making mental health public in Kuwait

All societies stigmatize mental health issues. However, in many developing countries, people with mental illness also worry about shaming their families. For example, in Kuwait, a collectivist society, family members with autism, schizophrenia and other disorders often live in secrecy.

Yet family members also unconditionally support each other. Consider Dalal and Alaa Alhomaizi, Kuwaiti twin sisters who braved community disap­proval to study psychology at Boston’s Northeastern University. The twins worked as research assistants at the Chester M. Pierce Global Psychiatry Department at Massachusetts General Hospital and began conducting their own stud­ies. They also launched Standing for Psychological and Education Awareness in Kuwait (SPEAK), a culturally competent, evidence-based anti-stigma campaign to legitimize the mental health field and strengthen rights for people with mental illness.

As TC clinical psychology master’s degree students mentored by global health authority Lena Verdeli, the Alhomaizi sisters, who graduated in May, continued to lead SPEAK, making numerous public presentations in the United States and Kuwait. They have given a TEDx talk and raised nearly $300,000 to stage a major conference with the Kuwaiti Ministry of Health.

“We each have our own work, but we’re better as a team,” says Alaa, and Dalal adds “we wish we’d been quintuplets — then we’d have more people working on this.”. — JOE LEVINE

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