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Getting Better All the Time

Teachers College "has always been an incredibly policy-rich environment," says Sharon Lynn Kagan, who was named TC's first Associate Dean for Policy and head of the newly created Office of Policy and Research (OPR) in 2004. "Now we're making it an easier place to navigate, and that's one more reason why we're becoming the institute of choice both for users of policy research and for policy students."

Getting Better All the Time

TC solidifies its status as the top center for education policy  

If there is a single image that sums up the evolution of policy studies at TC over the past few years, it's The Pyramid.

That’s the simple graphic that adorns the home page of the new education policy studies Web site (launched in September 2007): a triangle divided into three shaded areas. Roll your mouse over the bottom and you can check out every individual policy-related class offered by TC’s star-studded cast of policy faculty (Henry Levin, Jeanne Brooks Gunn, Arlene Ackerman, Michael Rebell, Sharon Lynn Kagan, Thomas Bailey, Jeffrey Henig, Jay Heubert, Amy Stuart Wells, Edmund W. Gordon, and more). Roll it over the middle to learn how policy can be integrated into the various other degree programs. Roll it over the top and you can explore concentrations devoted to policy itself.  

"This has always been an incredibly policy-rich environment," says Kagan, who was named TC's first Associate Dean for Policy and head of the newly created Office of Policy and Research (OPR) in 2004. "Now we’re making it an easier place to navigate, and that’s one more reason why we’re becoming the institute of choice both for users of policy research and for policy students."

During the past three years, Kagan – who has advised federal and state leaders, as well as nations around the world, on policy in her specialty area of early childhood education –and faculty members Luis Huerta and Douglas Ready, who serve as policy coordinators, have overseen an exhaustive inventorying of all policy courses at the College and how they interrelate. They've also launched the birth of the Policy Students Network, now nearly 300 strong; created a calendar of events that includes the annual Policy Orientation Panel that's now held early in the fall semester; initiated the Brown Bag lunch series featuring luminaries from both TC and other institutions; and will hold the first annual Iscol Symposium next month in conjunction with TC's Politics and Education Program, featuring Frederick Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute; Patrick McGuinn, one of the authors of the federal No Child Left Behind Act; and Wendy Pureifoy, President of the Public Education Network. 

"OPR isn't just a leadership office that makes top-down decisions, we're a collaborative center that tries to connect up the work of different academic areas so that everyone benefits," Kagan says.

This year also marks the third cohort of TC Policy Fellows – doctoral students, both new and returning, who receive $6,000 stipends to explore topics ranging from "electrophysiological measures of speech perception abilities in Spanish-English late bilinguals" to "Integration and Compensation: the Impact of Federal Court Decisions on Redistributive Education Reform in Urban School Districts." And last spring, the first TC Policy Interns – a program created by Huerta and doctoral student Allison Roda – were deployed to organizations across New York City, including the Mayor's Office, Child Care, Inc, New Visions for Schools, Inside Schools.Org and others. 

All of which seems to be not only improving the policy climate at TC, but also enabling the College to attract the highest caliber students.

"Being selected for the Policy Fellowship was definitely a major factor in my choosing to stay in New York City and attend TC," says doctoral student Jonathan Gyurko. Gyurko's "day job" is as Special Assistant to Randi Weingarten, President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which represents New York City's 140,000-plus educators working in the City's 1,200 public schools. In that role he helped found the first union-operated charter schools in the U.S., the UFT Elementary and Secondary Charter Schools. Prior to working for the UFT, Gyurko was Director of Charter Schools for the New York City Department of Education (DOE), working for Chancellors Harold Levy and Joel Klein.

"A major draw was President Fuhrman's interest in connecting research and policy, which is perfect for someone like me who wants to straddle both worlds," says Gyurko, whose research will focus on the impact of war metaphors and framing on education reform-'"an interest he shares with faculty member Jeffrey Henig.  

"It's great to look down the list of faculty and see names I know from my work-'"people like Henig and Michael Rebell," he says.

Policy Intern Jennifer Stillman, a doctoral student in Politics and Education, has valued her time at TC for the opposite reason: the opportunity it's afforded her to connect with education leaders outside the College. Stillman's 10-week internship this past summer was with New Visions for Schools, one of the many non-profits around the City that has contracted with DOE to act as a school support organization. 

"They're going to be serving 63 schools, and they're really starting from scratch. They don't know what the principals at those schools are going to want from them, so they asked me and other interns to do research on that," says Stillman, a former teacher who also worked in the early 1990s for current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "It was a fascinating time to be working there, especially for me, because at this point, I'm not sure whether I want to pursue a career back in the classroom or in the policy world. Either way, it was valuable to be watching a new direction take shape in the City school system."

Stillman, who is about to give birth to her second child, says she isn't always able to attend all the different events that now fill TC's policy calendar even though she sees its calendar as "really valuable, especially for people who are younger than me who don't know what they want to do," she says. "I'm always aware of what's happening, though, so I would say they're doing a really good job of reaching out."

Published Thursday, Oct. 18, 2007


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