Choosing the Right Lens
C. Kent McGuire believes in the power of data and organizational focus
How does a small nonprofit help a U.S. region that leads in language diversity, income disparity and percentage of public school students living in poverty?
By following the data to frame issues that will command the attention of regional and national partners, says new TC Trustee C. Kent McGuire (M.A. ’79), President of the Southern Education Foundation (SEF). To understand the South’s high dropout rate, for example, SEF initially studied high schools in Alabama. “The number of boys of color being suspended led us to analyze the juvenile justice system,” McGuire says.
Whether in running major programs for the Eli Lilly Endowment and the Pew Charitable Trusts, as Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education or as Dean of Temple University’s College of Education, McGuire has sought to “organize good people to accumulate knowledge that gives us clarity over time.” That entails interdisciplinary work, he argues — a longstanding TC strength.
“The economics of education was just emerging as a field,” he recalls of his TC student days. “TC had the rare intellectual horsepower to study how money enables better outcomes less stratified by income and race.”
TALKING THE TALK
“I’d like to see the education research community do more to clarify what we know and more effectively communicate this to the public.” — C. Kent McGuire
Today, “in a more standards-focused, data-driven world,” TC can lead in exploring whether schools are spending wisely. “Big data and new methodologies mean we can do multi-level analyses on schools, classrooms and students. We can make associations for instance, between the teacher of record and student outcomes.”
Ultimately, McGuire expects the College to exert even broader leadership. “Amid a competition of ideas, we need to educate the public about research on what’s really effective.” In Georgia, for example, many parents support enabling more charters despite evidence that charters siphon resources from their schools and don’t achieve better results.
“I’d like to see the education research community do more to clarify what we know and more effectively communicate this to the public,” McGuire says. “A TED Talks series on education innovation and improvement could build understanding and support for public education. I’m excited about joining the board because I think TC’s leadership has never been needed more.”
Accentuating the Positive
Sasha Heinz looks for ways to build on what’s working
As a new TC doctoral student, Sasha Heinz (Ph.D. ’14) helped study the feasibility of assessing New York City’s pre-K and early childhood programs.
“It was a lesson in the importance of great teachers,” she says. “Even when I felt kids were being underserved, we would find a gem of a teacher who could redirect a child that was acting out.”
Heinz’s natural inclination is “to think about what’s right with people.” At the University of Pennsylvania, she worked with positive psychology leader Martin Seligman. At TC, advised by developmental psychologist Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, she wrote a dissertation titled “Kids Can Screw Up Their Parents, Too,” exploring how children’s behavior affects their mothers’ psychological health and vice versa.
“I’m interested in enhancing positive developmental trajectories,” she says.
“I’m interested in enhancing positive developmental trajectories...I think we can do more to connect our research to state and federal policy efforts.”
— Sasha Heinz
She has some great opportunities to do just that. As a new TC Trustee, Heinz is eager to learn about “all the incredible programs and research that I wasn’t aware of as a student” — for example, the College’s new emphasis on creative technologies. “I was just blown away by the maker space — their equipment and pedagogical approach are so different and interesting.” She also hopes to share her insights as a recent student. “I think we can do more to connect our research to state and federal policy efforts. That was a big focus in my program.”
Next summer Heinz, her husband, Christopher, and their two young children will move to Pittsburgh, where she has joined the board of the Heinz Endowments, chaired by her mother-in-law, Teresa Heinz.
“The challenge is a lot like TC’s — how to break down silos to combine all the great work we’re doing in education, the arts and community development,” she says.
Meanwhile, she’d like to continue her own research while teaching at the graduate level. “Working with master’s students was so gratifying — watching them go from confusion to ‘aha.’” You get the feeling that, at a different level Heinz herself is having one of those moments. The world stands to benefit.
Paul LeClerc’s 21st-century approach to knowledge finds its roots in Voltaire
With the practical value of a liberal arts education increasingly questioned, it’s worth considering the experience of new TC Trustee Paul LeClerc. The former CEO of the New York Public Library (NYPL) and President of Hunter College traces his success back to his freshman year in college, when he discovered Voltaire.
“He wasn’t perfect,” says LeClerc, a leading authority on the Enlightenment and French literature who in 2012 became head of Columbia University’s Global Center in Paris. “When you read him today, you’re shocked by his bigotry. But he believed in giving people information and letting them exercise reason and intelligence to independently draw their own conclusions. My career has been to actualize that principle.”
FAITH IN REASON
“Voltaire believed in giving people information and letting them exercise reason to draw their own conclusions. My career has been to actualize that principle.”
— Paul LeClerc
Perhaps it’s not surprising that reading Voltaire would inspire a life in education, but LeClerc has also consistently embraced new technologies and other hallmarks of a pragmatic era. During his 17-year tenure, NYPL launched its website, formed partnerships with Google, Flickr and iTunes, undertook more than $500 million in construction and building improvements, merged its branch and research library systems, and more than doubled its endowment. The Library also acquired the collections of Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Robert Wilson, Jerome Robbins, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Malcolm X, Jack Kerouac and Henry Miller.
“With technology, you want to put your surfboard in early and ride the wave,” he advises. “But to make that gamble, you also need super-smart people who can make things happen and whose advice you trust.” For example, in 1995 when NYPL received a $7.5 million private gift, LeClerc determined that it should be used to start putting the Library’s content online for free worldwide use. The result was the creation of NYPL’s digital gallery, which now has over 150 million downloads per year.
LeClerc says he joins TC’s board as “someone who’s had an interest in public education forever” and as “an admirer of the College for the past half century.” As a Trustee, he plans to continue channeling Voltaire: “If my past experience can benefit anyone in the organization, I’m happy to share it. I hope everyone at TC will use me.
Published Wednesday, Nov 4, 2015