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Education Policy

Department of Education Policy & Social Analysis

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Program Description

The Education Policy program at Teachers College aims to build a cadre of education policy experts whose substantive grounding in a range of educational issues is matched by their broad understanding of the policy process and their skills using the tools of policy analysis and research.

What is the field of education policy?

Governmental policies at federal, state, and local levels have growing influence over how education is organized in the United States and what happens with teachers and students inside schools. Policies are wide-ranging in focus; they cover matters such as how school systems are funded; whether charter schools can be established in a community and whether families and students can choose their schools; teacher workforce development and standards for licensing, evaluation, compensation, and tenure; instructional frameworks guiding what and how students will be taught; testing and accountability requirements for monitoring student and school performance; whether schools will offer wraparound services for students; desegregation and integration by race and social class in schools and classrooms; how students are disciplined; how students with special needs are served; and more. That’s just for elementary and secondary education; many other policies govern the provision of early childhood education as well as post-secondary and higher education. 

Education policies are commonly intended to meet three broad objectives: efficiency, quality, and equity. But it’s often unclear whether, and how, policies advance or impede progress toward these objectives in different contexts. Some see policy as preserving privilege and the status quo for powerful constituents while denying opportunity to others. Education policy in the United States is developed and enacted through fragmented systems that are both centralized and decentralized. Policies often are framed and adopted by one set of actors, implemented by others, and then have their impact on still others. None of this happens in a simple or straightforward manner. Thus, education policy is a complex and often contested domain.

The academic field of education policy is devoted to the scholarly study of the history and current status of federal, state, and local education policy, the processes by which policies are developed and enacted, and their intended and unintended outcomes and impact on individuals, communities, and society as a whole. The field encompasses policies related to education from early childhood through higher education and links this focus to other domains of public policy such as housing, employment, social welfare, and criminal justice. The field is interdisciplinary, drawing on the traditions, perspectives, concepts, and methods of sociology, political science, history, economics, and legal studies to develop theoretical analyses and empirical evidence that advance our understanding of how education policy works, and how it can be improved.

Why study education policy?

People decide to study education policy for many different reasons. Teachers and school leaders often want to understand more fully the origins and intentions of the policies that govern much of their professional work, and they want to be able to intervene to help make policies more sensible and impactful. Some educators find themselves ready to leave school settings and want to influence the education system by working in policy development and implementation at the district, state, or federal level. Others seek to have an impact by evaluating and reporting the effects of policy, through work as policy analysts with foundations, think tanks, school districts, or other government agencies. Still others want to become policy advocates, helping interest groups or community-based organizations effectively press for policies they believe will advance equity and excellence. And some want to develop their capacities and build careers as policy teachers and researchers in academic settings.

Education policy at Teachers College

The degree programs in Education Policy were formally instituted in 2011 when the Department of Education Policy and Social Analysis was established. In earlier years, students studied policy as part of programs such as education leadership or comparative and international education, and many students in other degree programs continue to share an interest in education policy. Policy researchers and analysts are dispersed throughout the TC faculty. Teachers College has a remarkable history of impact on many aspects of education policy, both in the United States and around the world. TC professors have been pioneers in researching and promoting policies regarding state funding of education, education for the disadvantaged and marginalized, gifted and talented education, policies around choice and the privatization of education, and more. Professors who are currently affiliated with the Education Policy program are leading researchers and advocates in areas such as comprehensive educational opportunity, , school effects on student cognitive development, international early childhood development, education finance and resource allocation, teacher workforce policies, the impact of pedagogical and curricular reforms, civil rights legislation and educational equity, higher education effectiveness, school choice, school desegregation, and organizational effectiveness in education.  

The program develops students’ ability to engage in the political, economic, social, and legal analysis of education policy issues, drawing on important conceptual frameworks to develop insights that can inform further policy activity. Students learn to gather and analyze empirical evidence about policies and their impact, using field research methods for interviews and observations and statistical techniques that can be applied to administrative data, nationally representative federal datasets, and other sources of quantitative data. Coursework includes courses on the policy process, courses in the social science disciplines that inform policy studies, and research methods courses. Master’s students select a substantive specialization tied to their professional and academic goals; options include specializations in Data Analysis and Research Methods, Early Childhood Education Policy, K-12 Education Reform Policy, Higher Education Policy, and Law and Education Policy. Doctoral students complete the master’s-level core courses, a two-part advancement to candidacy process, and a research dissertation.

Our graduates join a lively community of practice in the field of education policy. They are prepared to serve in such positions as policy analyst, policy advocate, education researcher, and faculty member. The knowledge and skills they acquire through our program enhance their effectiveness as teachers and leaders at the school level, and as program directors and evaluators at the school district level. (The degree program does not lead to certification for public school teaching or administrative positions, however.)

For more information, contact the Program Manager for the Education Policy program, Gosia Kolb, at For information about applications and degree requirements, and for profiles of program faculty, students, and alumni, visit


  • Master of Arts

    • Points/Credits: 33

      Entry Terms: Fall Only

      Degree Requirements

      The 33-credit Master of Arts (M.A.) degree offered by the Education Policy program is focused on the preparation of policy analysts, policy advocates, and education researchers. The program develops students’ knowledge and skills by drawing on interdisciplinary policy studies, the social science disciplines of economics, history, law, politics, and sociology, and substantive content on policies and practice in early childhood education, K-12 education, higher education, law and education, and data analysis and research methods. The M.A. degree is commonly accepted as preparation for entry-level positions in the education policy field.

      Culminating Requirement:

      Students entering in summer or fall 2020 will write a reflective essay on what they have learned through their Education Policy M.A. program. The reflective essay represents an opportunity for students to consolidate what they have done in separate classes and present a comprehensive and critical assessment of the core ideas and skills they have encountered; the intellectual, professional, and personal changes they have experienced; and their ideas and plans for the future. The reflective essay will be assessed as Pass or Fail by the student’s advisor, and students may be asked to revise the essay until it is acceptable. Criteria for the assessment will be: evidence of substantive engagement with program content and efforts to synthesize important ideas; evidence of describing and reflecting on specific experiences and insights from the degree program in the essay (rather than simply describing general impressions or ideas); evidence of a thoughtful comparison of current thinking with perspectives held at the beginning of the degree program; and evidence of careful attention to writing quality.

  • Master of Education

    • Points/Credits: 60

      Entry Terms: Fall Only

      Degree Requirements

      The 60-point Ed.M. degree is intended for educators and non-educators seeking careers in education policy in either the private or public sector. This advanced master’s degree is appropriate for students who have already earned an M.A. with at least some coursework related to education policy. The program of study builds on the basic M.A. course sequence and draws on interdisciplinary policy studies, the social science disciplines of economics, history, law, politics, and sociology, courses with substantive content regarding policies and practice in early childhood, K-12, higher education, law and education, and courses in research design and data analysis methods. Students consult with their advisors to select additional courses in a policy area relevant to their interests. Up to 30 points of eligible coursework from another graduate institution or program may be applied to the Ed.M. degree.

      Culminating Requirement:

      Students will discuss details of this requirement with their advisor, as it will differ from the requirement for M.A. degree students.

  • Doctor of Philosophy

    • Points/Credits: 75

      Entry Terms: Fall Only

      Degree Requirements

      In the rapidly changing and increasingly complex world of education, a crucial need exists for better knowledge about how policies can support early childhood education, elementary and secondary education, and higher education while advancing the goals of efficiency, excellence, and equity. The school-year Ph.D. degree in Education Policy responds to these knowledge demands by focusing on the scholarly study of education policy. This degree program provides the opportunity to develop expertise in many interconnected subject areas, as preparation for careers in academic research and teaching or in applied policy development and research. 

      The program may be completed in 75 points, of which up to 30 credits may be transferred from another graduate institution. In addition to study in education policy, the program requires extensive preparation in quantitative and qualitative research methods and in one or more of the social science disciplines, including economics, history, law, political science, and sociology. Students must complete a doctoral certification process and a research dissertation.


  • Faculty

    • Thomas Wayne Brock Director, Community College Research Center
    • Sarah R. Cohodes Associate Professor of Economics & Education
    • Kevin J. Dougherty Professor of Higher Education and Education Policy
    • Ansley T. Erickson Associate Professor of History and Education Policy
    • Luis A Huerta Associate Professor of Education and Public Policy
    • Sharon L Kagan Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Early Childhood and Family Policy and Co-Director of the National Center for Children and Families
    • Douglas David Ready Professor of Education and Public Policy
    • Michael A. Rebell Professor of Law and Educational Practice
    • Carolyn J. Riehl Associate Professor of Sociology & Education Policy
    • Priscilla Wohlstetter Distinguished Research Professor
  • Adjunct Faculty

    • Gilbert Kennedy Greene Adjunct Professor
    • Dennis David Parker Adjunct Professor
    • Eric Y Shieh
    • Elana W. Sigall Adjunct Associate Professor of Education


  • EDPA 4002 - Data Analysis for Policy and Decision Making I
    This is an introductory course in quantitative research methods that focus on non-experimental designs and the analysis of large-scale longitudinal datasets, especially those related to education policy. Students become familiar with the logic of inferential statistics and the application of basic analytic techniques. No prior knowledge of statistics or quantitative methods is required.
  • EDPA 4013 - Education Policy and the Management of Instruction
    This course uses a backward-mapping approach to examine how federal, state, and local education policies affect the learning environments of schools and classrooms, teacher quality and pedagogy, and ultimately student learning in schools. We review important milestones in instructional policy in the United States and consider their impact on educational equity. The course is intended to help students develop and articulate ambitious theories of action for school improvement and the management of instruction that can be useful in their work as education policy makers or analysts, academic researchers, and practitioners in schools and districts.
  • EDPA 4017 - Higher Education and the Law
    This multidisciplinary survey course explores significant recent developments in public and private higher-education law, policy, and practice. Designed for practicing and aspiring higher-education administrators, policy analysts, advocates, and researchers, it covers many issues that are now the subject of spirited, polarized national debates in the U.S., including access to higher education; student and faculty free speech and academic freedom; DACA, immigration and English learners; using race, ethnicity and gender to promote diversity; HBCUs and single-sex education; and harassment, cyber-bullying, and discrimination based on race, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. Other topics include aspects of safety and order: institutional authority to regulate on- and off-campus student and staff misconduct; tort liability (for suicide, hazing, drug and alcohol abuse); search and seizure; and due process. Current administrators at Columbia and other universities are welcome.
  • EDPA 4025 - Higher Education Policy
    This course provides an introduction to major policy enactments in higher education both in the United States and abroad. The policies reviewed include provision of different types of colleges including community colleges and private higher education, tuition and student financial aid, affirmative action, higher education finance, and quality assurance and performance accountability. The course examines the forms, political origins, implementation, and impacts of these policies. The aim is to help students develop a broad and deep understanding of the main directions of – but also limitations to – higher educational policymaking in the United States and abroad.
  • EDPA 4033 - Comprehensive Educational Opportunity
    The course will provide students an overview of the concept of comprehensive educational opportunity, which seeks to provide meaningful educational opportunities for children from poverty backgrounds and will analyze the feasibility of its implementation. Topics will include the impact of poverty on children's opportunities to succeed in school, the role of early childhood learning, out-of-school time, health factors, and family and community support on school success; the history of past attempts to overcome socioeconomic disadvantages; the current attempts of large-scale "collective impact" initiatives to deal with these issues, and the economic, political, administrative, educational, and legal issues that must be considered to advance this concept on a large scale.
  • EDPA 4046 - School Finance: Policy and Practice
    Examination of the judicial and legislative involvement in school finance reform, taxation, and the equity and efficiency of local, state, and federal finance policies and systems.
  • EDPA 4047 - Politics and Public Policy
    What are the various stages of the policy process, from the recognition of certain problems as public issues to the adoption of policies to address those problems and the implementation and evaluation of those policies? This course touches on all these stages but focuses on policy origins: problem recognition and agenda setting, consideration of possible policy solutions, and policy adoption. The course examines policy origins through the lenses of various theoretical perspectives drawn from political science, sociology, economics, and law, including policy entrepreneurship theory, the advocacy coalition framework, punctuated equilibrium theory, diffusion theory, institutional theory, and the theory of the state. These perspectives are grounded by looking at the origins of particular policies concerning early childhood, K-12, and higher education.
  • EDPA 4048 - Education Policy Analysis and Implementation
    Explores the issues of policy (or reform) implementation in schools and districts by focusing on the political reactions and organizational buffers to policy change and the ways that policies become adapted and changed to fit locally defined problems. Distinctions between implementation issues in bottom-up and top-down policy change are explored.
  • EDPA 4050 - Logic & Design of Research
    This course is an introduction to understanding, designing, and writing about empirical research in education. We will explore the philosophical foundations of the positivist, interpretive, and critical knowledge paradigms for research and the relationship between theory and evidence in research. Students will learn about different genres of research and will explore strategies for sampling, data collection, and analysis in quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research. The final project will be a literature review of research on a topic of interest to the student. The course will help students make choices for the kind of research they want to pursue and be able to synthesize and write about published bodies of research.
  • EDPA 4086 - Education & the Law: Speech, Religion, Regulation
    This multidisciplinary survey course explores significant recent developments in K-12 public and private education law, policy, and practice. It covers many issues that are now the focus of polarized national debates. The class will include students from Teachers College, Columbia Law School, and other Columbia University graduate schools. public- and private-school practitioners, current and aspiring, are welcome, as are policy analysts, researchers, and policy makers. Topics include limits on public regulation and funding of private schools; charter schools and voucher programs; religious conflicts in public schools over public funding, prayer, and curriculum; and free-speech rights of students and teachers. The course will also focus on school safety: bullying and cyberbullying; child abuse; the schools’ authority to make and enforce rules governing on- and off-campus student and staff misconduct, including drug/alcohol abuse, hazing, and sexual misconduct; tort liability; and educational malpractice; search & seizure/drug testing; racially disproportionate school discipline; the school-to-prison pipeline; and due process rights of students and staff. The course will be multidisciplinary, drawing on sources in law, social science, policy, and education practice. We will consider how to avoid unnecessary litigation and, equally important, how to use the law to advance important educational values and objectives.
  • EDPA 4503 - Schools, Courts, and Civic Participation
    Although historically, America’s public school system was established primarily to prepare young people to become citizens capable of maintaining a democratic society, in recent decades, most schools have done a poor job of preparing students for effective civic participation. This course will consider the reasons for the decline in the schools’ traditional civic preparation role, and how schools can prepare students to be effective civic participants in the 21st century. Based on the instructor’s belief that civic preparation will not actually become a priority of American schools unless the courts declare that students have a constitutional right to an adequate education for capable citizenship, the course will also will examine the legal and policy justifications for the courts' role in reforming public education institutions, briefly consider the history of judicial intervention in other areas of educational policy like desegregation, bilingual education and fiscal equity reform and then closely analyze Cook v. Raimondo, a pending federal case that seeks to establish such a federal right, and in which the instructor is lead counsel for the plaintiffs.
  • EDPA 4899 - Federal Policy Institute
    The purpose of the Federal Policy Institute is to examine three themes: the enduring values of American education, contemporary issues in national school reform efforts, and the role of the federal government. During a week-long program in Washington, students will have the opportunity to identify a policy issue of personal interest and to explore that issue with the nation's senior policymakers. Introductory and concluding sessions meet at the College.
  • EDPA 5002 - Data Analysis for Policy and Decision Making II
    This is an intermediate‑level course in non‑experimental quantitative research methods, especially those related to education policy. The class examines such topics as residual analysis, modeling non‑linear relationships and interactions using regression, logistic regression, missing data analyses, multilevel models, and principal components analysis. Prerequisite: Students should have completed at least one graduate‑level course in applied statistics or data analysis (e.g., EDPA 4002) and have experience with Stata software.
  • EDPA 5016 - Education & the Law: Equity Issues
    This course will explore the role of the courts in dealing with issues of equity and education beginning with Brown v. Board of Education. Topics will include school desegregation, gender equity, fiscal equity and educational adequacy, rights of English Learners and of students with disabilities, testing, and school discipline. The course will consider the role of the courts in educational policy-making and the impact of judicial intervention on school culture and educational practices. We will also analyze the meaning of “equal educational opportunity,” and "equity" in the contemporary context and confront such questions as: how deeply rooted are racism and inequity in school systems, to what extent can racism and inequities be eliminated or ameliorated in school systems if they persist in society at large, and to what extent can anti-racist curricula make a difference within systems that are structurally inequitable??
  • EDPA 5023 - Policymaking for Effective High School to College Transition
    The course examines policymaking efforts by the federal and state governments to facilitate the movement of students from high school to college and their effective preparation to meet college requirements. The policies reviewed include student financial aid, student outreach programs such as GEAR UP, state Common Core curriculum standards, and guided student pathways through college. The course examines the content of these policies, their political origins and implementation, and their impacts. The aim is to help students develop a broad and deep understanding of the main directions of – but also limitations to – national and state policymaking with respect to high school to college transition.
  • EDPA 5086 - The Role of Courts in Education Reform
    Beginning with the school desegregation decrees issued by the federal courts in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, the federal and state courts have been called upon to consider a range of asserted educational rights and to oversee far-reaching institutional reforms that bear little relationship to traditional judicial remedies. This course will examine the legal and political justifications for the courts' role in making educational policy and reforming public institutions, as well as the courts' capacity to undertake these functions. The course will give particular attention to school desegregation, bi-lingual education and special education cases in the federal courts, education adequacy litigations in the state courts, and whether and how courts might induce schools to act more effectively in fulfilling their constitutional obligations to prepare all students to become capable voters and to function productively as civic participants.
  • EDPA 5515 - Fieldwork in Education Policy
    (Restricted for Education Policy program students.) Policy analysis requires its practitioners to evaluate available information; to weigh the possible impacts of alternative policies; to understand political, legal, and/or economic ramifications; and to produce plans for action that are organizationally feasible and publicly valuable. This seminar is designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate a theoretical and analytical understanding of the practical problems inherent in conducting policy research by engaging a guided fieldwork research project.
  • EDPA 5645 - Craft of Policy Analysis
    The purpose of this course is to help students learn more about the techniques of policy analysis --identifying a public problem, researching solutions to the problem, weighing costs and benefits of various alternatives, and developing a policy recommendation aimed at addressing the problem. The emphasis is on how policy analysts think and do, rather than the study of the policy process in general. The course is organized to help students understand and become more informed about the nature of education policy in the United States.
  • EDPA 6002 - Quantitative Methods for Evaluating Education Policies and Programs
    This advanced master's course addresses a key issue in evaluating education programs and policies: determining whether a policy causes an impact on student trajectories that would not have occurred in absence of the policy. The course will cover experimental and quasi-experimental techniques used to attribute causal relationships between educational programs and student outcomes. Students will become sophisticated consumers of quantitative educational research and will practice statistical techniques in problems sets. There will be an exam and a final project. Prerequisites: Successful completion of 4002 and 5002 or equivalent and familiarity with the Stata statistical software package. No prior exposure to causal inference methods is expected.
  • EDPA 6013 - Early Childhood Development and Education: Integrating Research and Policy Perspectives
    First section of a two-semester course with students participating in both semesters. Focuses on diverse perspectives framing the field and in so doing will present the most critical issues that require policy attention. Building on this background, the second semester will address steps that have been taken to ameliorate these issues, focusing heavily on research. By design, then, the first semester will present an array of issues and perspectives in order to provide the conceptual foundation for an exploration of salient strategies to address them in the second semester. By looking at early childhood development and learning from this stance, students will not only be exposed to diverse ideas about the content but will also be armed to address pressing challenges the field faces with them all in mind. (The second semester course is HUDK 6013, taught by Professor Jeanne Brooks-Gunn in the Department of Human Development.)
  • EDPA 6027 - International Perspectives on Early Childhood Policy
    This course looks at early childhood education policy through an international lens, addressing often neglected—but highly salient—policy questions, including: What have been the real effects of the Millennium Development Goals and the Education for All goals on education systems in general and on early childhood education in particular? How have poverty, gender, and the needs of marginalized populations/cultures shaped early childhood policy in diverse countries? What are the unique policy properties that must be considered when developing policies for young children and their families? To what extent do the policy contexts of nations differ, and how do these differences impact early childhood policies directly? To what extent can lessons learned in one context be faithfully transported across national boundaries? Based on readings and discussions of these issues, students will demonstrate their understanding of the role of policy in shaping early childhood education in a given country though the final paper, a situation analysis. Building on sequenced assignments, this paper will provide the platform for students to use policy tools and make recommendations for concrete early childhood policy improvements.
  • EDPA 6030 - Institutional Theory: Sociological Perspectives on Institutional Change in Education
    An introduction to organizational theory as it applies to a variety of institutions with particular attention to the potential of educational activities as a force in formal organizations.
  • EDPA 6542 - Education Policy Foundations Seminar
    (Required for all Education Policy program students and restricted to Education Policy students) This course is the introductory seminar for all students enrolled in degree programs in Education Policy. It provides an overview of the history and organization of the education policy system and landmark policy activity in the United States, an introduction to the tools and approaches of policy research and analysis, an introduction to the intellectual disciplines that contribute foundational perspectives for policy research (especially sociology, economics, politics, and legal studies, and also including history, cultural studies, and critical theory), and exploration of selected current topics in education policy, especially those pertaining to opportunity and equity. It is a cohort-building experience as well, and students will have the opportunity to meet many of the policy faculty at TC.
  • EDPA 6900 - Directed Research and Study in Education Policy
    For students wishing to pursue independent study or original research as they prepare for their doctoral certification examination and/or dissertation proposal. Permission required from individual faculty.
  • EDPA 8900 - Dissertation Advisement in Education Policy
    Individual advisement on the doctoral dissertation, via ongoing consultation between the student and dissertation sponsor. Ph.D. students who have passed the certification exam and are not enrolled in other courses must register for dissertation advisement each term until they finish their dissertation. The fee equals three points at the current tuition rate for each term. Permission required from individual faculty.
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