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 email@example.com. For information about applications and degree requirements, and for profiles of program faculty, students, and alumni, visit https://www.tc.columbia.edu/education-policy-and-social-analysis/education-policy/.
Entry Terms: Fall Only
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.
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.
Entry Terms: Fall Only
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.
Students will discuss details of this requirement with their advisor, as it will differ from the requirement for M.A. degree students.
Entry Terms: Fall Only
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.