By Mike Trevisan
Last weekend I attended the annual meeting of the Organization of Institutional Affiliates (OIA) in Washington DC, sponsored by AERA. This educational research and policy meeting is attended by deans and associate deans in order to connect research-oriented colleges of education to current national and legislative issues.
Presenters included prominent researchers such as Andy Porter, now Dean of the College of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Presenting work on the Common Core Curriculum Standards, he made the case that despite national investment and involvement by many states, these standards are only marginally better than most state standards. Sure to cause a stir, a recent article in Educational Researcher provides the data, analysis, and story behind his claims.
Michael Feuer, Dean of the Graduate School of Education at George Washington University and former Director of the National Research Council’s Center for Education was another lively speaker. To demonstrate how research universities can become engaged in education policy and politics, he described a unique collaboration between his school and the Washington, D.C. public school system to conduct ongoing system evaluation and research. He noted that the Washington, D.C. school system is widely known to be fraught with cronyism, and is seen as an embarrassing example of some U.S. school systems’ history of poorly serving underrepresented groups, particularly the African-American community.
Fortunately, the Education Reform Amendment Act was passed in 2007, which greatly assisted the Washington, D.C. school system and community in addressing these problems. This bold move shifted control from an elected school board to the mayor. The provisions of this act call for transparency and accountability in the school system. The act calls for independent evaluation, which provides a unique opportunity for the Graduate School of Education at George Washington University. Michael Feuer articulately suggested that colleges of education throughout the nation can become involved in this type of powerful work. However, this requires a tolerance for ambiguity, a thick skin, and a sense of humor. There will surely be more for our own College of Education to learn from this work.
More attention-grabbing presentations were led by congressional staffers from the House and Senate education subcommittees, including “majority” and “minority” staffers. To say that the atmosphere in the room could be “cut with a knife” is an understatement!
Republicans and Democrats differ significantly in regard to the role of the federal government in education, which was clearly reflected in their presentations. These talks also provoked controversy by suggesting that colleges of education at research universities produce research that is inaccessible to most stakeholders, potentially irrelevant to “people on the ground,” as one staffer put it, and not very useful to staffers who need “bulleted items that can be quickly read and digested.”
Budget gridlock, the possibility of sequestration, and the conjectures of what might happen if one or the other presidential candidate is elected were major conversational themes throughout the meeting, particularly among the staffers in attendance. This part of the meeting was both interesting and sobering.
Whatever the outcome of the November elections, WSU’s College of Education appears to be on a roll. We have approval to hire several new tenure-track faculty. Our new science educator, Andy Cavagnetto, is a co-PI on an Institute of Education Sciences grant and brought some of that money with him when he arrived this summer in Pullman. Within the last few months our faculty have submitted several large grant proposals, produced a variety of scholarly works, and is teaching some innovative new classes this semester. In short, the College of Education is well-positioned to compete and do good work for Washington State and beyond.