Though proper cooperation between educational researchers and politicians can yield positive results, the relationship does not necessarily go so smoothly. Consequently, those who are working to better understand the best ways to teach and learn must employ creative tactics in order to make sure that those with the power to enforce rules about education have the information they need to make good decisions.
This sentiment seemed to sum up “Policy Goes to School: Promoting Educational Success,” a conference held Friday by the Gevirtz School of Education at UCSB’s Corwin Pavilion. In addition to professors, researchers and students of the Gevirtz School – some of whom may be familiar to Independent readers as authors of the Getting Education series of columns – the teaching and learning powwow was also attended by representatives of local government such as Congresswoman Lois Capps, County Supervisor Salud Carbajal, Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum and former State Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson. In addition to solo speakers, the event included panel discussions by people who work at some stage of an frequently mentioned sequence of “research, policy, and practice” – or those who study education, those who implement rules and standard in education and those actually involved in elementary, middle and high schools. Speakers and panelists repeatedly focused on why interaction between these groups breaks down and what can be done about it. In her opening address to attendees, Gevirtz School Dean Jane Close Conoley stressed her hope that the day would make for conversation about the education’s most pressing issues. “We want to talk about what you’re talking about. Don’t think we covered everything,” she said, “We counting on you to bring [ideas] up.” Conoley reminded the audience that often the people sitting on panels would be no more experts than their colleagues sitting in the audience.
After an address from UCSB political science professor Lorraine McDonnell, the first panel took the dais. Russel Rumberger, a professor with both Gervirtz and the UC Linguistic Minority Research Institute, used his own experiences with studying California’s dropout rate as an example of how research can reach – or fail to reach – its target audience. Rumberger said he found success in publicizing his study – which posited that students who fail to graduate high school cost the State $46.4 billion annually – by trying to anticipate how different target audiences might best understand it. He noted that different versions of the study summary were released: longer versions for academics, shorter versions for media and politicians. Academics are not accustomed to writing to non-academics, he said, “and you basically have to.” (Much to the amusement of the audience, Rumberger noted that releases given to reporters had the smallest amount of information, organized so that even a quick read-over would yield some idea of the nature of his study.)
Also on the panel, Capps explained the nature being a politician who receives education policy information. She echoed the notion of her ilk and educational researchers functioning on “different rhythms,” and likened researchers to “idea factories” that could help out policymakers, who are often short on new ways of thinking. She pointed out that had better dialogue existed between researchers and politicians, the No Child Left Behind act may not have become the colossal failure that many who spoke at the event perceived it to be. Capps praised Gevirtz for bringing together the group, saying “I would recommend a cloned version of this event for every congressional district: It should be ‘Policymakers Go to School.'”
Third panelist Delaine Eastin, who formerly served as State Superintendent of Public Instruction, represented the third part of the research-policy-practice sequence. Eastin frequently railed against what she noted as public education’s greatest failings, including a lack of nationwide performance standards – “We’ve always had standards for some kids. It’s called advanced placement. We need it for all kids.” – large class sizes above third grade – “the largest in the country” – and California’s refusal to provide stated-funded pre-kindergarten – “Oklahoma and Georgia both have universal preschool. If they can do it, we can do it.”
This first panel discussion was followed by a question period and a second panel, which consisted of Gevirtz professors Rebecca Zwick and John Yun as well as Goleta School District Superintendent Kathy Boomer and Carpinteria School District Superintendent Paul Cordeiro. University of North Caroline’s Professor Roslyn Arlin Mickelson concluded the event. In the end, it seemed clear that researchers, policymakers and educators had much more work to do in order to improve school systems in Santa Barbara, in California and in the United States at large. Chancellor Henry Yang perhaps nailed the situation when he described its one shortcoming: “If there’s one complaint about this day, it’s that one day is not enough,” he said.