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Doctor helping Patient

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Medical schools have a long history of using race-conscious admissions practices as a starting point in addressing racial health inequities that are present in the United States. When compared to their white peers, racially and ethnically diverse medical school students are more likely to go on to serve in communities of color or be sought out by patients of color, thus improving access to and quality of medical care for underrepresented populations. For example, a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that black males received more effective care when they were treated by a black doctor.

However, race-conscious admissions policies have recently come under fire, leading to policymakers banning them in eight states – including Texas from 1996 to 2003.

Liliana Garces

Liliana Garces

Liliana Garces, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, has researched how these bans are diminishing the proportion of students of color who are enrolling in medical schools.

In this study, Garces and her co-author examine whether the enrollment drop can be attributed to a decline in the proportion of applications received or a drop in the admission rates of students of color.

The study, Addressing Racial Health Inequities: Understanding the Impact of Affirmative Action Bans on Applications and Admissions in Medical Schools, found that the enrollment drop was driven by admissions, not applications, showing that the bans influenced changes in behavior on an institutional level, not the student level.

Admission rates of underrepresented students of color faced a larger rate of decline than the proportion of applications received from these students, showing that the changes in behavior were on an institutional level, not the student level.

“Prohibiting race-conscious admissions hurts efforts in the field of medicine to become more racially and ethnically diverse and that, in turn, has very negative consequences for the field of medicine’s ability to address health disparities in our society, to improve quality of care, to provide better treatment, and to have healthier populations,” says Garces.

While some universities have attempted to minimize the effects of these bans by expanding outreach efforts for students of color, Garces explains that medical schools could increase consideration of race-related factors such as socioeconomic status or demonstrations that a student has overcome adversity. They could also decrease emphasis on factors that don’t fully predict academic success, such as MCAT scores, to counteract the impact of these bans.

Liliana Garces’s extensive work related to race-conscious admissions policies also includes an op-ed in Science Magazine, a co-authored amicus curiae brief supporting Harvard University’s use of race-conscious admissions, a co-authored report on the recent challenges to affirmative action policies, and co-authoring of an article that examines policy guidance given from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights during the Obama Administration.

UT students at graduation

What is college like?

The media, specifically television and movies, are one way we receive messages about college, college-going, and the experiences and value of college. These images and depictions are created by people who have and haven’t experienced college life. Yet, those similar and repeated images contribute to perceptions of college for the general public.

This summer, Educational Leadership and Policy Assistant Professor of Practice Beth Bukoski and doctoral student Alden Jones created and taught Pop Culture in Higher Education.

Here, they’ve written about what pop culture gets right, as well as where those depictions fall short of reality.

Professors are stuffy, cold, or too lazy to actually teach.

There are, according to TV and film, only a few types of professors. They are generally portrayed as stuffy, mean, out of touch, or silly. They are the background noise to student college experiences in most representations—and most of those representations are of White cisgender, able-bodied, heterosexual men.

Bukoski teaching graduate students

Bukoski teaching graduate students

There they are up at the board, tweed jacket back to the room, lecturing on some obscure mathematical concept. Or maybe they are saying something nonsensical for a laugh. Meanwhile, the range of characters available to students at a university (and it’s almost always a university) is broader—but certainly nothing near exhaustive.

Regardless of the type of professor, the thing to know is that yes, there are those professors at a real college. But they aren’t the norm. Most professors are regular people, trying to do good work. Professors are whole people. The sentiment underlying these portrayals is part of what scholars Tobolowsky and Reynolds call anti-intellectualism. These images, repeated often enough, form a perception of faculty that “devalue scholarship and intellectual endeavors.”

This perception has real effects on what the general public thinks about college, who should go to college and why, and how higher education should be funded.

Students as represented by popular culture, without fail, drink to excess out of red solo cups at a fraternity house with a hard-partying reputation.

UT students enjoying a night, sans alcohol

UT students enjoying a night, sans alcohol

In show after movie after film after episode, college parties are depicted. We see them in Van Wilder, Old School, and Pitch Perfect. And lest we forget, the “quintessential” college party movie is Animal House. In fact, Animal House has become such a touchstone and influence on how students behave that a poster of John Belushi in a shirt that says “college” is still a best-selling item. This poster, however, leaves out the context of the film, which was a critique of the fraternity and sorority system.

Some college students drink, so do non-students. Some college students party, so do non-students. And some college students don’t do any of these things, and neither do non-students. The point is that this stereotype, while based in some students’ reality and experience, is not every student’s reality and experience.

In fact, researchers Lewis and Neighbors concluded that students over-estimated the drinking behaviors of their peers, sometimes by a whole six-pack!

College is just like high school with jocks at one table and nerds at the other.

Revenge of the Nerds and even Monsters University tell us college students fall into several separate groups. Similar to the way high school cheerleaders and jocks might sit together, and the band geeks and artistic types sit together, and the nerds keep to themselves, the portrayal of college students is that they also “stick to their own.” In Higher Learning one character identifies all the groups on the quad, who are grouped by race. For example, “Disneyland” is the group of white students who come from an upper socioeconomic status background. (Not a compliment, but also not inaccurate.)

Two UT students enjoying a coffee break

Two UT students enjoying a coffee break

Researchers Astin and Pascarella and Terrenzini all highlight the importance of one’s peer group in college. In fact, one study (Antonio, 2001) noted that friendships between groups were common, but those students who had interracial or interethnic friendships saw themselves as outliers instead of the norm. Thus, campus is perceived as more segregated than it actually is. We can apply similar assumptions to intergroup friendships between fraternity and sorority members and “nerds” or the debate team and the basketball team.

Making different kinds of friends, living or working with people different than one’s self can be one of the benefits of college. Sometimes this makes it to the screen. “Unlikely” friendships show up in Felicity, Scream 2, and Grown-ish. And that’s our point: they are presented as unlikely rather than common. Yes, college students generally find a group of friends similar to themselves; however, they also make friends who are different from whom they are used to interacting. There is, after all, no one single way to “do” college.

Rape culture is highlighted, but not critiqued.

In media, college women are present for only a few reasons, mostly sex-related: to prop up or propel a man’s storyline (PCU), be an object of lust (Neighbors 2), or to be a prize to be won (see all the Revenge of the Nerds films). Even when women are central characters, their lives are still defined in part or whole by whom they date or have sex with (Legally Blonde; Pitch Perfect) or their lives are not complete until they have come to realize their feminine powers (The House Bunny). These portrayals depict aspects of rape culture, which permeates even the frothiest of media, and few media critique it in any way.

In the most graphic depictions (horror), women are punished for their sexuality and usually only the virgin gets to live to the end (Scream Queens; Scream 2). Let’s note that lesbians are usually portrayed as benign “predators” looking to turn sweet straight girls to the “dark side” of sexuality (Higher Learning; Pitch Perfect).

While few television shows or movies take up rape as explicitly as in Higher Learning, there is a clear message that women are not safe on college campuses. And the reality is that women aren’t particularly safe anywhere in American society. According to RAINN, 23 percent of all women experience rape or sexual assault. But about 5 percent of males experience it, too. And while 18- to 24-year-old women are more likely to be the target of sexual assault compared to all women, non-students are more likely than college women to be targeted (four times vs. three times).

So while documentaries like The Hunting Ground are pretty accurate in portraying the complexities surrounding how rape culture plays out on college campuses, portrayals can also mask how endemic rape culture is to U.S. society as a whole.

College is mostly for White people

College is for White people between 18 to 22 years old who live with roommates and don’t do much other than party, occasionally show up to class, and play hacky-sack on the quad. Almost all of the examples we’ve given so far feature mostly White casts with a few exceptions (Higher Learning), so student bodies are White bodies. And while there are contemporary and complex portrayals of Black experiences in college (A Different World, Dear White People, Grown-ish, Drumline, Stomp the Yard, etc.), portrayals of Asian or Latinx characters in college are usually reduced to caricatures at worst (Revenge of the Nerds) and stereotypical support characters at best (PCU, Pitch Perfect).

UT students at graduation

UT students at graduation

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, as of fall 2016, White students comprise about two-thirds of the college population, 19 percent are Latinx, 13 percent Asian, 13 percent Black, 1 percent Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 2 percent Other. Pitch Perfect illustrates the issue well. There are 10 Bellas: seven are White, one Black, one Asian, one Latina. While the film provides back stories of over half the White characters, the three ethnic minority women are reduced to tropes: an oversexed lesbian who happens to be Black, a quiet Asian, and an English-language-learning Latina. Even when representation looks about right, non-White students get to show up, but they don’t get a storyline or a realistic personality, and their struggles and achievements are made invisible. The rare exception to this is Ronny Chieng’s sitcom, Ronny Chieng: International Student, which portrays Asian college students attending an Australian university.

Community does this as well but the characters are fuller, which is to be expected in a long-running sitcom with an ensemble cast. This show actually portrays a community college, which is rare as most representations are of four-year universities. Community colleges have about 45 percent White students and tend to be more diverse than their four-year counterparts in other ways as well (first-generation students, veterans, English language learners).

What do these portrayals reveal?

Some truths for sure. Yet those truths, if anything, reveal issues that institutions of higher education are trying to solve, including issues of access, inclusion, diversity in the professoriate, and sexual assault.

But the most important take away is this: while White students can see themselves in college through multiple TV and film portrayals, and Black students can look to some (still limited) portrayals, students with other minoritized identities (Asian, Latinx, indigenous students, yes, but also veterans, English language learners, adults returning for certification or a degree, LGBTQ students, etc.) have few to no possible models that are anything other than a stereotype. And that needs to change.

America is only becoming more diverse, and portrayals of higher education in media influence potential students, shape the attitudes of those with and without college experiences, and may even impact the way politicians view and fund higher education. The purpose of higher education is to be a public good, to produce educated citizens ready to participate in a robust democracy. In this day and age, this mission is more important than ever, despite the red solo cup often portrayed in film and TV.

Bukoski and Jones were featured in a podcast about their research on the socialization of transgender and queer graduate students. Listen in!

Promotion image of Q&A with Victor Saenz

Victor Sáenz began his tenure as chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in June. He discusses how changing the department’s name from Educational Administration better reflects the dynamic field, and what’s happening within the department and in the educational leadership and policy arena.

You have said that changing the name of the department reflects an evolution that aligns with changes in education. What are the most critical changes in the field right now?

The new department name reflects immense changes in the field of education, brought on by innovations in school leadership and management as well as shifting policy priorities. Issues such as school choice, demographic change, the rights of undocumented students, state divestment of public education, the compounding effects of poverty on school systems, and innovations in technology are re-shaping the education landscape. We need to train our school leaders and policy researchers for contemporary K-12 and higher education contexts, and our current faculty are engaged in research and practice that informs these new educational realities.

The department has a history of graduating principals and superintendents who go on to lead schools and districts not just in Texas, but across the country. What sets your graduates apart from other public education leaders?

Our department has built a national reputation for producing award-winning educational leaders and policy researchers. To ensure this legacy continues, we must be proactive and stay ahead of new educational leadership and policy challenges. Our department has a strong core of senior faculty with years of executive experience in training leaders and scholars, mid-career and junior faculty who employ cutting-edge methodological training in their expansive research agendas, and clinical faculty who possess years of professional experience that they bring into their classrooms. This balance is a key asset for our department and our students, and it must be carefully supported as our educational systems are disrupted by technology, curricular innovations, and shifting educational policy priorities.

What is the role of leaders in today’s educational arena?

Our leadership program’s goal is to achieve equity and excellence in academic outcomes for all students. As demographic changes portend more racial and ethnic diversity in the coming decades, especially in urban contexts, it is imperative that our educational leaders have a bold vision to promote the way in creating greater access to meaningful education opportunities for all students. We train educational leaders to have a strong grounding in research and best practices, to focus on improving teaching and learning, and to utilize inquiry-based, data-savvy, and strategic-planning skills. Training strong and effective educational leaders then leads to strong and effective schools, and this is how we aim to achieve our goal of equity and excellence for all.

How do faculty and students in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy work together to address pressing policy issues?

Our department has a rich legacy of students and faculty working collaboratively across sectors to address key policy issues in education. It begins with a group of faculty committed to working with students to provide meaningful experiential and field-based experiences that enrich learning in and out of the classroom. As a result, some of these opportunities have led to real policy impact. Our students emerge from our programs equipped to not only navigate multiple policy arenas but also to effectively influence and impact key policy conversations in education spaces.

What are your recommendations for anyone considering a career in educational leadership and policy?

Prospective students interested in applying to our educational leadership and policy programs should consider our strong legacy of training equity-minded scholars and practitioners. We train policy scholars who address emerging education policy issues and are committed to researching inequities in schools for all students. We prepare school leaders who anchor their practice in social justice and anti-racist leadership. We provide powerful learning experiences that are deeply grounded in fieldwork within schools and communities. These experiences launch our master’s and doctoral students into meaningful careers as scholar-practitioners with an optimal blend of theory and practice.

Victor B. Sáenz is chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy and is an associate professor in the Program in Higher Education Leadership. In 2010 Sáenz founded Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success), focused on advancing success strategies for male students of color across the education pipeline.

Join Educational Policy and Planning Assistant Professor Joshua Childs as he discusses chronic absenteeism, a K-12 problem hidden in plain sight. Childs illuminates four zones that affect students’ lives and school attendance and shares what educators can do to address the problems that impact school attendance.

Childs’ research examines collaborative approaches involving community organizations and stakeholders that have the potential to improve academic achievement and reduce opportunity gaps for students in urban and rural schools. He is an RGK Faculty Fellow and a faculty fellow with the Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis.

Discovery Minute is a video series that highlights and introduces various topics that are researched by faculty at the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin. Our faculty explore topics that have a direct impact on education, policy, health, and our community.

Janelle Scott is an associate professor at UC-Berkeley in the Graduate School of Education and the Department of African American Studies. Her research explores the relationship between education, policy, and equality of opportunity. It centers on three related policy strands: the racial politics of public education, the politics of school choice, marketization and privatization, and the role of elite and community-based advocacy in shaping public education.

Bridge

Photo by Carmelo Paulo R. Bayarcal from Wikimedia Commons

This August, Victoria M. Defrancesco Soto, currently a professor at The University of Texas at Austin, where she teaches in the Department of Mexican-American and Latino Studies, gave the keynote address for the 8th Annual Texas Higher Education Symposium. The symposium was hosted by the College of Education’s Educational Leadership and Policy Department (ELP) at The University of Texas at Austin.

In “Bridging the Political Divide: Educators on the Front Line,” Soto spoke directly to over 100 educators in attendance about how what happens in their classrooms can help bridge a widening political and societal divide.

“In classrooms,” said Soto, “diverse groups come into contact. Shared contact can stem in-group/out-group divisions.” That intergroup contact, the very presence of others, starts the process of bridging.

To facilitate bridging, she explained, certain components are necessary: equal status of individuals, cooperation, common goals, and support by institutional authority. “Schools are ground zero for this,” she said.

“Education reduces prejudice through the social norms that are introduced,” said Soto. “For example, a person with a preference unlike yours deserves respect, and you may have other things in common. Smalls steps inoculate against polarization.” In addition, she said, “Learning about the history and lives of others also helps humanize them.”

Soto urged educators to help their students “get uncomfortable. Help them talk about different views rather than retreat to enclaves with pre-established conditions and content. Let things get uncomfortable, and moderate as an educator.”

“You as an educator have more power than almost any other profession to bridge the cultural divide.”

This was the second year that the ELP department hosted the Texas Higher Education Symposium, which brought together several hundred educators from public, private, and two-year colleges around Texas.

 

Mural by Raul Valdez, c. 1978 at the Pan American Recreation Center at Zavala Elementary, in Austin, Texas.

Recent research has found that students who participate in ethnic studies classes show improved academic performance and a higher attendance rate. Students benefit from seeing their culture and ethnic backgrounds represented in the classroom, and studies suggest that the relevant subject matter encourages students to be more engaged in the coursework.

However, courses of this type have been met with resistance. For example, in Tucson, a Mexican-American studies course was banned in 2010 due to claims that it caused divisiveness among students of different ethnicities.

Evidence is lacking for those claims, though, says Educational Administration Professor Angela Valenzuela. “Although perhaps counterintuitive for some at first glance, the opposite is actually true,” she said. In fact, research overwhelmingly supports the finding that studying other cultures actually promotes understanding and cohesiveness among students and teachers.

Recently, Valenzuela testified in a precedent-setting legal struggle, Acosta et al. v. Huppenthal, et al. in the Tucson Unified School District. The case battled and helped overturn policies that eliminated teachers’, students’, and the community’s dreams for what turned out to be a short-lived Mexican American Studies program.

Photo of Angela Valenzuela

Angela Valenzuela

And though Arizona’s hopes for ethnic studies courses were dashed, Texas schools are now taking steps to incorporate those courses into the curriculum for 11th and 12th grade students, thanks to advocacy from concerned groups and individuals such as Valenzuela. In fact, six high schools in the Austin Independent School District (AISD) will offer ethnic studies courses by fall 2017. The goal is to have all high schools in AISD offering ethnic studies by fall of 2018. A statewide course also has been approved by the State Board of Education and could be implemented by the state legislature by 2023-25.

The first course, which will focus on ethnic studies through literature, can be counted towards graduation as an English III or English IV requirement. Having the class count toward graduation, as opposed to an elective, is important, as it can aid students’ progress toward graduating on time, and it offers a greater incentive to participate.

According to Valenzuela, teaching diverse students about their cultures in social, political, and economic contexts helps them to feel a part of the grand American narrative where their ancestors made important contributions to society and history. Seeing how their culture contributed to the development of America boosts ethnic students’ academic self-identity and confidence.

To learn more from Valenzuela about the value of ethnic studies courses, view her EdTalk.

Huriya Jabbar examines the influence of market forces on the nation’s charter school environment.

Nowhere are charter schools more closely examined than in New Orleans. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the city scrapped its failing school system. Today, more than 90 percent of the city’s students attend tuition-free charter schools.

Some of the hopes for increased student achievement have come to pass in this grand experiment—various test scores have risen and completion rates are edging up.

And most of these schools are doing what their champions said they would in response to competition: they’re improving academic and operational quality.

What’s surprised researchers, officials and parents, though, is the extent to which market forces and competition affect how school administrators find and admit students, how students with learning difficulties have sometimes been excluded, and how the changes have influenced the teacher labor market.

“New Orleans is the city where charter school success is being examined and defined,” says Huriya Jabbar, an assistant professor in the Educational Policy and Planning program in the Department of Educational Administration in the College of Education.

Jabbar has been studying the charter school system in New Orleans for almost four years and is a nationally recognized expert on school choice and competition among schools.

Her background is in economics and early in her academic career she developed an interest in how public schools compare to the private sector.

“I’m interested in how markets interact with government. Markets don’t create equity. So my ongoing questions are, ‘What’s the role of the private sector in providing social services, and What is the role of government oversight of private organizations in public education, like charter schools?’”

“The theory is that competition puts healthy pressure on charter school leaders to improve their academic services, programs, extracurricular activities, or some combination of those, to attract and retain families,” she says.

According to Jabbar, most studies of New Orleans’ charter schools have missed an important point. “They assume that school leaders are aware of competitive pressures and can respond in productive ways.

“When I began my research in 2012, I wanted to know what actually happens in a competitive marketplace of schools. Are leaders aware of their competition? Which schools do they view as rivals and why?”

Jabbar also asked, “Do school leaders respond to competitive pressure by improving their schools academically?”

The results of her research showed that in the short term, the answer is no. “Competition places pressure on schools, but the strategies schools use to compete are not necessarily those that policy makers expected,” she says.

Every Kid is Money

Advocates of charter schools point to the fact that if schools don’t meet the standards of their charter, they will be closed.

Jabbar’s research found that some did focus on improving academics. About a third “added what they call ‘innovative curricular programs’ to attract parents, which is what we want them to be doing,” she says.

But to keep their charters, “almost all of the schools began to engage in superficial strategies that don’t generate  real change. The other concerning finding was that one third of the schools screened out students, even though they were supposed to accept everyone.”

In one interview, Jabbar quoted a principal as saying, “Every kid is money.” Another said, “We all want our [student] numbers up so we can get more money, more funding.”

This short-term focus on keeping their charters and attracting federal and local funding brought in by students meant that charter school principals were less likely to strengthen academics.

To position themselves to attract the right students, according to Jabbar’s research, principals engaged in a “selection strategy,” meaning they focused on activities such as moving low-performing students out of the schools, increasing targeted marketing and advertising, or both.

Some schools hosted invitation only open houses where they dissuaded parents whose students had poor academic records and could lower test scores. Some chose not to fill seats left empty mid-year by students who didn’t return or who were pushed out.

They didn’t want to fill those seats with students who might have been out of school for a few months or who had moved from school to school due to issues like behavior.

Jabbar says there were also signs of “cream-skimming”—leaders targeting affluent or higher-achieving students for supposedly open-enrollment schools.

Turning Point

In New Orleans, the model for charter school enrollment continues to evolve.

The focus on marketing and creamskimming by the schools prompted change in the way charter schools enroll students.

Parents now have access to a universal application to centralize enrollment. Parents list schools in order of preference and submit online.

“In the long term, my goal is for my research to result in more equitable school choice systems”

Using objective criteria, the system then assigns a child to a school.

“When schools can’t directly enroll students, they can’t screen out particular types of students as easily. It helps provide equal access,” Jabbar says.

And New Orleans continues to redefine its role as a regulatory body when it comes to K-12 education. The city is moving from a free market experiment in public education to one where government addresses market failures and concerns of equity.

Future Research Questions

Jabbar’s research has the attention of local and national organizations. She partners with Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University to disseminate research. Her findings have also received extensive local and national press coverage.

She’s extending her research to charter school programs in San Antonio and Detroit where, unlike New Orleans, there is more competition from a traditional public school system. In the spring, she was chosen as a 2016 National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow.

“I’ll be exploring ways in which teachers find and choose jobs in cities with high numbers of charter schools,” she says. “I want to learn how school choice and charters influence the teacher labor market because voluntary moves impact the distribution of teacher quality across schools.

“In the long term, my goal is for my research to result in more equitable school choice systems.”

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