2019 NAEd/SPENCER RESEARCH DEVELOPMENT AWARDEES

Siddhartha Biswas, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 


Siddhartha Biswas is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Economics Department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His primary research interests are in education and labor economics. In his dissertation, Sid examines the role of federal student loans on the market for higher education, and specifically on students’ access to a quality college education. His broad research objective is to utilize economic theory and data analysis to evaluate policies and understand behaviors and outcomes relevant to young adults, including financial constraints to education, determinants of college enrollment, and student mental health. Before entering graduate school, Sid worked as a research professional for the Center for the Economics of Human Development at the University of Chicago, where he studied the interactions of education, health, and wealth over an individual’s lifecycle as well as the relationship between tax policies, income inequality, and economic growth. He also worked as a senior analyst for the management consulting firm A.T. Kearney. Sid holds a B.A. and B.S in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Chicago, and a M.S. in Economics from UNC.

General Equilibrium Effects of Student Loans on the United States College Market

Does the expansion of federal student loans increase college enrollment and improve students’ college choice? While an expansion in student loans may help a student afford a better and more expensive college, colleges may increase tuition because they anticipate that prospective students will borrow to pay the higher tuition. If the expansion also induces a rise in tuition, the eventual cost to students could change very little, resulting in a weaker improvement in student outcomes than expected. To capture this hypothesis, I incorporate student loans into established economic theory to develop a model that (1) approximates the decision-making processes of consumers (potential students) and suppliers (colleges) of higher education in the U.S. and (2) highlights the mechanisms through which federal loans affect students’ education outcomes. Using college application, enrollment, and student loan borrowing data for two cohorts of high school students and information from all colleges that participate in federal financial aid programs, I estimate key parameters that verify the model as a valid explanation of observed trends in higher education. With the estimated model, I can evaluate the effects of student borrowing limit increases in 2007 and 2008, and of two hypothetical subsidies, on the outcomes that characterize access to quality colleges and affordability: applications and enrollment for students of different socioeconomic backgrounds, and admission rates and tuition at different tiers of colleges. Therefore, this dissertation aims to compare these policies and identify one that improves students’ access to quality higher education and reduces tuition growth.

Zita Dixon, Brandeis University 


Zita Dixon is a PhD candidate in Social Policy in the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. Her previous work experience as a labor union organizer and higher education counselor and advisor informs her research to date. Zita’s research focuses on critically examining racial equity in policymaking participation and how those most closely impacted by the social problem garner access to participate in the construction of the macro-level policy solutions to address it. Her dissertation examines a New York State policy that holistically addresses higher education access and degree attainment for underrepresented students of color and how various stakeholders maintain its hold as a policy for over 50 years. Zita’s research is supported by the American Association of University Women (AAUW)’s American Dissertation Fellowship and she recently won the Student Paper Competition Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP)’s Sociology and Social Welfare division. Her work has appeared in Race & Social Problems and Human Services Organizations: Management, Leadership & Governance. She received her B.A. from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and MSW from Columbia University. She hopes to continue researching how those directly impacted by a social issue (and the workers who directly address it) participate in the policymaking process to solve those issues.

How Did a Racially Equitable Social Program Become and Stay a State Law?: A Critical Historical Case Study of the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK) Policymaking Process and the Hidden Bureaucrats Who Made It Happen Using Critical Race Theory

This dissertation will examine an exemplar case in New York State’s education policy history, the Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK) legislation. This currently upheld state legislation passed in July 1966 with an aim to increase college access, retention, and degree attainment to underrepresented students of color by funding holistic, supportive programming for City University of New York (CUNY) students. This study identifies how it was able to create and pass a state policy that funds and cultivates racially equitable higher education access and retention program; and identify strategies used by various stakeholders to sustain and maintain this policy throughout political shifts in state leadership.

This historical case study uses Critical Race Theory and a social constructivist grounded theory and situational analysis approach to analyze various archived records and documents, taped oral histories, and in-depth interviews collected from key informants (including former CUNY employees, students, and elected officials) who participated in the construction and maintenance of this state policy during conservative political threats.

This study will contribute to the theoretical development of the policymaking process by exploring the critical race and power dynamics of how a racially equitable education policy emerged and sustained itself through political threats. Insights gathered will also contribute to the field on how various stakeholders within higher education institutions (and their intersectional identities) can contribute to the policymaking process when it addresses racial inequities. The results will contribute to existing, yet colorblind, policymaking theories and the role of education staff as policy creators and protectors.

Sara Doolittle, University of Oklahoma


Sara Doolittle is a doctoral candidate in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Department at the University of Oklahoma. Her research focuses on the intersection of the law, race, and schools with a particular focus on nineteenth century segregation law. Her work on legal challenges to Oklahoma territorial segregation law recently appeared in History of Education Quarterly. Informed by her twenty-year career as a public educator, her research also focuses on twentieth and twenty-first century educational finance litigation. Employing both qualitative historical methodology as well as quantitative legal analysis, her work attends to the broader inequities in educational access. She has been selected for both the AERA Division F mentorship program and the History of Education Doctoral Summer School sponsored by the leading organizations in history of education. Prior to doctoral studies, Sara earned her B.A. from the University of Kansas, majoring in English and graduating Phi Beta Kappa with honors. Her M.A. is in English Curriculum Studies from the University of Colorado.

The Legal Battle for Schools: Oklahoma Territory and its Role in School Segregation Law

This study explores previously unstudied and undiscovered court challenges brought by black settlers in the territorial period of Oklahoma (1889-1907) in the United States. These black pioneers challenged new legislation that segregated previously integrated territorial schools. African Americans in Oklahoma Territory had equal rights to land under the Homestead Act and the territory’s Organic Act. They had historic access to integrated education in other states, Indian Territory, and on military posts. Yet in the legal era that increasingly determined that segregation was equality, black settlers began to see the narrowing of their rights. These families sought the protective wing of the nascent courts whose judges were federal appointees. Territorial courts heard more challenges to segregating schools than in any state. This was a time of unique confluence of law, public education, and defining African American citizenship. Would schools be the gateway to full civic and economic participation? Or would schools be a gatekeeper, denying access to some in order to maintain dominance for others? Territorial courts tackled these questions. Historians have argued that the failure to provide African Americans with civil rights was a result of not redistributing land and/or the premature end to federal oversight in the South after 1876. Oklahoma Territory removes these variables. Black settlers had land, federal oversight, and they could vote. Nevertheless they watched their civil rights diminish as the popular will established segregated education. The loss of access to education was key in re-inscription of second-class citizenship for African Americans.

Denis Dumas, University of Denver


Denis Dumas is an assistant professor of Research Methods and Statistics at the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education. In general, his work focuses on understanding student learning, cognition, and creativity through the application and refinement of latent variable methods, especially multidimensional item response theory and non-linear growth models. He is the co-creator of a psychometric framework called dynamic measurement modeling—a mixed-effects paradigm for quantifying the ability of students to learn in response to particular instruction—and is widely interested in the mental attributes that contribute to students’ academic success across domains and contexts. He completed his doctoral work in Educational Psychology, and Master’s degree in Educational Measurement and Statistics, at the University of Maryland-College Park, and was a post-doctoral researcher at the American Educational Research Association. His work has also been previously funded by the U.S. Department of Education Institute for Educational Sciences, and the Hewlett Foundation.

Bending the Curve: Using Growth Trajectories to Understand Mathematics Instruction Intervention Effects in Early Childhood

The mathematical development of young children is of critical importance both in terms of the long-term success of individual students, and the readiness of our society to meet the challenges of the future. Unfortunately, U.S. students currently lag-behind their same-age peers around the world in mathematics achievement, and within the U.S., a sizable and widening achievement gap exists between highly-resourced students from historically-dominant social groups and their less privileged counterparts. For this reason, school-leaders and educational policy-makers must identify practices that support the ongoing mathematics learning trajectories of diverse students at a young age. However, although some research-based mathematics instructional interventions administered in preschool show promising efficacy immediately following the instruction, much less is known about the effect of such interventions on student growth trajectories in elementary school. In this study, data from a large-scale randomized-control-trial of a preschool mathematics instructional intervention are analyzed using a nonlinear growth paradigm to uncover the way in which the preschool intervention impacts the shape of student-specific learning curves over elementary school. The influence of student contextual and socioeconomic factors is also considered, with the goal of producing actionable and policy-relevant knowledge about mathematical development within a highly diverse group of U.S. students.

Anthony Hernandez, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Anthony Hernandez is a doctoral student with an abiding passion for improving educational opportunities for Latinx students. To that end, he has pursued a doctorate in educational policy at University of Wisconsin-Madison. At UW, he worked for three years at the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, a think tank studying college affordability. There he coordinated national surveys on basic needs insecurity. The first study included 70 community colleges; the second included 66 colleges, about half of which were two-year institutions. Those mixed-methods studies, covered in various media outlets including the New York Times and National Public Radio, raised awareness regarding material hardship in higher education. At UW, he served as Lead Evaluator at Wisconsin Evaluation Collaborative, where he led a two-year evaluation of the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program.

Before attending UW, at a four-year Hispanic-Serving Institution, he led a Title V grant partnership with a community college. Building a seamless pathway for students to transfer to a four-year college, he recognized that leadership issues significantly affect institutional achievements and student outcomes in ways rarely captured in mainstream literature and models. He completed studies of leadership at Harvard Business School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government that helped him learn to build teams and make people plans that contributed to organizational goals.

He hopes to be a faculty member at a top research institution to continue his investigation of these issues. Based on his dissertation, he plans to build an educational leadership program and professional development workshops for HSI leaders.

Pockets of Opportunity: An Analysis of Leadership at Two-Year Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs)

Given the rapid growth of Latinx college students with some predicting that by 2020 more than 20% of college students will be Latinx, there is a need to understand Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) especially open-access, two-year colleges. Latinx students disproportionately attend HSIs community colleges for a variety of reasons and their poor outcomes is of great concern given the impact on our future workforce. Understanding what leadership looks like at HSIs, how to fortify leadership at HSIs which can, ultimately, improve outcomes for Latinx students, a traditionally underrepresented, underserved minority group, contributes to our social goals of greater equity. A mixed-methods approach is used to investigate leadership at Hispanic-serving community colleges in the Southwest. A case-study approach and descriptive statistics are used to draw from multiple data sources to examine leadership, leadership styles and the impact of such leadership on stakeholders. This also study juxtaposes institutions situated in a socio-political context where no state funding exists for community colleges while the other institutions have a myriad of funding sources and qualitatively different socio-political context. This multi-state study furthers our understanding of challenges faced by leaders at Hispanic-Serving Institution community colleges and offers valuable evidence on how to improve student experiences, retention, graduation, and transition to post-secondary opportunities. The results illuminate the hidden elements of leadership that can make an HSIs successful and provide a new framework for quality that complements measures such as those offered by Aspen Institute, which influence the distribution of recognition and, at times, funding.

Anna Lees, Western Washington University 


Anna Lees Ed.D. (Little traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians, descendant) began her career as an early childhood classroom teacher in rural northern Michigan. Now, an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education in Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University, she partners with schools and communities to prepare teachers for the holistic needs of children, families, and communities. Anna is committed to developing and sustaining reciprocal relationships with Indigenous communities to engage community leaders as co-teacher educators, and center Indigeneity in early childhood and higher education settings. She is currently engaged in research around a land education professional development model led by tribal nations and a relationship-based site embedded professional development model with tribal nation early learning programs. She has published with the Journal of Teacher Education, Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, Early Childhood Education Journal, Multicultural Education Magazine, Wicazo Sa Review, and Routledge Research. She is co-editor of the Tribal College and University Research Journal.

Relationship-Based, Site-Embedded Professional Development: Decolonizing Tribal Nation Early Learning

This research highlights the impact of a relationship-based, site-embedded professional development model working to expand a tribal community’s educational sovereignty by centering Indigenous epistemologies, ontologies, and axiologies in early childhood curriculum and assessment. The focus of this study examines how a relationship-based, site embedded professional development model with a Tribal Nation Early Learning (TNEL) program supports the development of tribally specific curriculum and assessment. The professional development model is built on trusted relationships with classroom teachers where professional development activities occur in classrooms alongside teachers in their work with children. The Tribal Nation Education Director and program administrators requested the PD model serve the TNEL program with aims toward developing tribally specific curriculum and assessment toward educational sovereignty and strengthened nationhood. The immediate goals are1) targeted professional development around culturally responsive language and literacy instruction in preschool classrooms, with emphasis on oral language development, and 2) development of a tribally specific curriculum and assessment system. Each of these goals must be addressed in conversation with state and federal education leaders to maintain public funding of the TNEL program. The study utilizes Critical Indigenous Research Methodologies and single case design methods within a theoretical framework of decolonization. Outcomes of this study build on established understandings of culturally responsive education for Indigenous children and contribute to the Indigenous early childhood education field by offering insight into how a relationship-based, site-embedded professional development model may support in-service classroom teachers to develop tribally specific curriculum and assessment within the publicly funded sector.

David McMillon, University of Chicago


David B. McMillon is a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago. He was a Marjorie Lee Brown Fellow at the University of Michigan where he earned two Master’s degrees, in Applied Mathematics and Operations Research. He was awarded the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Honorable Mention in 2014 and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) fellowship in 2016. His research interests lie in the application of cutting-edge quantitative techniques and complex systems theory to contemporary issues in social policy that affect low-income groups. He constructs and estimates mathematical models of crime, mass incarceration, the achievement gap, and the School-to-Prison Pipeline, and has published in the Public Library of Science Journal (PLOS One).

These interests emerge from the combination of his mathematical training, his upbringing in inner city Saginaw, Michigan, and his conviction that systemic disadvantage is best-solved using systems thinking. They are ultimately motivated by his faith in GOD, which was sparked by his mother, Dr. Gwendolyn McMillon (a past Spencer fellow), and his father, Rev. Dr. Vincent McMillon. It has been sustained in part through the recognition that average people, for all of their faults and harmful tendencies, are capable of divine love. He is fortunate to recognize that he has never been without love, and this has made him whole in every sense. Finally, this wholeness is a rare privilege in today’s world, which is why he considers helping those who were denied that privilege a personal responsibility, as his late grandfather would demand.

A Complex Systems Approach to the School to Prison Pipeline

My research employs an under-utilized set of tools to rigorously study how behavioral mechanisms studied in various fields can interactively lead to various (sometimes unintended) consequences for the School-to-Prison Pipeline (STPP) and the achievement gap. Using NLSY data with an approach that models the criminal career as a 5-state Markov chain, I show that prevention is the best cure for long-run crime and incarceration. This illuminates the systemic importance of reducing behavioral infractions and academic failure in schools. Hence I focus chiefly on the school context. I use discrete choice models that are designed to consider how developmental trajectories evolve dynamically through a complex of interacting factors that have largely been studied separately in the literature; but which nonetheless produce important, synergistic effects, including the possibility of tipping points and phase transitions.

Focusing on behavioral infractions, I show conditions under which tipping is more likely for a group that is more homogeneous, likely to be harshly punished for the same offense, and for a group whose behavior is likely to be interpreted as deviant, concluding that African-American schools are more likely to exhibit tipping. Using a similar model estimated with the LSAY and focusing on achievement, I show whether tipping is more likely for students with fixed vs growth mindsets and for student groups who are more vulnerable to stereotype threat such as women and minorities. Tipping points allow small changes to make dramatic differences, and leveraging them is crucial in the fight to dismantle the STPP and reduce the achievement gap.

Diego Roman, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Dr. Diego Román is an Assistant Professor in Bilingual/Bicultural Education at the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (Fall 2019). Prior to this appointment, he was an Assistant Professor in Teaching and Learning at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Román holds a B.S. degree in Agronomy from Zamorano University in Honduras and a M.S. degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He earned a M.S. degree in Biology, a M.A. in Linguistics, and a Ph.D. degree in Educational Linguistics, all from Stanford University. At the K-12 level, Dr. Román taught middle school science to English Learners and newcomer students for seven years, first in rural Wisconsin and then in San Francisco, California. Dr. Román’s research interests are located at the intersection of linguistics, science education, and environmental studies. Specifically, he investigates the implicit and explicit ideologies reflected in the design and implementation of bilingual and science programs. He conducts his research from a Systemic Functional Linguistics perspective by analyzing the linguistic and multimodal characteristics of the discourse that take place in bilingual and science classrooms. Dr. Román has researched the language used to teach climate change at the middle school level and is currently leading an initiative that seeks to improve the quality of science, environmental, and bilingual instruction (Kichwa/Spanish and Spanish/English) in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.

Examining the Teaching of Conservation Biology Topics to Emergent Bilinguals

Human actions are causing the decline of biodiversity, a central component of Earth’s life support systems. In fact, recent studies have shown that we are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction driven by human overpopulation and have recommended society to take immediate action to counteract biodiversity loss. With the purpose of providing scientific knowledge that could aid individuals in reducing their negative environmental impacts, conservation biology emerged in the 1980s. Not only conservation biology still needs to be meaningfully integrated into the teaching of science in K-12 schools, but also little is known on how to teach environmental topics to children learning English as an additional language in schools in the United States—children who usually attend linguistically segregated schools and tend to live in urban areas that disproportionally suffer the effects of environmental degradation. This project adopts a sociolinguistic approach based on Systemic Functional Linguistics to investigate how middle school science textbooks and science teachers working with Emergent Bilinguals (EBs) in urban schools discuss the impacts of (1) human population growth on local biodiversity and (2) the access underserved communities have to ecosystem services (i.e., the material and socio-emotional benefits provided by natural areas). The project will be implemented in Title I middle schools with high populations of EBs and will consist of an in depth examination of how 4 middle school teachers teach the conservation biology topics mentioned earlier to linguistically diverse students.

Ilana Umansky, University of Oregon


Ilana Umansky is an Assistant Professor of Educational Methodology, Policy and Leadership at the University of Oregon. Her work explores how education policy impacts the educational opportunities and outcomes of immigrant, multilingual and English learner-classified students using longitudinal and quasi-experimental methods. She holds a PhD from Stanford University in Sociology of Education and is particularly interested in topics such as labeling and tracking as she focuses on how to create equitable school systems for immigrant and multilingual students. Her work appears in journals including the American Educational Research Journal, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, Educational Leadership, and Exceptional Children. Her work has received funding and awards from institutions including AERA’s Bilingual Education Research Special Interest Group, the Jacobs Foundation, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Fulbright Foundation, the National Academy of Education, and the Spencer Foundation.

English Learners’ Pathways through English Language Arts and Beyond: A Statewide Examination

In Oregon, English learner-classified students (ELs) are between two and eight times less likely than non-ELs to be enrolled in English language arts (ELA) coursework each year of high school. Yet these courses are required for graduation, likely contributing to the large graduation rate gap between ELs and non-ELs. With this project, I seek to answer three closely-related questions including (1) the scope and characteristics of secondary-age ELs’ access to ELA coursework, (2) the impact of EL status on ELA access and graduation including the mediating role of ELA enrollment on graduation, and (3) how specific levers are associated with increased access to, and successful completion of, ELA. This study draws on longitudinal, student-level data from the state of Oregon and uses quantitative methods including regression discontinuity, hierarchical linear modeling, and path analysis. The study promises to contribute to theory and understanding of tracking and opportunity to learn, specifically as they relate to ELs, just as it also will build understanding of how to address equity barriers and expand ELs’ learning opportunities at the secondary level. Importantly, the project builds on existing partnerships with agencies eager to enact beneficial policies and practices for ELs.

David Weintrop, University of Maryland


David Weintrop is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Teaching & Learning, Policy & Leadership in the College of Education with a joint appointment in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. His research focuses on the design, implementation, and evaluation of accessible and engaging computational learning environments. He is also interested in the use of technological tools in supporting exploration and expression across diverse contexts including STEM classrooms and informal spaces. His work lies at the intersection of design, computer science and computational thinking education, and the Learning Sciences. David has a Ph.D. in the Learning Sciences from Northwestern University and a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Michigan. He spent one year as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago studying computer science learning in elementary classrooms prior to joining the faculty at the University of Maryland. Before starting his academic career, he spent five years working as a software developer at a pair of start-ups in Chicago.

Integrating Computing into Urban Elementary Mathematics Classrooms as a Means to Bring Computational Thinking to All

Smartphones, tablets, and laptops are becoming the lenses through which we see, interpret, and interact with the world. As such, for young learners growing up in this technological landscape, being able to recognize the capabilities and limitations of these technologies, think critically about the roles they play in society, and most crucially, to be able to meaningfully participate in this technological culture is essential. However, the community that has led, and continues to define, this technological revolution has suffered from a lack of gender, racial, and socio-economic diversity, resulting in a computational landscape where the voices, ideas, and experiences of people from these underrepresented groups are muted or altogether absent. The strategy I pursue in this proposal for addressing this issue is to integrate foundational ideas of computing into existing elementary mathematics classrooms. Building on a research-practitioner partnership with the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), this project explores the mutually supportive nature of computational thinking and mathematics using robotics as a means to mediate the learning experience. Further, in partnering with an urban school district, this work will help shed light on challenges associated with introducing new, computationally-enhanced curricula within existing school infrastructure. In doing so, this project seeks to empirically test one approach for addressing issues of access, equity, and opportunity that surround the goal of bringing computational thinking to all.

Bethany Wilinski, Michigan State University 


Bethany Wilinski is an Assistant Professor in the department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University. Her ethnographic research engages sociocultural policy analysis frameworks to examine policy enactment in the context of early childhood education in the U.S. and Tanzania. She is particularly interested in understanding how policy shapes the lived experience of pre- and in-service pre-kindergarten teachers. Her book When Pre-K Comes to School: Policy, Partnerships, and the Early Childhood Education Workforce (Teachers College Press, 2017) examines how teachers working in different institutional contexts enacted a district public pre-K policy through a school-community partnership. Her work has also been published in Teachers College Record, Teaching and Teacher Education, and Educational Policy Analysis Archives. A former preschool and elementary school teacher, she holds a Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies and Curriculum & Instruction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s in International Educational Development from Teachers College.

Beyond Universal Measures of Early Childhood Education Quality: Understanding Parent, Teacher, and Policymaker Perspectives of Pre-primary Quality in Tanzania

Educational quality has gained prominence on the international development agenda. To address pervasive low academic achievement, the international development community has identified measurement and accountability as key levers of change for improving education quality. In early childhood education (ECE), a focus on measuring quality has resulted in the development of the Measuring Early Learning Quality and Outcomes tool, which aims to generate globally comparable data about ECE quality. Yet, ideas of what constitutes quality in ECE are not universal. This study responds to efforts to create universalizing definitions and measures of ECE quality by examining how different stakeholders define quality in the context of pre-primary education in Tanzania. Rather than identify a “Tanzanian” view of pre-primary quality, the goal of this study is to challenge the idea that a singular “national” view of ECE quality exists. To better understand the scope and diversity of perspectives on quality in Tanzanian pre-primary education, I will conduct a multivocal, video-cued ethnography of stakeholders in socially and spatially different locations across Tanzania. By creating a “virtual conversation” among stakeholders—from policymakers to parents—this study will reveal the practical and theoretical complications that arise from current efforts to identify universal measures and definitions of ECE quality.

Jenny Zhang, University of California, Berkeley 


Jenny Zhang is a Ph.D. Candidate in Education at the University of California, Berkeley, from which she received two M.A. degrees: one in Education (Program in Language, Literacy, and Culture) and the other in International and Area Studies. She also received a B.A. in Politics from Princeton University. Broadly interested in language and literacy studies, and the ideologies and practices of international development focused on education, Jenny uses ethnographic methods in her research in Indonesia. In addition to her dissertation research on a specific early childhood literacy intervention, she also conducts research on language ideologies in eastern Indonesia. Prior to her graduate studies, Jenny was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship fellow in Makassar, Indonesia and worked at a nonprofit media syndicate based in Prague, Czech Republic.

Literacy in Development Discourse and Practice: The Case of Literacy Boost in Rural and Urban Indonesia

This study discerns the complexities of the relationship between literacy and international development at three levels: 1) at the ideological level, by examining how childhood literacy is conceptualized as an absolutely integral component of international development agendas, 2) at the institutional level, by examining how schools, governmental bodies, and non-governmental organizations interpret and implement literacy-related policy and curricula, and 3) at the community and individual level, by considering how these interventions shape and in turn are shaped by schoolchildren, their families, and teachers through everyday practice. By comparing the practices, developmental processes, and outcomes of an influential childhood literacy campaign, Literacy Boost, in Belu Regency, a rural region bordering East Timor, and in North Jakarta, one of the five cities comprising the mega-metropolitan capital of Indonesia, I trace educational experiences and socioeconomic development trajectories across heterogeneous geographic and cultural contexts. Drawing on thirteen months of ethnographic research, and discourse analysis and language socialization frameworks in my analytic procedure, I identify both intended and unintended outcomes of the intervention. Beyond the central goal of promoting literacy acquisition, Literacy Boost also had far reaching impact on how literacy was framed and assessed in classroom practice; on the power dynamics and democratic practices at participating schools; and on discipline and constructions of authority, both in classrooms and among adult stakeholders of the program. This project advances understandings of the relationship between literacy and international development processes, which can contribute to the better design, contextualization, and implementation of literacy initiatives globally.

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