2017 NAEd/SPENCER DISSERTATION FELLOWS

Elizabeth Adelman, Harvard University


Elizabeth Adelman has over 15 years of experience working in international education and development throughout Africa, Asia, Latin American and the Middle East. Through her education and professional experiences she has developed considerable expertise in the areas of early grade literacy, education in crisis and conflict settings, monitoring and evaluation, research design and implementation, and program management. Elizabeth first began her career in Concepcion, Chile where she founded and ran her own independent English language program. Since leaving Chile, Elizabeth has championed numerous research projects and education programs across the globe. Elizabeth’s current research is focused on documenting the experience of teachers working in conflict-affected settings and exploring how these key actors understand their educational, emotional and social obligations towards their students. Elizabeth is presently pursuing her doctorate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education where she also completed her M.A in International Education Policy.

Teaching the Found Generation: Exploring the Experiences of Teachers Working to Educate Syrian Refugee Children in Lebanon

The on-going war in Syria is one of the greatest humanitarian crises of the decade. Since conflict began in 2011, more than 1.2 million Syrians have crossed into Lebanon. Almost half of these refugees are school-aged children (UNHCR, 2015). Education has come to be considered an essential component of any humanitarian response, serving to provide children physical, emotional and cognitive protection (INEE, 2010b; Machel, 1996). Teachers have one of the most central roles for ensuring these benefits become a reality in the classroom.

Foundational documents from the field of education in conflict outline the expectations for teachers working in crisis. Teachers must deliver academic content, foster social cohesion, and support children’s emotional recovery (INEE, 2010a; UNESCO, 2006; UNHCR, 2012). While the expectations may be clearly articulated at a policy level, the reality of how teachers understand their obligations at a local level has rarely been researched (Penson, 2013; Penson & Yonemura, 2012; Winthrop & Kirk, 2005).

Through my research, I investigate the role of teachers within refugee education from three different perspectives, each framed within the context of Lebanon. In my first paper, I explore how proposed global and national-level processes and policies for integrating refugee students into public schools compare with the reality of integration from the perspective of teachers and school leaders. In my second paper, I consider how teachers working in a conflict setting understand their educational, social, and emotional obligations towards refugee children in their classrooms and whether these understandings vary between host-country teachers and refugee teachers. My final paper focuses on the experience of Syrian teachers living as refugees in Lebanon and how their personal and professional journeys intersect inside and outside of the classroom.

Kathryn Boonstra, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Kathryn Boonstra is a PhD candidate in the department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her research and teaching interests center on issues of equity and social justice in early childhood education, specifically the role of race, culture, and social contexts in early childhood teaching and teacher education. In her dissertation, she investigates classroom discipline in pre-K and Kindergarten settings, and the social, cultural, and historical contexts that shape teachers’ practices. Drawing on ethnographic methods, this work sheds light on the underlying mechanisms that contribute to inequality in school discipline outcomes and educational opportunity more broadly. Prior to coming to UW–Madison, Kathryn taught pre-K and Kindergarten in Washington, DC. She earned a B.A. in International Relations from Brown University and an M.A.T. in Early Childhood Education from American University.

First Time Out: A Qualitative Study of Classroom Discipline in Early Childhood Education

Beginning as early as preschool, African American students are two to four times more likely to be suspended from school than White students. While the scope and severity of disparities in school discipline are well documented, there is an urgent need to understand the underlying school processes and classroom interactions that drive unequal outcomes. In this dissertation, I examine discipline practices during the transitional years of pre-K and Kindergarten, when children’s school experiences are known to have lasting impacts on later achievement, development, and school success. Specifically, I seek to understand how educators construct meaning around student behavior, how these meanings are activated in different relationships and classroom contexts, and what these patterns tell us about the ways race, culture, and discipline intersect in the school lives of young children. I use multiple data sources—including eight months of participatory classroom observation; in-depth interviews with educators, school leaders, and staff; and document and media analyses—to probe teachers’ decision-making processes and to examine how, why, and under what conditions they elect to employ discipline in relation to particular students. Situated in a district that is working to address longstanding racial disparities in academic and disciplinary outcomes, this study will provide insight into how equity-oriented reforms translate into classroom practices.

Alonso Bucarey, Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Alonso Bucarey is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Economics at MIT. His primary research interests are in the economics of education and labor economics. His current research combines empirical strategies from labor economics and industrial organization to better understand the role fo financial aid in higher education as a way to foster enrollment. Bucarey holds a B.A. and M.S. in Economics at Universidad de Chile.

Financial Aid for Higher Education: Scholarships versus Loans

How to make college affordable or tuition free has been at the center of the higher education debate in many countries. A usual concern about these policies is how much they effectively change enrollment rates and how much of their subsidies are just a transfer to students who would enroll even without them? Additionally, how much are financial aid effects attenuated by colleges’ capacity constraints? I propose to study these questions using rich micro-level data from Chile. First, I estimate the effect of scholarship eligibility on enrollment using a Sharp Regression Discontinuity Design (SRDD) that exploits the threshold crossing eligibility rule. Then, I build a structural demand model to estimate the preferences of students over programs and evaluate the effectiveness of alternative financial aid policies.

Gabriel Chouhy, University of Pittsburgh


Gabriel Chouhy is a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. Gabriel’s research interests include the politicization of market-oriented reforms, the role of scientific expertise in market regulation, and the social movement origins of market fundamentalism. His dissertation combines political and economic sociology perspectives to investigate education reform in Chile, focusing on the ethical, ideological, and technical controversies over accountability, testing, and school choice. Prior to beginning graduate school, Gabriel received a licentiate degree in Sociology from Universidad de la República, Uruguay, where he spent several years teaching and doing research. He also worked at the National Administration of Public Education, serving as data manager in the Uruguayan national team of the Program for International Student Assessment.

The Moral Economy of Education Reform: Market Regulation, School Valuation, and Accountability in Chile

Scholars in historical sociology and political economy have stressed the paramount role ideas and morality played in the global shift to market-based reform since the 1980s, a process that incrementally subjected traditionally de-commodified social spheres, such as education, to market rules. My dissertation takes up this classical thesis to focus not on the revival of market fundamentalism, but on its momentous retrenchment: the moral/ideological dilemmas over the regulation and rollback of market-based education in Chile. Based on policy documents, congressional debates, session minutes from government agencies, and in-depth interviews with education stakeholders, I examine the enactment of the Education Quality Assurance Law in response to student protests in 2006. I show how lawmakers’ mandate to incorporate class inequality into assessments of school performance leads experts in charge of regulatory agencies to resort to moral judgments to adjudicate between different econometric models. The incommensurable notions of “quality” and “fairness” at play, I argue, epitomize the ideological dispute between anti- and pro-market reformers. Then I focus on the politicization of standardized testing, showing how a larger wave of student protests in 2011 creates opportunities for activists to frame test-based accountability as a pernicious market technology. Likewise, I examine pro-market advocates’ opportunistically appealing to accountability to draw moral boundaries between “proper” regulation and “excessive” state interference. Finally, I address the controversy over a law abolishing for-profit, academically selective charter schools, investigating the multiplicity of positions in relation to “the market”, understood as a politicized trope, the invocation of which carries morally multivalent meanings.

Kevin Clay, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey


Kevin Clay is a doctoral candidate in the department of Education Theory, Organization, and Policy at Rutgers University. The inspiration for his doctoral work extends from a deep personal commitment to engage in teaching and research that can move us toward the achievement of transformational equity in Black schools and communities. Between 2011 and 2016, he taught and advised in several pre-college access programs serving mostly Black and Latinx young people in cities throughout the state of New Jersey. In this context, he facilitated youth participatory action research (YPAR) with a group of high school students, where they researched local problems and developed plans of action to make critical interventions in their community. Kevin’s experiences in this setting form the basis of his dissertation research. His dissertation investigates how young people negotiate political orientations on matters of race, class, inequality, and social change. In addition to his research, Kevin teaches both foundations of education courses and courses in African American Studies. He is a graduate executive committee member of AERA’s Division G and a member of the UCEA Graduate Student Council. He is a former fellow in the United Negro College Fund’s Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute and currently serves as a mentor through Project IMPACT (Increasing Male Practitioners and Classroom Teachers), a program at Rowan University’s College of Education which aims to support pre-service teachers of color who are committed to teaching in communities of color upon their graduation.

Demystifying Conscientization: (Re)discovering Political Orientations in Youth Action Researchers

In social justice work, marginalized youth are often positioned as change agents; people whose critical awareness can be harnessed in the service of political transformation. However, such work commonly portrays youth as naturally insightful about structural inequality and inclined toward activism, neglecting the true complexity of young people’s political orientations. The purpose of this study is to paint a more nuanced picture of Black and Latinx youths’ political orientations that takes into account the varied and often conflicting discourses espoused by socializing agents and institutions in their lives. I draw on research conducted over the course of a year spent with a group of high school youth as I facilitated youth participatory action research (YPAR). I pay particular attention to their politics on race, class, inequality, and social change as we interrogated local challenges through a curriculum that explicitly framed inequality as structurally rooted. I situate my empirical inquiry and data analysis in interpretivist ethnography, as the aim of my work is to relate students’ voices—in the fullest context of selves that they offer in my presence—to prevailing sociopolitical discourses. My approach to ethnography is embedded in posthumanism which recognizes participant voice as the production of an intra-action of forces beyond what is spoken (or heard). This study reveals the multiple and sometimes contradictory stances young people hold toward inequality, individualism, power, and social change. In doing so, my research endeavors to illustrate why it is imperative that those invested in young people’s critical awareness develop a more comprehensive understanding of youth political socialization.

Elisheva Cohen, University of Minnesota


Elisheva Cohen is a PhD Candidate in Comparative and International Development Education at the University of Minnesota. Her research is situated at the intersection of anthropology of education, comparative education, and education in conflict and crisis, with a focus on refugee education. She is interested in non-formal education programs offered in times of conflict and reconstruction, and the ways in which education contributes to the development of civic practices, notions of citizenship and state-building. Her dissertation research, funded by a Fulbright Fellowship, employs ethnographic methods to examine the ways in which educational programs foster inclusive environments for Syrian refugees and country nationals in Jordan. Elisheva holds a B.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from Columbia University and an M.A. in International Education and Development from Columbia University, Teachers College. She is from Boston, MA and currently lives with her husband in St. Paul, MN.

Where Do I Belong? Examining the Inclusion and Exclusion of Syrian Refugees in Integrated Schools in Jordan

In its 2012-2016 Education Strategy, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) overthrew decades of widespread educational practice, which segregated refugee students in their own schools with the home curriculum taught through mother-tongue instruction. Instead, the new strategy called for the integration of refugees into national school systems. To accommodate the educational needs of the 300,000 Syrian refugee children and youth living in Jordan, the government adopted the UNHCR Education Strategy and required that all education programs include both Syrians and Jordanians. While thousands of refugee students receive education in this integrated context, little is known about its effect on the lived experiences of schooling and how it shapes notions of inclusion and exclusion in the classroom. In this 12-month ethnographic study, I examine the process of cultural citizenship among Syrian refugee youth, what Ong (1996) refers to as the “dual process of self-making and being-made.” This study sheds light on the processes that shape young refugees’ notions of belonging as formed through the school, a key institution through which young refugees encounter the state and the dominant discourses that shape the parameters of membership in society. Understanding how daily practices of schooling construct notions of belonging and how student experience inclusion/exclusion in school is critical for providing a just and equitable education for refugees and migrants around the world that will foster a positive sense of belonging not only in schools, but in society at large.

Kimberly Conner, University of Missouri


Kimberly Conner is a Mathematics Education doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri. She received a B.A. in Mathematics from Mercer University and a M.Ed. in Secondary Education from Vanderbilt University. For her dissertation, she explored an alternate method of introducing students to formal proofs through tasks that focus on the generality and purpose of proofs. Kimberly first began exploring this topic as a middle and high school mathematics teacher and during a 5-year lesson study as a teaching fellow with the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation. As a result of her experiences as a mathematics teacher, Kimberly feels a deep sense of commitment and responsibility to conduct research that will not only contribute to the research community’s knowledge but will also have direct implications for instruction in the secondary classroom.

An Innovative Introduction to Proofs: Conjecturing and Constructing Deductive Arguments

Researchers have called for increased efforts to conduct design research and intervention-based studies that support students’ learning of mathematics and bridge the gap between theory and practice (e.g., Bishop, 1998; Stylianides & Stylianides, 2013). This study seeks to address this call through investigating Algebra 1 students’ conceptions of proofs while providing instruction designed to support their understanding of the generality and purpose of proofs. In particular, the 14-session design experiment featured tasks that aimed to establish the generality requirement for mathematical statements, motivate the need for deductive arguments, and engage students in proving conjectures using a definition they developed. Using data from semi-structured interviews, session videos, and students’ written work, I trace the development of students’ understanding of proofs and describe activities that seemed to have contributed to this understanding. Additionally, I analyze the interplay between students’ mathematical knowledge and understanding of proofs visible in the proof tasks they completed during the final interview.

Design experiment studies have two main aims: developing a content-specific learning trajectory and producing a series of empirically tested lessons that can be used to improve student learning in classrooms. In particular, my findings will contribute to the field’s understanding of how students come to understand the generality and purpose of proofs and will result in a series of lessons that can be used to introduce proofs in a secondary mathematics course.

Christina Ciocca Eller, Columbia University


Christina Ciocca Eller is a doctoral candidate and Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Columbia University. Her research draws on both quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze inequality in higher education, exploring how colleges and universities shape the opportunity structures and outcomes available to students. She is particularly interested in public, broad-access, four-year institutions and received the inaugural Graduate NYC Dissertation Fellowship in 2015-2016 to pursue her dissertation research within this context. Christina also has studied the school-to-work transition with a comparative, international perspective, resulting in a collaborative, forthcoming article in the American Journal of Sociology. Her work additionally has been recognized by the American Educational Research Association through the Maureen T. Hallinan Graduate Student Paper Award and by Columbia University through the Charles Tilly Outstanding Teaching and Scholarship Award. Christina received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University, where she was valedictorian of the College class, and subsequently received graduate degrees in Women’s Studies and Management Research from the University of Oxford through support from the Timothy S. Healy Scholarship. Prior to beginning her doctoral studies, she served as Chief Speechwriter and Communications Director for the president of Georgetown University.

Institutional Impacts on Bachelor’s Degree Completion for the New Majority

The rate of bachelor’s degree (BA) completion for lower-income and traditionally underrepresented minority students on average lags by 15 to 30 percentage points as compared to high-income and white peers. Scholars have identified college quality as an important contributor to this gap, focusing on whether highly selective institutions enhance disadvantaged students’ chances of BA completion. Yet colleges labeled “most selective” only enroll one-third of all four-year college-goers and disproportionately serve white and high- income students. Considering these statistics, and taking a cue from the substantial literature on “school effects,” my dissertation uses unique, high-quality data and multiple methodological approaches to demonstrate how postsecondary institutions impact students’ chances of BA completion – particularly low-income and traditionally underrepresented students. Specifically, I draw on longitudinal data from both administrative records and a yearlong interview study of the largest, urban, public university system in the US to make three major contributions. First, I analyze the effects of institution-level mechanisms on BA completion, including college characteristics (e.g., dollars spent per student) and students’ pathways within individual colleges (e.g., major field of study). Second, I determine how these mechanisms vary for particular groups of students, such as black and Latino males and first-generation college-goers. Third, I elucidate the effects of both social experiences and encounters with colleges’ organizational practices and policies in shaping student persistence. Through these contributions, I provide a theoretical, analytical, and policy-relevant template for examining BA completion, especially for colleges outside the “most selective” category.

Alexandra Freidus, New York University


Alexandra Freidus is a doctoral candidate in Urban Education at New York University. Alex uses qualitative methods to better understand racially, socioeconomically, and culturally diverse schools. Her research agenda explores how community stakeholders conceptualize student diversity, how school and district administrators enact educational policy, and how these local contexts relate to schools’ central work – teaching and learning. Her dissertation uses ethnographic methods to explore the intersections of educational policy, public discourse, and classroom interactions in gentrifying New York City. Alex’s work is informed by over fifteen years of professional experience working with and in public schools, and in particular by what she learned from her students and her colleagues while teaching untracked social studies classes at Berkeley High School. Her research has been published in Urban Education, The Teacher Educator, and Humanity and Society. Alex holds a B.A. in History from Brown University and an M.A. in Education from Mills College.

Race, Class, and Belonging: Desegregating Schools in Gentrifying New York

My dissertation closely examines questions of race, class, and power in gentrifying schools and classrooms in New York City, the “epicenter of educational segregation for the nation” (Kucsera & Orfield, 2014, p. iii). Despite increased scholarly and public interest in school desegregation and urban gentrification, researchers have not yet examined how changes in school demographics affect students, teachers, and classrooms. In this study, I explore how classroom relationships and teacher practices intersect with public discourse and educational policy. My research takes place in two stages. In the first phase, I use observations of public meetings, interviews with community stakeholders, and analysis of local media coverage to examine the shifting understandings, assumptions, and norms underlying debates over school desegregation in rapidly gentrifying areas of New York City. These data provide crucial context for the second phase of the study, which focuses on happens within gentrifying classrooms. Ethnographic case studies of classrooms in two gentrifying schools examine how social interactions, instructional decisions, and labeling and sorting practices relate to broader community discourses of race, class, and academic achievement. By tracing the relationships between the “micro” of everyday social interactions and the “macro” of public policy and discourse, my study offers a new lens for understanding the complex nature of teaching and learning in increasingly diverse schools.

William Goldsmith, Duke University


William D. Goldsmith is a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. history at Duke University under the direction of Nancy MacLean. In addition to his dissertation work on education and economic development policy, William’s research interests include African American history, regulatory governance, and the history of capitalism. Before graduate school, William worked as a journalist for C-VILLE, an alternative weekly paper in Charlottesville, Virginia. He also taught English and Theater Arts through Teach for America at a public high school in northeastern North Carolina, where the core seeds of his dissertation were planted. William earned his B.A. from Yale University in 2002.

Kids, the New Cash Crop: The Promise and Limits of Educating for Economic Development in the New South, 1960 – 2000

My dissertation charts the rise of education in North Carolina economic development policy between 1960 and 2000. I argue that the civil rights revolution was critical in opening labor and capital markets, unlocking federal education and training funding, and allowing the South to catch up on what some scholars have framed as “the human capital century.” Historians have demonstrated how the South’s industrialization strategy for much of the 20th century depended on recruiting low-wage, low-skill manufacturing plants. This dissertation shows how the politics enabled by new biracial political coalitions allowed policy advocates to persuade North Carolina politicians to pursue economic growth through skill and education upgrading. Many of these policy advocates were veterans of the War on Poverty and the civil rights movement. They grounded the economic case for educational improvement in manufacturing job losses in the early 1980s; the postindustrial economy would require a flexible, highly skilled workforce. The consensus around this “education for economic growth” paradigm, to use language popularized by state Gov. Jim Hunt, was particularly sustained in North Carolina, though like-minded efforts in other southern states shaped national education politics in the 1980s and 1990s. However, this new approach drained young people from communities hard hit by globalization, fracturing the political coalition supporting education. My dissertation suggests how the economic emphasis on education has both financed the expansion of the state educational system and increased political pressures on school systems.

Maithreyi Gopalan, Indiana University


Maithreyi Gopalan is a Ph.D. Candidate at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research interests lie in bringing psychological insights to bear on education policy. She is interested in examining the inequalities in students’ educational outcomes, specifically for vulnerable group members, across the Pre-K-16 education spectrum. She is currently examining the causes and consequences of racial (and socioeconomic) disparities in achievement and school discipline in the US using quasi-experimental and field-experimental methods. She holds a Masters in Economics and a doctoral minor in Psychology from the IU Psychological and Brain Sciences Department.

Examining Disparities in Non-Cognitive Educational Outcomes in the United States

Despite widespread acknowledgement of factors other than cognitive ability in fostering beneficial life outcomes (Almlund et al., 2011; Durlak et al., 2011; Heckman & Kautz, 2013), research on educational inequalities have largely focused on achievement gaps as measured by standardized test scores, GPA, and other metrics of cognitive skills. Thus, the causes and consequences of disparities in students’ non-cognitive outcomes (known variously as socioemotional skills, character skills, social skills, and 21st-century skills), remains under-studied. My dissertation will consist of three studies with each study focusing on a different aspect of inequality in students’ non-cognitive outcomes at three different stages of education. In the first study, I examine the antecedents of racial and special education-based disparities in disciplinary outcomes using statewide, student-level panel data on all students attending pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in Indiana, between 2009 and 2014. In the second study, I evaluate the effects of a social-psychological intervention on increasing freshmen students’ sense of social belonging at two large public universities in Indiana. Similar interventions have previously shown to reduce racial achievement gaps and disparities in rates of college persistence in smaller private universities and highly-selective public universities. The last study investigates the differential effects of neighborhoods on disparities in children’s behavioral school-readiness outcomes using the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study (FFCWS)—a rich longitudinal data that follows nearly 5,000 children between birth and nine years of age. Collectively, my dissertation research explores the barriers encountered by disadvantaged students in their pursuits of a quality education.

Daniel Herbst, Princeton University


Dan is a PhD candidate in the Economics Department at Princeton University. He works primarily on applied micro topics, with an emphasis on higher education financing and student loans. Most recently, Dan’s work focuses on the design of optimal repayment plans and the evaluation of behavioral interventions in student loan repayment. Prior to his doctoral studies, Dan earned a B.A. in Applied Math-Economics and Public Policy from Brown University and served as a research assistant at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Behavioral Barriers to Student Loan Repayment: A Field Experiment on Student Loan Counseling

Roughly ten percent of student borrowers default on their loans within two years of graduating, despite often being eligible for more favorable repayment terms under a variety of alternative repayment options such as income-driven repayment. Low take-up of these programs suggests psychological frictions like inattention, lack of information, or enrollment complexity may prevent optimal decision-making in student loan repayment. In collaboration with a student loan servicer and debt counseling non-profit, I design and implement a randomized control trial which evaluates several behavioral interventions aimed at lowering such psychological frictions. I then track repayment program take-up and default/delinquency rates across experimental groups, thereby identifying behavioral determinants of the repayment decision as well as policy measures which may reduce default through these channels.

David Houston, Teachers College, Columbia University


David M. Houston is a Ph.D. candidate in Politics and Education and the Instructor of Quantitative Methods for Evaluating Education Policies and Programs at Teachers College, Columbia University. His current research focuses on public opinion and education policy: the extent to which education spending levels reflect education spending preferences at the state level, how individuals update their opinions on education issues when they learn new information, and how the rise in political polarization translates to the context of education policy.

He received a B.A. in English Literature and Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis in 2010 and an M.S.Ed. in Childhood Education from Hunter College, City University of New York in 2012. Before beginning his doctoral studies, he taught first and second grade in Queens, New York.

Public Opinion and the Public Schools: Three Essays on Americans’ Education Policy Preferences

In the relationship between education and democracy, we often think of schools as the cradle of democratic values: the common meeting ground where social responsibility, civic-mindedness, and tolerance are instilled in the next generation. But the link between education and democracy goes both ways. Schools do not just cultivate democratic values; they are also the product of democratic pressures. Popularly elected governors, state legislatures, mayors, city councils, and school boards determine education budgets and appoint top school administrators. Voters themselves often decide the fate of school funding levies directly. Like all public endeavors in a democratic society, public schooling is built upon and reflects democratic systems. The public schools are ultimately accountable to the people to whom they belong.

This dissertation addresses three questions about Americans’ education policy preferences:
1. To what extent are state school systems’ per pupil expenditures responsive to the education spending preferences of their citizens?
2. How are such preferences formed and updated with the availability of new and relevant information?
3. In an era of increasing political polarization, why do we tend to see relatively small partisan differences on issues of education compared to issues in other high-profile policy domains?

Over the course of three article-length papers, my dissertation seeks to find an empirical foothold in each of these large and unwieldy debates.

Sarah Kabay, New York University


Sarah Kabay is a PhD candidate in International Education at NYU Steinhardt’s School of Education, Culture, and Human Development. Her research focuses on primary school, early childhood education, and how education fits into greater development and social change frameworks. Her goal is to provide policy makers, practitioners, and families with relevant information to help inform their educational choices. Current research projects include the cost analysis of Boston Public Schools’ public preK program, the impact assessment and process evaluation of a school management intervention in Ugandan primary schools, and psychometric analysis of Save the Children’s early childhood assessment instrument. Before beginning her doctoral program, Sarah lived in Uganda for five years, working with the organization Innovations for Poverty Action to conduct randomized controlled trials of development interventions. Much of her work continues to focus on Uganda, where she collaborates with schools, NGOs, local government officials, and other education stakeholders to conduct research and disseminate findings. She is a Research Affiliate of the Global TIES for Children Research Center, serves on the board of the organization Yspaniola, and is a technical adviser for Elevate: Partners in Education. She received a B.A. in Poverty and Development from Yale.

Universal Primary Education in Uganda: Rethinking Access vs. Quality

In 2011, in Uganda, 21% of children in third grade could not identify a single letter of the alphabet and 58% could not read a single word. Similarly, 40% could not add and 64% could not subtract. In this respect, Uganda is unfortunately not unique. Education systems around the world are struggling to impart basic literacy and numeracy. The fact that millions of children are attending school, but are still unable to read, write, or perform basic calculations has been christened the “Global Learning Crisis.”

The prevailing explanation for this crisis is that development organizations and governments have over-emphasized access to education, thus ignoring or overlooking the quality of education. This rationale represents a defining paradigm of international education: access vs. quality.

In my dissertation, I explore the relationship between access and quality in Ugandan primary education. I conduct empirical analysis of three different but interrelated phenomena: grade repetition, low-fee private primary schools, and the costs associated with attending school. Each of these issues serves as an illustration of the complicated relationship between education access and education quality. In my analysis of these issues, I find that there are dynamics where access and quality can be seen to be mutually reinforcing, where improving the quality of education can increase access to education, and vice versa. I argue that efforts to achieve Universal Primary Education should not simply pivot from a focus on access to a focus on quality, but should instead work towards dynamics in which they are mutually reinforcing.

Anna Kaiper, University of Minnesota


Anna is a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota studying Comparative and International Development Education through the Department of Organizational Leadership and Policy Development. She is originally from Espanola, New Mexico, but has lived throughout the United States as well as in Thailand, Argentina, and South Africa. While she began her career as an educator, and has taught both in the United States and internationally, her teaching experiences led to her current research interests concerning global language learning, adult education, and the connections between language, identity, and power. Her dissertation surrounds the English language learning of South African domestic workers drawing from both a postcolonial and poststructural framework. Anna holds a B.A. from Connecticut College in Psychology-Based Human Relations and a M.S. from Mercy College, New York City, in Urban Education with a certification in Special Education.

(Re)Constructing Identities: South African Domestic Workers, English Language Learning, and Power

Domestic workers have played an essential role in the history of South Africa; and yet, current research neither explores the educational experiences of these women nor examines the ways in which national discourses surrounding language learning influence their educational motivations. My dissertation aims at ameliorating this dearth of research while simultaneously broadening global conceptions of adult language learners by focusing on the English language learning of older, Black, female, South African domestic workers. Drawing from ethnographically-based research, including interviews, observations, and life narratives over a three-year span, I find that female domestic workers’ motivations to learn English parallel larger desires of Black South Africans to associate English with the ability to recreate their own identities in post-apartheid South Africa. Utilizing poststructural theories of language, identity, and power (Bourdieu, 1991; Norton, 1997, 2013; Weedon, 1997) in connection with the theoretical and methodological framework of Critical Discourse Analysis (Fairclough, 1992; 2015), my dissertation centers on the ways in which English, and its socio-historical link to power within South African education, influences these women’s (re)constructions of identity. By highlighting a group of women whose educational experiences remain underrepresented and unheard, my research seeks to enhance not only an understanding of the multifaceted aspects of adult education in South Africa, but also the ways in which the experiences of these women might further increase insight into the educational experiences and motivations of adult learners globally.

Julien Lafortune, University of California, Berkeley


Julien Lafortune is a PhD Candidate in Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, with a particular focus on the economics of education and labor economics. His research uses quasi-experimental methods to examine the impact and efficacy of educational policies. In prior work, Julien has studied the impacts of school finance reforms on student achievement and the heterogeneous effects of tracking regimes in secondary school math curricula. Currently, his dissertation research focuses on the effect of school capital expenditures on student and neighborhood outcomes. Before beginning his graduate studies, Julien earned a B.S. in economics from the University of Michigan.

Evaluating the Effects of New School Facilities on Student Achievement and Attendance

Capital expenditures represent a significant portion of US public K-12 education spending, totaling over $45 billion in 2012. Despite the magnitude of these expenditures, there is little consensus in the literature on the effects of such spending on student outcomes. This paper provides new evidence on the effects of new school facilities on student academic outcomes and attendance rates, linking $9 billion in facilities spending to 5 million student-year records in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) from 2002-2012. Since 1997, LAUSD has constructed and renovated hundreds of school facilities as a part of the largest US public school construction project in US history. Exploiting variation in the timing and location of the new school constructions in LAUSD, we find that spending 4 years in a newly constructed facility increases standardized test scores by 10% of a standard deviation in math, and 5% in English-language arts. Effects cumulate with multiple years of exposure to new facilities. Moreover, students at new school facilities attend an average of 4 additional days of school per academic year and elementary students show increases in teacher-reported effort, providing evidence of additional non-cognitive impacts of school facility improvements. Effects do not appear to be driven by changes in class size, teacher composition, peer composition, or student sorting.

Kathryn Lanouette, University of California, Berkeley


Kathryn Lanouette is a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. Kathryn’s research explores the ways in which children’s science learning develops across multiple contexts and representational forms. Through her work, she seeks to advance not only theoretical understandings of children’s learning, but also practical instantiations that directly inform the design of teacher education programs, classroom curriculums, and museum exhibit designs. In her dissertation, she is engaging in design-based research to advance our understanding of how elementary children create, share, and contest spatial explanations about the surrounding schoolyard soil ecosystem. She is particularly interested in the ways in which children use the varied data representations and their daily experiences to reason about complex ecological relationships. Her scholarly interests build from her experiences teaching in elementary classroom and science museum settings for nearly a decade in New York City. She holds a M.S.Ed. in Museum and Childhood Education from Bank Street Graduate School of Education and a B.A. in Politics from Oberlin College.

Earthworms, Ecological Reasoning, and Participatory GIS Mapping: Design-Based Research on Children’s Developing Understanding of Life Underfoot at their Elementary School

Constructing, sharing, and contesting models of the natural world is central to scientific inquiry (Latour, 1999) and a central component of current educational science standard reforms in the United States. Yet the process of moving from the world to its modeled forms presents challenges, especially for younger children. These challenges are made more pronounced in school science because the phenomena being modeled is often disconnected from children’s everyday experiences (Barton & Tan, 2008) and the dynamic, socially constructed nature of scientific inquiry (Manz, 2015). The representational forms used in classrooms have mirrored these disconnections, traditionally privileging abstracted and quantitative data forms that contrast with children’s more immediate and qualitative experiences within local spaces.

My dissertation takes up these issues within the context of 4th and 5th grade classrooms in which I use an instructional design that supports student inquiry into the soil ecosystem in their schoolyard and surrounding neighborhoods. Through my design-based research study, I am exploring the potential of participatory GIS maps to support children’s conceptually rich science learning. As a secondary focus, I am investigating how children’s familiarity with local spaces and engagement in the larger scientific inquiry process shape their causal reasoning over time. This research is potentially important for not only better understanding the ways in which children’s science learning develops but also the generative role that local places and digital spatial tools can play in children’s learning.

Jing Liu, Stanford University


Jing Liu is a Ph.D. candidate in Economics of Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. He earned his B.A. in Economics in 2011 and M.A. in Economics of Education in 2013, both from Peking University, China. He also earned a M.A. in Economics in 2016 from Stanford University. His research mainly focuses on using computational social science methods, especially “text as data”, to measure beneficial teacher and peer practices and evaluate their effects in K-16 classrooms. His work has appeared in Journal of Policy Analysis and Management and AERA Open.

Peers, Teachers, and the Mechanism of Education Production—Using High Resolution Data to Understand Education Processes

Decades of research on education production function treats teachers and peers as abstract inputs in education processes. My dissertation intends to extend the understanding of the roles teachers and peers play in education production through using novel empirical approaches to analyze high-resolution data that record the process of education. First, I examine how peer interaction affects student learning outcomes and persistence in online courses offered by a large for-profit university. I measure peer interaction using detailed written communications between students in online discussion board. Second, I measure teachers’ contribution to student engagement in secondary school using students’ unexcused class absences as a proxy. After creating value-added to student attendance, I further investigate how this new dimension of teacher effectiveness influences student high school graduation and dropout above and beyond teachers’ impact on student test scores. Third, I use “text-as-data” methods to create metrics of teacher practices in English Language Arts classrooms at upper elementary school. Different from the conventional approach of teacher observation, I quantify teacher behaviors through their language and interaction with students from word-to-word transcriptions of classroom videos. I then ask what teacher practices make them more effective in terms of contributing to student academic performance.

Abena Subira Mackall, Harvard University


Abena Subira Mackall is a doctoral candidate concentrating in Culture, Communities, and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Abena uses in-depth interviewing to clarify the mechanisms underlying associations between poverty, crime, and low educational attainment. In doing so, her research provides insights into practices and policies that will enable families, communities, and public institutions to more effectively support crime-involved individuals.

Abena is a former special education teacher and ELA instructional coach. She has also worked as a health instructor and academic mentor in prisons. While at Harvard, Abena has been an Inequality & Criminal Justice Doctoral Fellow in the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality & Social Policy, a Spencer Foundation Early Career Scholar in New Civics, and a Julius B. Richmond Fellow at the Center on the Developing Child. She is a former Co-Chair of the Harvard Educational Review and holds an EdM from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, a MSc in Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies from the London School of Economics, a MSEd in Special Education from Hunter College, and an AB in Politics from Princeton University.

Arrested in Adolescence: Youth Perceptions of Relationships, School Experiences, and Justice System Involvement

Annually, nearly 1.5 million youth under age 18 are arrested nationwide. Regardless of the outcome of their arrests, this formal contact with the juvenile/criminal justice systems (J/CJS) is a critical developmental turning point, with substantial implications along the life course. Arrests during adolescence are associated with social isolation, low educational attainment, and continued system-involvement. However, the underlying mechanisms through which contact with the police and courts results in these undesirable outcomes for youth is unclear. Do young people internalize the idea that they are ‘delinquent,’ which prompts additional offending? Or, do the societal responses to J/CJS involvement, such as exclusion from schools and similar institutions, lead to continued crime-involvement? This dissertation expands our understanding of adolescent arrest using data from three rounds of phenomenological interviews with youth whose first arrest occurred prior to their 18th birthday and contextual interviews with stakeholders who have either personal or professional experiences with youth who have been arrested. Preliminary findings reveal two related processes prompt additional crime involvement among adolescents. First, rather than evidence that young people have internalized the delinquent label, interviews indicate that widespread and narratives of personal responsibility for one’s own physical and material well-being that were linked to delinquent offending. Second, adversarial school experiences in early childhood coupled with a typical adolescent desire to individuate from parents, often culminated in a deeper attachment to small networks of crime involved peers. As a result, youths’ future aspirations were often modest and reflected a nuanced understanding of the difficulty of maintaining a crime-free lifestyle.

Upenyu Majee, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Upenyu Majee is a joint PhD candidate in Educational Policy Studies and Development Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His research interests include the nature and implications of engagements between Global South and Global North entities that create and constitute the global higher education policy infrastructure. Upenyu holds MA degrees in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis and African Languages and Literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and a BA degree in English Literature and Linguistics from the University of Zimbabwe. While at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Upenyu has worked as an Academic Lead for a Pre-college program serving college-bound students from minority backgrounds; Teaching Assistant at undergraduate and graduate levels; and Academic Coordinator for the State Department-funded Mandela Washington Fellowship/Young African Leaders Initiative. Prior to coming to the United States for graduate studies, he spent eight years with the Ministry of Education in Zimbabwe teaching High School English, and serving as Headmaster/Principal.

(Re)imagining and (Re)enacting Competing Policy Imperatives. The Case of Post-Apartheid South African Higher Education

Following international isolation, regional destabilization, and racial discrimination during apartheid, South African public universities face increasing pressures to respond simultaneously to conflicting policy imperatives. First is the pressure to internationalize, understood as integrating within the competitive, globalized knowledge economy that places high value on elite, world-class and research-intensive universities. Second is the pressure for regional cooperation, linked to South Africa’s indebtedness to neighboring countries for, among other things, the destabilization that they suffered for supporting the anti-apartheid struggle. Third are national demands for racial equity and redress through higher education transformation/decolonization, necessitated by the legacy of exclusionary policies and practices enacted during apartheid. I draw and build on sociological institutionalism (Barnett & Finnemore, 1999, 2004) to understand how higher education stakeholders (re)imagine and (re)enact the internationalization, regionalization, and transformation/decolonization imperatives of the country’s post-apartheid public universities – to whom they belong, who they serve, and what knowledge they value and generate. The dissertation is based on a six-month institutional ethnography at one of the country’s leading historically white research-intensive universities. It explores how public universities position themselves as institutional actors globally, regionally and nationally; and how South African and international students experience the competing imperatives shaping higher education policy and practice. The study’s findings will help explicate the tensions that arise for countries with entrenched histories of racial conflict, as they navigate post-/neo-colonial relations, re-invent their educational missions in response to new mandates, and carve out their place in an increasingly competitive, globalized marketplace for higher education.

Mollie McQuillan, Northwestern University


Mollie McQuillan is a Ph.D. candidate in the Human Development and Social Policy program at Northwestern University. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago in Political Science and Psychology and two master’s degrees, one in Teaching from the University of Saint Thomas and another in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University. Prior to her graduate studies at Northwestern, Mollie spent 12 years working with adolescents, including seven as a public school teacher. During that time, she witnessed how schools operate from the inside as a high school teacher, varsity athletic coach, teacher leader, and mentor. These experiences profoundly shaped her research outlook and its emphasis on the multiple ways health and educational policy overlap, particularly for marginalized populations.

Beyond Bathrooms: Educational Policy, School Climate, and Health for Gender Variant Students

As national, state, and local educational leaders grapple with how to effectively address the needs of gender expansive students, more research is needed to inform policy. Existing research indicates gender expansive youth experience high rates of chronic social stressors such as victimization, discrimination, and rejection. These stressors have academic, mental health, and physical health consequences; however, implementing protective and affirming school policies may alleviate some stressors gender expansive students encounter.

My dissertation is composed of three interrelated but independent mixed-methods studies at the intersection of educational policy, school climates and health for gender expansive students. Study One is an exploratory document analysis describing the current educational policy and procedural landscape for gender expansive youth. Using a representative sample of school districts in Illinois, I create a profile of the existing types of policies and the kinds of districts implementing them.

Study One informs Study Two, a multi-site interview study examining why some district administrators may support changes to existing policies, different implementation strategies, and potential barriers to implementing policies concerning gender expansive students.

Finally, Study Three is a clinical study investigating how gender dysphoria, social stressors (particularly those experienced in school), and lack of social support contribute to poorer health in transgender populations through inflammation and immune deregulation pathways. Overall, these studies will provide a more comprehensive and deeper understanding of the academic environment for gender expansive youth and how their social environment influences their health, an issue of crucial importance for educational policy.

Jack Mountjoy, University of Chicago


Jack Mountjoy is a Ph.D. candidate in Economics at the University of Chicago, conducting research on the economics and econometrics of education, labor markets, and social mobility. Focusing on key transitions in the path from the classroom to the workforce, his research applies theory and modern econometric methods to large, linked administrative datasets to quantify long-run impacts of individual educational choices and large-scale public policies. Prior to his doctoral studies, he worked as an Economic Research Analyst at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission after graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Whitman College.

Community Colleges and Student Outcomes: Causality, Counterfactuals, and Linked Administrative Data

Two-year community colleges enroll nearly half of all first-time college students in the U.S., yet causal estimates of their effects on student outcomes are relatively scarce. Beyond the typical challenge of selection bias driven by systematic student sorting, causal inference in this setting also requires careful attention to the multiple counterfactuals to treatment: some students induced into 2-year colleges would not have otherwise attended college, but others may be diverted from 4-year entry. Modern instrumental variables methods in this multiple-counterfactual setting cannot separately identify treatment effects along these distinct choice margins, rendering 2-year colleges a black box in how they impact students coming from different alternatives. In this paper, I develop nonparametric identification results and construct estimators that overcome these limitations, recovering counterfactual-specific causal effects along each choice margin and thus opening the black box of community college impacts. I apply the method to linked administrative data spanning the state of Texas, using continuous instrumental variation in distances to nearby 2-year and 4-year colleges (conditional on a rich set of student, school, and neighborhood characteristics) to identify the effects of initial enrollment choices on ultimate degree attainment and adult earnings. The method also permits a test of whether student decisions are consistent with sorting on comparative advantage, and informs how treatment effects might change as 2-year colleges draw deeper into the population of potential entrants. Finally, I combine the gross effect estimates with cost data to assess benefit-cost ratios of 2-year attendance and public policies that encourage it.

Philip Nichols, University of Pennsylvania


T. Philip Nichols is a PhD candidate in Reading/Writing/Literacy at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also earned an M.A. in History and Sociology of Science. His research blends historical and ethnographic methods to examine relationships among techno-scientific knowledge production, urban school reform, and the ways we practice, teach, and talk about literacy. His work has appeared in Teachers College Record (forthcoming), Language Arts, Educational Leadership, and The Atlantic. Prior to doctoral study, he was a National Writing Project fellow and a high school English teacher.

Making Innovation: Literacy and Techno-science in Urban Public School Reform

This study looks to understand the contingent historical processes that shape our present conceptions of “innovation” in urban public school reform, and follows these lineages to see how they are taken up, resisted, or undermined in the day-to-day practices of an “innovative” classroom. Drawing on science and technology studies (STS) and sociocultural theories of literacy, the study combines archival research on the changing meanings of “innovation” in K-12 school reform – from its rise in Cold War social science to its present associations with STEM entrepreneurship – with an ethnographic study of The Innovation School, a non-selective, urban public high school based on principles of making. Following the school’s first cohort through a full academic year, the project explores how the tangled genealogies of “innovation” are brought to bear in the literacy instruction and practices of an asynchronous, technology-driven Humanities classroom, and documents the strategies teachers and students use to reconcile these competing demands with their own purposes for literacy learning. In this way, the study looks to wrest “innovation” from the scale of elite experts and relocate it in the lived dynamics of classroom praxis – a framing that complicates the research base around ed-tech reform and “21st century literacy” by situating each in the historical interplay of techno-science and education, and by considering how their adoption is implicated in the larger struggle for educational equity in urban public schools.

David Paulson, Temple University


Dave Paulson is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Temple University. His enduring research interests are committed to understanding the complex intersections of language endangerment, cultural socialization, and transformations to the (broadly conceived) material world. His doctoral-dissertation research has been supported at different stages by the Temple Global Studies Program, the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Fulbright U.S. Student Program in Vietnam. Before coming to Temple, Dave conducted undergraduate studies at Southern Connecticut State University in Anthropology, with minors in Asian Studies and Psychology, as well as Master’s Studies in Bilingual, Multicultural Education & TESOL. At Temple University, Dave helped to establish the Visual Anthropology Society at Temple (VAST) and has been a Research Fellow at Center for Vietnamese Philosophy, Culture, and Society at Temple University since 2011. His dissertation committee consists of anthropologists whose areas of expertise compliment his current research agenda: Paul B. Garrett (Language Shift & Endangerment, Ideologies of Language), Inmaculada M. García-Sánchez (Language Socialization, Language & Culture in Educational Contexts), and Jayasinhji Jhala (Cultural Heritage Representation, Visual Communications). Following the completion of doctoral-dissertation studies, Dave intends to work in higher education and continue his anthropological research in Vietnam exploring issues pertaining to language socialization and cultural reproduction. In particular, he aspires to use his pedagogical training to help develop improved teaching and literacy materials for endangered-language communities as part of a life-long commitment to improving the world in terms of language and social justice.

Writing in the Margins: Indigenous Literacy, Childhood Socialization, and Rapid Modernization in a Vietnamese Village

Abstract Since the 1986 Đổi Mới economic reforms, language-education policy in Vietnam has undergone unprecedented change in the interest of “developing the nation” by 2020 (Taylor 2001). Robust financial and institutional investments have been made in support foreign languages, while far less have been devoted to the indigenous languages of ethnic minorities (Djité 2011). As a result, ethnic Cham minorities have been left to contend with maintaining their spoken language and literary traditions as they are routinely devalued in the ideological climate of “modernity” (Harms 2011). Drawing on ethnographic observations of Cham-, Vietnamese-, and foreign-language literacy classrooms, as well as religious temples, homes, and other spaces where these languages are used, this research examines the socialization experiences and everyday language practices of Cham ethnic-minority children and youth as they transition into mainstream Vietnamese education. Through an investigation of both informal and institutionally organized interactions, this study analyzes how participation in indigenous, national, and international literacy practices indexes different senses of cultural citizenship (Rosaldo 1997), which, in turn, inform Cham minority children’s complex sense of belonging within, and their meaningful intergenerational engagement with, the language and culture of their parents amid Vietnam’s post-socialist transformation. This investigation reveals how indigenous children cultivate proficiency in the culturally organized use of multiple literacies in this context, and how Vietnam’s rapid development informs experiences of childhood, transforms everyday language practices, and affects the vitality of minority languages in the 21st century.

Caroline Pinkston, University of Texas


Caroline Pinkston is a PhD candidate in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her work brings education into conversation with childhood studies and cultural memory. Her current project focuses on the mobilization of civil rights memory in the charter school movement. She holds a B.A. in American Studies and English from Northwestern University (2008), an M.S. in English Education from Lehman College (2010), and an M.A. in American Studies from the University of Texas (2014). A former high school English teacher, she has taught and worked in public, private, and nonprofit settings in New York City and Austin.

The Power of Children: Childhood, Memory, and the Remaking of New Orleans Public Education

In 1960, six-year-old Ruby Bridges embarked on a struggle to integrate William Frantz Elementary in the 9th Ward of New Orleans. Her harrowing daily walk to school, escorted by federal marshals, captured the hearts of the nation and transformed Bridges into a hero of the civil rights movement. Today, a statue of Bridges honors her memory in the courtyard of the Frantz building, but Frantz Elementary itself no longer exists. Closed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the historic building now houses Akili Academy, part of the Crescent City Schools charter network.

Ruby Bridges embodies a popular narrative of civil rights history, in which individual courage and persistence triumph over the forces of racism in American life. The Frantz building, meanwhile, encapsulates the history of public schools in New Orleans from the end of the civil rights era to the post-Katrina charter school movement that has dramatically restructured the city’s school system. Drawing on childhood studies, cultural memory, and educational history, this project engages with the intertwined histories and competing visions of school reform and social justice emerging from this space. The project traces Bridges’ construction as an icon of the civil rights movement, unearths an institutional history of Frantz Elementary, and investigates how Akili navigates the history of its home today. Ultimately, this trajectory sheds light on how charter school reformers mobilize and erase local history and public memory in the service of their work.

Xu Qin, University of Chicago


Xu Qin is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago. She holds a B.S. and an M.S. in Statistics from the Renmin University of China. Supported by a Fellowship for Quantitative Methods in Education and Human Development, her doctoral training has been highly interdisciplinary with a strong focus on theories and methods in education research. Her research focuses on improving statistical methods for educational program evaluations. Specifically, she is working on cutting-edge methodological problems in multisite causal mediation analysis, with an attempt to quantify between-site heterogeneity in program mechanisms. Her work has won a 2016 Joint Statistical Meetings Student Paper Award granted by the American Statistical Association.

Causal Mediation Analysis in Multi-Site Trials

There has been an increasing use of multisite randomized trials in evaluations of educational programs. Multisite designs provide unique opportunities for investigating between-site heterogeneity in the mediation mechanism that characterizes an educational process central to a program theory. However, such opportunities have not been fully utilized due to some important constraints of existing analytic tools. To enable researchers to assess the generalizability of an education program theory across a wide range of contexts, I develop a new analytic procedure that enhances both the external validity and internal validity of multisite causal mediation analysis. This includes incorporating a sample weight to adjust for sample and survey designs, employing a non-response weight to account for non-random attrition, and utilizing a novel propensity score-based weighting strategy to flexibly decompose the average program impact at each site into indirect effects transmitted through hypothesized focal mediators and a direct effect attributable to all the other pathways. Extending a theoretical model of causal inference, I define, identify, and estimate the population average and the between-site variance of the direct and indirect effects. I also develop a sensitivity analysis strategy to assess the consequences of potential violations of key identification assumptions. I employ the proposed methods in an in-depth evaluation of Job Corps, the nation’s largest education and training program for 16-24 year old disadvantaged youths, most of whom have dropped out of high school. I test the Job Corps program theory that emphasizes academic education and vocational training along with a wide array of services for risk reduction. My preliminary results suggest that Job Corps centers may not be equally effective in service provision. Such evidence is crucial for improving program implementation. I am also developing an open-source R package, MultisiteMediation (http://cran.r-project.org/web/packages/MultisiteMediation), offering applied researchers a convenient implementation tool.

Gabriel Rodriguez, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Gabriel Rodriguez is a PhD Candidate in Education Policy, Organization and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research focuses on topics at the intersection of Latina/o education and critical youth studies. In particular, Gabriel’s dissertation studies how Latina/o youth navigate their schooling by examining their enactments of identity and efforts to forge community in a predominately white suburban high school. This past year, he was a Visiting Predoctoral Scholar in the Latina & Latino Studies Program at Northwestern University. Gabriel is the recipient of a Diversifying Faculty in Illinois Fellowship and was recognized as an American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education Fellow. He holds a B.A. in Political Science and Speech Communication from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an M.A. in Political Science with a concentration in civic leadership from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Understanding Latina/o Identity and Community in a White and Well-Resourced Chicagoland Suburban High School

Latina/os are changing the landscape of suburban schools. Yet, the dominant paradigm in studying Latina/o youth is through an urban lens. This research reconsiders this approach by distinguishing between urban and suburban. By recognizing the distinction, there is an opportunity to present a more accurate and nuanced understanding of what Latina/o students experience, think, and how they respond to their schooling. Moreover, this research decenters traditional deficit approaches of understanding Latina/o youth by focusing on the sociocultural issues impacting their lives, allowing for a more comprehensive analysis of how these factors (e.g. racism) impact young people in school. Student participants attend a suburban high school in Chicagoland that is predominately white and well resourced. There is no denying that schools with more means such as some suburban communities can provide more resources for their students (Goyette & Lareau, 2014), but just because there are ample resources does not mean that all students experience them equitably (Lewis-McCoy, 2014). Latina/o students experience their schooling differently. Latina/o youth traverse different academic and social terrains that challenge their identity performances. This dissertation is anchored by two main research questions; 1.) How do Latina/o youth negotiate and perform their identities (e.g., racial/ethnic, classed, gendered, and linguistic) in school; and 2.) What are the ways in which Latina/o youth build and maintain community? Through an ethnographic approach, my work documents and analyzes the experiences of 19 students. This study consists of observations, interviews, and artifacts that were collected over two academic years. Data will describe how Latina/o youth navigate academic and social spaces through their performances of identity.

Luis Rodriguez, Vanderbilt University


Luis A. Rodriguez is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development. Luis has a sustained interest in education policy issues and program evaluation, and his research primarily utilizes quasi-experimental methods to investigate the impact of various personnel policies – such as compensation and performance evaluation – on the K-12 teacher workforce. Luis’ current work focuses on studying the extent to which tenure policy reforms affect teacher mobility patterns and effectiveness.

Prior to starting his doctoral studies, Luis received a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Swarthmore College and subsequently worked as Senior Programmer Analyst at Mathematica Policy Research. While at Mathematica, he was primarily responsible for data management and analytic tasks for education evaluations for the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education, which covered areas such as teacher collaboration, the effectiveness of K-3 mathematics curricula, and the implementation and effects of Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants. Luis currently works with the Tennessee Education Research Alliance (TERA), a partnership between Vanderbilt University and the Tennessee Department of Education that is tasked with advancing education research. His work has appeared in Education Researcher, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, and The Elementary School Journal.

An Examination of Teacher Tenure Reform in Tennessee: Performance, Retention, and Policy Framing

The prevailing public discourse surrounding the effects of teacher tenure in public education is starkly divided. In recent years, a number of states have enacted tenure reforms, thereby potentially transforming the landscape and traditionally protected structure of the teacher labor market. Little empirical research to date has directly informed whether, in the wake of reform, tenure policies make a difference within the K-12 teaching profession. The state of Tennessee provides a prime setting to further explore the impact of tenure reform. In July 2011, the state legislature passed a series of reforms that made tenure status non-permanent and tied tenure eligibility to teacher performance within the newly restructured educator evaluation process. By exploiting the sharp performance cutoffs that determine tenure status as well as the longitudinal nature of available data before and after the legislated changes in tenure policy, this dissertation seeks to quantify the effects of tenure reforms on performance and retention outcomes for teachers in Tennessee. In addition, this project qualitatively analyzes how school administrators and teachers communicate and understand tenure reform. This multi-method approach aims to contextualize the quantitative analysis by offering insight into how school administrators frame legislated changes to the tenure eligibility process and thus mediate teacher perception and behavior in reaction to the law change. These analyses are intended to provide policymakers with an evidence base on tenure policy effects as well as potential areas for improved communication and support for school-based staff in the event of large-scale policy change.

Jasmin Sandelson, Harvard University


Jasmin Sandelson is a doctoral student in sociology at Harvard University, where she is a Presidential Scholar. Originally from London, England, she earned a B.A in Politics, Psychology, and Sociology from the University of Cambridge. Her interests include social stratification, urban poverty, cultural sociology and the transition to adulthood. Her research focuses on how disadvantaged young people manage trajectories through adolescence. Her master’s paper, which received the Graduate Student Paper Award from the Society for Social Problems’ Youth, Aging, and the Life Course Section, explored patterns of peer support among low-income teens in Boston-area housing projects. Her dissertation uses mixed qualitative methods to investigate unaccompanied homeless students in New York City; high school and college students who are homeless with no parent or guardian. The study uses in-depth interviews and ethnographic fieldwork to shed light on their trajectories, their daily lives, and the social, educational, and institutional dynamics they must navigate. Previously, her work has been funded by Harvard University’s Center for American Political Studies, the Joint Center for Housing Studies, and the National Science Foundation.

Unaccompanied Homeless Students in New York City

In 2015, for the first time, a majority of public school students were recorded as coming from low-income families. Teachers are increasingly tasked with mitigating family poverty as schools try to diversify the support they offer poor students. As student poverty has risen, so has student homelessness: almost 3% of all public school students lack a stable home. The fastest growing but least researched subgroup of the nation’s homeless population is unaccompanied youth: 1.6 million 14-to-24-year-olds experience homelessness with no parent or guardian each year. Unaccompanied homeless students face perhaps the most severe educational challenges. They rely on schools to fulfill needs met usually by families.

This dissertation uses mixed qualitative methods: ethnography with homeless high-school and college students, and interviews with students, teachers and staff. It explores the trajectories of homeless students; chronicles the techniques by which they manage to go to school; maps the form and content of their peer relationships; and charts the educational and institutional dynamics that they navigate. This research will advance scholarship on poverty and education in three ways. First, it will update the portrait of student homelessness by focusing on the fastest growing subgroup. Second, it will consider the role of educational institutions in reproducing educational disparities for homeless students. Third, it will speak to contemporary debates about ‘deep’ poverty in American cities and schools. The study will also develop policy recommendations for how to more effectively and appropriately serve unaccompanied homeless students.

Rachel Silver, University of Wisconsin-Madison


Rachel Silver is a joint-degree doctoral candidate in Educational Policy Studies and Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research explores the relationship between discourses on girls’ education and sexuality in international development and the lived experiences of adolescents. Rachel is co-author of Educated for Change?: Muslim Refugee Women in the West (2012)—an ethnography of young women’s school lives in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps and northern New England—as well as chapters in edited volumes on globalization and education, forced migration in the global South, and ethnographic methods. Rachel received an International Dissertation Research Fellowship from the Social Science Research Council in 2016. She holds an M.A. in Anthropology from UW-Madison, an M.A. in African Studies from Yale University, and a B.A. in Anthropology from Bates College.

Mother, Daughter, Schoolgirl: Student Pregnancy and Readmission Policy in Malawi’s Era of Education for All

In Malawi, the pregnant schoolgirl embodies failure for diverse actors and institutions. She signals moral degeneration and a loss of control over girls’ sexuality for parents and teachers, chiefs and clerics. At the same time, she demonstrates the programmatic failure of schooling to delay reproduction and trigger a “ripple effect” of positive social, demographic, and economic outcomes touted in mainstream international development discourse. My dissertation explores this convergence and shows (1) how schoolgirl pregnancy has come to be understood and constituted as a social problem by a range of actors and (2) how discourses on, and policies related to, pregnant students shape the possibilities for young women’s wellbeing and schooling experiences. Using multi-sited ethnographic methods and an anthropology of policy approach, I focus specifically on Malawi’s 1993 Readmission Policy, which banned the practice of permanently expelling pregnant girls from school, and its 2016 reform. Readmission Policy serves as a lens through which to examine why, though young mothers in Malawi have been allowed to re-enroll in school for over two decades, very few do, and how key stakeholders understand the relationship between sexuality and schooling. I consider how girls and women navigate between their roles as students, workers, wives, and mothers, and ask what it means for adolescents and the project of education when reproduction is taken to signal schooling’s failed promise.

Leigh Soares, Northwestern University


Leigh Alexandra Soares is a doctoral candidate in History at Northwestern University, with a certificate in African American and Diaspora Studies. Her research interests include black politics and institution building in the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. Her dissertation uses a wide range of archival evidence to examine how black leaders and their allies won and maintained support for public black colleges in the post-Civil War South. In addition to her passion for research, she is committed to promoting excellent teaching in her discipline and has been named a 2017-2018 Graduate Teaching Fellow at Northwestern. Prior to moving to Chicago, Leigh received an AB (History) from Duke University and an MA (History) from the College of William and Mary.

Higher Ambitions for Freedom: The Politics of Public Black Colleges in the South, 1865-1915

This dissertation explains how, during the onslaught of racial violence and disenfranchisement in the late nineteenth-century South, black men and women used public black colleges to retain limited access to political power and to train future leaders. It takes seriously African Americans’ turn to state governments for support in the late 1800s, examining why public education was an issue that could garner at least some interracial cooperation. Moreover, it illuminates the strategies black politicians and educators boldly used to claim public funds and recognition in an era of vulnerable freedoms. Archival research across eight different states and numerous digital collections has helped shape the project. By asserting the role of public black colleges in institutionalizing black claims to citizenship and democratizing higher education in the South, this dissertation underscores the significance of historically black colleges and universities in American life. It makes contributions to African American history, education history, and southern U.S. history.

Sarah Suárez, University of Minnesota


Sarah Suárez is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development. She holds an M.A. in Child Psychology from the Institute of Child Development and a B.S. in Animal Science from Cornell University. Sarah is dedicated to researching the ways by which children optimize their own informal social learning, or learning from and about the people in their lives. She currently focuses on understanding sources of individual differences in epistemological understanding and testimonial learning, and hopes to bridge the fields of educational and developmental psychology. In her spare time, Sarah serves as an Evaluation Intern and member of the Research Advisory Council for the Minnesota Children’s Museum.

The Development of Epistemological Understanding: Testing for Effects of Conversational Framing on Children’s Epistemological Judgments and Testimonial Learning

Individuals’ epistemological understanding—that is, their beliefs about the nature of knowledge and knowing is thought to have important implications for critical thinking in both formal and informal learning contexts (CCSSO, 2010; NGSS Lead States, 2013; Kuhn, 1999; Burr & Hofer, 2002). Indeed, our epistemological beliefs are thought to influence the questions we ask, the sources of information we place trust in, the certainty of our beliefs, and even academic outcomes (Greene, Sandoval, & Bråten, 2016). However, most of the literature describes the developmental patterns of epistemological understanding in adolescence and adulthood, without characterizing the cause-effect mechanisms at play, particularly those in childhood. Although there is observational evidence suggesting that parent-child conversations are a context in which epistemological understanding may develop (Luce, Callanan & Smilovic, 2013), and parent epistemological beliefs have been found to predict children’s critical evaluations of speakers who reason about evidence with varying competence (Suárez & Koenig, under review; in prep), the role of adult influences on children’s epistemological development has not been examined experimentally. In the present study, I investigate: 1) How children develop the ability to consider the nature of knowledge within the context of conversation; 2) Whether improved epistemological understanding supports children’s critical thinking in informal social learning; 3) Whether cognitive self-control and verbal IQ moderate or mediate epistemological development; and 4) Whether individual differences in epistemological understanding relate to parent characteristics.

Samantha Viano, Vanderbilt University


Samantha L. Viano is a doctoral candidate in K-12 Educational Leadership and Policy at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development. Her research interests include how to measure and grow effective school leadership, understanding teacher mobility from an organizational perspective, the antecedents and effects of school climate and safety for both students and school staff, and the effect of student course taking in high school on students’ short and long term outcomes. Across all of her research, regardless of the topic, she maintains a focus on potentially high leverage practices that could substantially improve outcomes for traditionally underserved student populations. Prior to her doctoral studies, Samantha was a high school math teacher in Chicago Public Schools. She holds a BS in Math from Haverford College and an MSEd from Northwestern University.

Online Learning as a Remedy for Course Failure: An Assessment of Credit Recovery as an Intervention to Earn Credits and Graduate from High School

The high school graduation rate has been rising each year since 2002 with new record-high graduation rates being set on an annual basis since 2011. However, national test score data indicate 12th grade test scores are either stagnating or declining. This dissertation explores one possible explanation for this pattern: credit recovery courses. Credit recovery (CR) refers to online courses that students take after previously failing a traditional version of the course, representing a shift from students repeating courses the following school year or earning course credit in an after school or summer school program. The purpose of this dissertation is to elucidate the potential benefits and unintended consequences of CR. Using data from North Carolina, this study will be the first to utilize statewide administrative data to investigate CR, including courses developed and administered by the state and private entities. The first essay will investigate if students enrolled in CR are more likely to graduate from high school than other students who fail courses using a school and cohort fixed effects strategy with within-school and cohort propensity score matching. The second essay leverages the recent implementation of CR options in North Carolina high schools for a difference-in-differences approach to explore the impact of adding CR options at the school level on graduation and dropout rates. This essay will also explore possible unintended consequences of CR implementation including higher initial course failure rates, lower proficiency levels on end of course exams, lower ACT scores, and higher absence rates.

Lindsay Wright, University of Chicago


Lindsay Wright is a doctoral candidate in musicology at the University of Chicago. Her historical and ethnographic research focuses on conceptions of exceptionalism in American music education and culture, critical pedagogy and critical race theory, and the role of the arts in education systems more broadly. These interests grew out of her years of experience as an educator: she has served as a classroom instrumental music teacher for the School District of Philadelphia, a private and group violin instructor, and the conductor of a youth orchestra on the South Side of Chicago, where she also founded a music school to provide increased access to high-quality music instruction. Lindsay holds Bachelor degrees in African American studies and music from Wesleyan University and a Master’s degree in Multicultural Education from Eastern University.

Discourses of Talent in American Music History, Pedagogy, and Popular Culture

The concept of talent saturates discourses around aspiring artists, academics, athletes, and others: those identified as talented often receive unique privileges intended to cultivate their potential. Although scholars and educators affirm that musical, intellectual, or physical gifts are distributed amongst the American population, they “discover” these gifts disproportionately in students with certain racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic privileges. Rather than address such inequalities by returning to well-worn questions of “nature” or “nurture,” this dissertation interrogates talent itself as a historically and culturally constructed concept.

The case of music provides a rich and unexplored opportunity to understand how different conceptions of talent shape educational encounters. To this end, my project approaches musical talent as a floating signifier with a range of meanings that depend upon the discursive context and the speaker’s agenda. Using historical and ethnographic methods, I argue that certain understandings of talent perpetuate unequal access to power by naturalizing a set of musical skills acquired through other means. The dissertation begins with a conceptual history, contextualizing different genealogies and mythologies of musical talent. The subsequent chapters present case studies on (1) receptions of the nineteenth-century pianist Blind Tom, (2) discourses of talent on contemporary reality shows like The Voice and America’s Got Talent, and (3) contrasting philosophies about talent in two music teaching methods by Shinichi Suzuki and Mark O’Connor. Ultimately, this project will enable music scholars and educators to historicize and expand their understanding of how ideologies of talent operate, allowing them to better assess and address each student’s needs.

Xiaoyang Ye, University of Michigan


Xiaoyang Ye is doctoral student studying the economics of education at the University of Michigan’s CSHPE and the Education Policy Initiative. Xiaoyang’s research focuses on the causes and consequences of education policies and individual schooling choices in both K-12 and higher education. He is currently examining effective ways to organize schools to improve low-income students’ college access and choices in both China and the United States, including large scale school reforms, managerial and personnel policies, and informational interventions using big data methods. With collaborators, Xiaoyang has been developing and implementing the Bright Future of China Project, a college-going advising program serving about 1 million high school graduates in the poorest areas of China. Prior to Michigan, Xiaoyang received a BA in economics and a MA in the economics of education from Peking University.

Improving College Choice for the Poorest Students: Examining What Works in Centralized Admissions Systems Using Randomized Experiments

There is rapidly growing literature on the significant impacts of information provision and individualized assistance on increasing college opportunity for low-income students the United States. But little is known about the effectiveness of these interventions in other contexts. To fill this gap, I provide novel experimental evidence on what and how informational interventions could improve student-college match in a centralized admissions system in China. I have developed and conducted the Bright Future of China Project in Chinese low-income areas, a series of information and assistance interventions in the college application process. Preliminary results from the pilot randomized controlled trial (RCT) suggest that, knowledge-based interventions requiring intensive instruction and learning are more effective than simple information provision in improving students’ college choice and match. The remaining policy problem is that these knowledge-based interventions are not scalable. To address this problem, in the full-scale RCT in three poorest provinces, I examine two potential solutions: personnel policies to increase school organizational effectiveness, and data-driven methods to simplify instruction and learning.

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