A common question received by education policy experts is “What is education policy?” In a nutshell, the field of education policy tackles approaches designed to make the educational system more equitable, efficient, and excellent for students, administrators, and faculty/staff members alike. And because of its far-reaching applications, education policy can appear in just about any topic or area within education itself. Recent topics that have been addressed by education policy researchers include how school systems are funded; teacher workforce development; frameworks for instruction and teaching; how students are disciplined; addressing disparities in race, social class, and ability within the classroom, school, or district; and more.
As a result, students who pursue a degree in education policy are prepared for careers in a variety of fields. In addition to traditional K-12 and higher education systems, they may choose to work at think tanks, nonprofit national organizations, government agencies, and international organizations providing support and analysis for education-related decision-making. They are involved in developing, analyzing, implementing, and evaluating education policies, which can shape how education is provided for decades to come.
Discover how three members of the George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development community are taking their education policy work into the field:
Case study #1: Joshua Glazer, associate professor
Schools in Memphis, TN were still experiencing the aftermath of a difficult history of oppression, harsh Jim Crow laws, white flight, and economic and social marginalization of its poorest Black citizens. Not to mention, other systemic barriers that often held students back — such as access to quality nutrition, health, and public safety. Consequently, schools within the city were consistently underperforming.
To address that, there were two parallel efforts undertaken at the same time. The iZone approach was led by the Shelby County school district in 24 of its lowest-performing schools in Memphis, while the other, more aggressive approach, known as the Achievement School District (ASD), was spearheaded by the state of Tennessee and relied heavily on charter schools. There were challenges facing both: citizens of the city didn’t trust the ASD’s approach, given that it was perceived as a hostile takeover with organizations coming in from elsewhere with largely white leadership. However, there were also doubts in the Shelby County school district given that they had decades of poor performance, leading to a sentiment of “If you could have done it by now, why haven’t you?”
In both scenarios, it was clear that politics and education would need to work together to engender trust within the local community for any meaningful results. As it turned out, the district-led approach was found to have significantly more positive outcomes in both performance and overall student achievement than the state-led approach. The ASD ultimately struggled to overcome the perception that it was a hostile takeover, while charter leaders struggled to adapt to the educational and social needs of Memphis students.
A team of researchers led by Joshua Glazer, an associate professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development, observed both ASD and iZone strategies to explore how reform efforts can be designed to promote meaningful changes in teaching and learning while also engendering the support of diverse stakeholder groups, twining both the political and the educational together. Using the findings from this study, policymakers, educators, and those invested in school reform can apply key principles to other underperforming schools throughout the country.
Case study #2: Emily Howell, Alumna
When it comes to data, Emily Howell believes there is more than just what the numbers show. She believes that to create meaningful change, we need to dive deep and interpret the results to extrapolate stories and trends that will spur necessary action. In her role as a specialist on the data analytics and research team in the Office of Data and Technology in D.C. Public Schools, she is in the unique position of being able to do exactly that.
One of her responsibilities is to both administer and assess the district’s social-emotional learning (SEL) survey, Panorama. From the results, she’s able to tease out stories, trends, and highlights to identify areas of need within the district. For example, in analyzing the data from Panorama, she’s able to identify groups of students who don’t feel a sense of belonging, experience low self-efficacy, or lack academic confidence — and work with teachers, staff, and administrators to address those needs to create meaningful change for the individual students.
She also saw an opportunity to enhance the experience for school leaders. Recognizing that the district is the intersection between policy, research, and implementation and it is also a unit of change, she helped develop a survey that would give school leaders a chance to make their voices heard in an effort to improve the ways in which they are supported. And much like she does with the student survey, she can extrapolate stories from the data. This allows her to identify areas of needs among school leadership that can be addressed to increase staff well-being and experiences within the district.
Throughout the academic year, she regularly works with different offices and teams to support their respective data collection and analysis needs to understand how to improve processes and outcomes. In this way, she and her team are able to create alignment at the district level, ultimately creating and impacting meaningful education policy change for students, faculty, and staff alike within the D.C. public school system.
Case study #3: Etai Mizrav, Ph.D. candidate
Ph.D. candidate Etai Mizrav's research was inspired by his time as an employee of the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). There, he was worried that a newly created ranking system for each school within the district based on test scores would exacerbate an already segregated school system. After all, it has been established time and time again that test scores are not always the best predictor of the quality of growth and learning provided within a classroom. And in the case of Washington, D.C., there was a clear correlation between ratings and the school’s racial demographics.
Mizrav wanted to take it a step further. It was well-known that schools in segregated neighborhoods remained segregated. But what about schools in diverse neighborhoods? How did their ratings influence parents in deciding where to send their children?
After thorough research and analysis, Mizrav believes the results suggest ratings can influence a school's reputation, which doesn't necessarily reflect the actual quality of teaching and learning. This reputation contributes to the avoidance strategies taken by white and higher-income parents, resulting in the segregation of some schools, even among diverse neighborhoods. It is Mizrav’s hope that by understanding the ways in which education policy produces inequalities within our school systems, we can begin to identify those systems and help educators recognize ways to start closing those gaps.
If education policy reform and development sounds of interest to you, consider applying to GW’s education policy graduate programs. We offer a master’s in education policy studies, as well as a Ph.D. You can also choose from our dual degree program, which allows you to complete an education policy masters while obtaining your law degree. Visit our website to learn more about how you can advance education policy advocacy while enhancing your own capabilities and capacity. To learn more about our programs, request information from a GSEHD admissions coach.