Class of 2017: Taking a Seat at the Table with D.C. Education Policymakers

Veronica Katz headshot

Veronica Katz is earning her Ph.D. in education policy from UVA’s Curry School of Education later this month. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

In the six years Veronica Katz has been working toward her Ph.D. in education policy at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, exciting research findings have resulted from a partnership between Curry and the Washington, D.C. Public School System.

When Katz arrived in 2011, Jim Wyckoff, a professor of education policy and director of UVA’s EdPolicyWorks research center, was beginning research on the IMPACT program, an innovative and somewhat controversial tool for assessing teacher performance and improving teacher quality in the district’s public school system.

Katz quickly became involved in the project and before long was frequently taking the train to Washington to meet with school officials to discuss the IMPACT research, some of which is upending longstanding perceptions of teaching.

Class of 2017 profiles

Earlier this year, Katz, Wyckoff and others published research challenging a longstanding perception of teacher turnover. While a growing body of evidence has found that teacher turnover reduces student achievement, Katz and Wyckoff’s research showed teacher turnover under IMPACT actually improved student performance on average

“I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to collaborate with such a thoughtful group of policymakers,” Katz said, referring to her colleagues in the district. “They are very clearly committed to improving outcomes for students.”

Improving outcomes for public school students is what motivated Katz to attend the Curry School.

After completing her undergraduate degrees in anthropology and Spanish at Washington University in St. Louis, Katz accepted a position teaching sixth grade in south central Los Angeles as part of Teach for America. The experience was both challenging and transformative for Katz.

“When I was teaching in Los Angeles, I felt like I was on a sinking ship,” Katz said. “I witnessed the need for systemic change in our public education system, especially for urban schools.”

Her experiences in L.A. and with her students there catalyzed her decision to come to the Curry School.

“I’m inspired by my students, the lives I touched and maybe changed, and the ones that I couldn’t quite reach,” Katz said. “I think of them often and even keep a picture of them on my desk to remind me why I’m here.”

Katz’s research interests focus on efforts to improve teacher quality. She remains especially committed to evaluating policies that aim to improve teacher quality in urban schools.

Katz identified the opportunity to work closely with the policymakers and school leaders in the D.C. Public School System as being among the most significant experiences that have shaped her time at UVA. A close second is the high level of mentoring she has received.

“Jim Wyckoff has been an amazing mentor,” Katz said. “He has given me so many opportunities to do work that matters; he has encouraged me and supported me throughout my studies; and he sets an incredible example.”

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Katz has excelled as a doctoral student at the Curry School, and plenty of colleagues in the field have taken note. In 2013, Katz was invited to participate in the American Enterprise Institute’s Education Policy Academy. She was also awarded the American Educational Research Association’s Minority Dissertation Fellowship and the National Academy of Education’s Spencer 2015 Dissertation Fellowship.

“Veronica was a remarkable graduate student who, over the last six years, has become a colleague,” Wyckoff said. “She has been indispensable as we built the infrastructure to support our work with policymakers in District of Columbia Public Schools. She has written a great dissertation that is informing the academic literature on teacher incentives and teacher retention and the work of policymakers in D.C.,” he said.

Originally from Corvallis, Oregon, Katz had this to say when asked to name one thing she learned here that surprised her: “Charlottesville might be the perfect place to live,” she said.

It is no surprise, then, that Katz has decided to stay in Charlottesville and will begin her role as a post-doctoral research associate with EdPolicyWorks and the Curry School’s Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education upon graduation.

(Editor’s note: This is one of a series of profiles of members of the University of Virginia’s Class of 2017.)

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