U.Va. Center Hosts Policymakers at Inaugural Symposium with Focus on Future of Education

October 18, 2010 — A symposium on education policy held at the University of Virginia brought together researchers, faculty and senior policymakers from across the state to discuss the future of education.

The Center on Education Policy and Workforce Competitiveness, a collaboration between U.Va.'s Curry School of Education and its Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, hosted its inaugural event on Oct. 14.

"One of the goals of the center is to nurture the interactions of researchers and policymakers to improve the quality of evidence-based policy," said Jim Wyckoff, director of the center and a professor of education nationally known for his research on the impact of teachers on pupil learning. "Today's symposium was very successful in developing the basis for those collaborations."

John Easton, director of the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education, gave the keynote address. He emphasized the criteria for new areas of the institute's research funding, to include partnerships between researchers and one or more state departments of education, school districts or schools. He described qualities of good education researchers, including researchers who understand district, school and classroom settings and researchers who can communicate the results of their work that makes it accessible to the varied audiences in education: teachers, administrators, curriculum-writers and policymakers.

"This inaugural symposium was an opportunity to deepen the partnership between the Virginia policymakers, Curry and Batten in the interest of advancing effective education policy in the commonwealth and beyond," Curry School Dean Bob Pianta said. "To have senior policymakers from the state and districts together with faculty and students was a tremendous opportunity for useful exchange and planning.

"The day was a tremendous success and establishes a strong foundation for our contribution to efforts to improve education from preschool through college in Virginia."

Patricia Wright, Virginia's superintendent of public instruction, and R. Edward Houck, chair of the Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee, were among speakers at the symposium.

The conference was attended by senior policy and research advisers from Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's office, senior officials from the Virginia Department of Education, the superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools, and a senior official from the Virginia Community College System, as well as U.Va. faculty members, researchers and doctoral students.

"It was particularly gratifying to see that this center is deliberately interdisciplinary in nature, drawing together faculty from the Curry School, the Batten School, the Law School and the departments of sociology and economics to study issues related to education and workforce competitiveness. Only through this kind of cross-school, interdisciplinary approach can we hope to create the most insightful analysis and effective policies regarding these critically important issues," said Batten School Dean Harry Harding.

"The insight from the symposium provided extremely valuable insights about how to conduct research that will be relevant to educational leaders and educational policymakers. Our research needs to address pressing issues, present rigorous analysis and be presented in a way that can easily be understood and put into practice by educators and policymakers."

The center's research agenda will initially focus on three areas:
•    Increasing the availability and quality of early childhood education across the U.S.
•    Enhancing teaching effectiveness by improving teacher preparation, recruitment, compensation and accountability.
•    Improving the quality of the American workforce by increasing collegiate attainment, particularly among low-income families and underrepresented minority groups.

Sarah Turner, University Professor of Education and Economics, serves as the center's associate director. Several other U.Va. faculty members study issues that will be addressed by the center.

Following the symposium, Wyckoff said, "I am very excited about the ways the center can continue this momentum. From many perspectives, it is an opportune time for education policy researchers in Virginia to be partnering with policymakers to improve educational outcomes for all of Virginia's students."