Looking Back at CEPA’s Success with 2016-2017 Speaker Series

On April 20, the Center for Educational Policy Analysis hosted Dr. Ebony Bridwell-Mitchell of Harvard Graduate School of Education for it’s ninth and final CEPA Speaker Series event for the 2016-2017 school year. Dr. Bridwell-Mitchell’s presentation titled, “Them That’s Got: How Tie Formation in Partnership Networks Gives High Schools Differential Access to Social Capital” examined partnership formation among 211 New York City public high schools and 1,098 partner organizations from 1999 to 2005 and marked a strong end to the speaker series.Morgaen Donaldson at recent CEPA event

The Speaker Series is an effort to expose UConn students and faculty to diversified research content, and engage them in conversations about it. It drew distinguished policy researchers from around the country to present to audiences that included students, faculty from Neag and other UCONN schools and departments, administrators, and K-12 educators. CEPA collaborated with different partners to make these events possible, including the Department of Economics and El Instituto.

Bridwell-Mitchell’s presentation discussed how school partnerships are important sources of social capital as well as how some schools see unequal access to this social capital as a result of multiple patterns in the school-partner network that deter partnership formation for disadvantaged schools. It was an extremely engaging presentation as she encouraged questions, and then lead discussion on how this research could be expanded in the future, thus fostering critical thought.

This type of immerse thought-provoking conversation was not unique to this event, but instead characteristic of all nine CEPA Speaker Series events as they exposed students and faculty to research and ideas from a diverse group of notable academics within and outside the University of Connecticut.

The series kicked off with a presentation on September 27, 2016 from Peter Youngs of the Curry School of Education at University of Virginia’s presentation titled, “The Role of Social Context In Novice Teacher Development.”  Next, Dr. Amy Ellen Schwartz,  a specialist in public and urban economics as well as economics of education, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan Chair in Public Affairs at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University,  presented on the influences that universal free meals have on student outcomes as it reduced the stigmas associated with free meals and encouraged participation.

Before the winter break, CEPA hosted John Papay of Brown University and Sean Corcoran of the Steinhardt School of New York University. Papay discussed the context of Massachusetts as one of the highest performing school systems and the effectiveness of turnaround strategies for their lower performing schools, and Corcoran presented “Leveling the Playing Field for High School Choice Through Decision Supports: A Randomized Intervention Study.”

Returning from break with two February events, the Center for Educational Policy Analysis continued on strong with the Speaker Series as Dania Francis of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst tackled issues of gender and race bias in school counselor recommendations for advanced coursework, and UConn’s own Jorge M. Agüero looked beyond the national scope and presented research on the expansion of the school day in Peru, as it relates to school quality and behavioral responses.

3 audience members at CEPA Speaker Series in November 2016Other events in the spring included an evaluation of READY4K!, a text messaging intervention program for parents of preschoolers that aimed to engage parenting and increased parental involvement and therefore early literacy skills, from Susanna Loeb, Barnett Family Professor of Education at Stanford, and a student-faculty discussion on the influences of race and gender on teaching and learning in tertiary education lead by Dr. Ana M. Martínez Alemán, associate dean for faculty and professor of the Educational Leadership and Higher Education Department at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education.

These highly engaging events, as well as the diversified content as CEPA hosted speakers specializing in all levels of education from pre-K to higher education created an opportunity for students and faculty to involve themselves in research and ideas from sources they probably would not have connected with otherwise. Morgaen Donaldson, Director for the Center for Educational Policy Analysis, commented that,

“The speaker series is meant to bring together faculty, students, and others who are interested about education policy research. Our hope is that these sessions stimulate conversations and ultimately lay the foundation for future collaborations within and outside Neag.”

The 2016-2017 CEPA Speaker Series has surely accomplished this goal, and the Department of Educational Leadership extends a thank you and a job well done to the Center for Educational Policy Analysis, all those who helped fund and run the events, and the excellent speakers for sharing their research. CEPA’s Shaun Dougherty and Morgaen Donaldson, led the effort to create this series, but it’s success is a product of the CEPA affiliates as a group.

Although CEPA has wrapped up the events for this year, the Center for Educational Policy Analysis will be continuing the Speaker Series into the 2017-2018 school year as it really connected students and faculty across the Neag School of Education, and the University more broadly.

For a full recap, please visit the Neag School's website for further information.

CEPA Speaker Series

Upcoming Speakers

Amy Schwartz, Syracuse, The Maxwell School

October 25, 2016


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John Papay, Brown University, Assistant Professor of Education and Economics

November 9, 2016


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Title: The Effects of School Turnaround Strategies in Massachusetts

Bio: John Papay is an Assistant Professor of Education and Economics at Brown University. His research focuses on teacher policy, the economics of education, and teacher labor markets. He has published on teacher value-added models, teacher evaluation, high-stakes testing, teacher compensation, and program evaluation methodology. He has served as a Research Affiliate with the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers and a Doctoral Fellow at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard. A former high school history teacher, he earned his doctorate in Quantitative Policy Analysis from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Sean Corcoran, New York University, Associate Professor of Educational Economics

December 7, 2016


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Sean P. Corcoran is Associate Professor of Educational Economics at NYU Steinhardt, affiliated faculty of the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and associate director of NYU’s Institute for Education and Social Policy (IESP). Dr. Corcoran earned his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 2003. Previously, he was an Assistant Professor of Economics at California State University, Sacramento (2003-2005) and a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation (2005-2006). In 2012-13 he was a visitor at the Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) at Stanford University.

Dr. Corcoran’s research interests are in the Economics of Education, State and Local Public Finance, and Applied Microeconomics. His published papers have examined long-run trends in teacher quality, the impact of income inequality and school finance reform on the level and equity of education funding in the United States, the properties of “value-added” measures of teacher effectiveness, and the high school choices of middle school students in New York City. Together with colleagues at NYU, Columbia, and Seton Hall University, he is conducting one of the largest randomized control trials of information supports for school choice ever conducted.

Dr. Corcoran serves on the editorial boards of the journals Education Finance and Policy and Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, and is a former member of the board of directors of the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) and the research committee for the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

Past Speakers

Dr. Peter Young, Associate Professor University of Virginia, Curry School of Education

The Role of Social Context in Novice Teacher Development
September 27th, 2016

Speaker video (youtube link)

PowerPoint Slides (PDF)


Dr. Peter Goff to Present on Labor Markets for School Leadership

Peter Goff pic

Selection, Distributional Equity, & School Leadership:

An Exploration of Labor Market Preferences

PresenterPeter Goff, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, University of Wisconsin—Madison

February 11, 2016


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Abstract: School leaders are a cornerstone of effective schools, yet we increasingly observe that high-needs schools are led by principals with fewer years of experience and education. Relative to teachers, principals are also disproportionately white and male. What are the mechanisms driving these distributional tendencies? What policy solutions are likely to resolve them? One limitation of existing research on labor markets is the common omission of the selection dynamics that occur as individuals select organizations and are in turn selected by these organizations for employment. This talk presents initial findings from three studies that use application data from over 300 Wisconsin districts to explore the nature of school leadership and the selection preferences of school leaders. The first and second studies analyze applicants’ professional statements via correlated topic modeling and automated text mining. What proportion of leadership candidates are instructional leaders? What proportion focuses on managerial leadership? Which types of leaders are most likely to apply to high-needs vacancies? These and other questions are presented in the findings of the first and second studies. The third study explores claims of gender and racial bias in the leadership labor market, finding that gender asymmetries in leadership relative to teaching are largely a function of application preferences of the labor supply. Avenues for future research and policy implications will be discussed.


Interactive Online Book Presentation from Dr. Jack Dougherty

Dr. Jack Dougherty, an Associate Professor of Educational Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, recently presented materials from an ongoing collaboration with UConn scholars, Michael Howser and Clarissa Ceglio. Dr. Dougherty and colleagues sparked a series of conversations about segregation and schooling based on a new interactive book, On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and Its Suburbs. This book-in-progress explores how schooling and housing boundaries have shaped metropolitan Hartford over the past century, and the struggles of families and activists to cross over, redraw, or erase these powerful dividing lines.

To share this story with broader audiences, Dr. Dougherty and contributors have created an open-access scholarly book, including interactive maps and oral history videos. You can explore these materials online for free at On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and Its Suburbs. The book is an excellent example of how to present scholarly arguments in ways that are engaging for multiple audiences within and beyond academia. Dr. Dougherty’s own website also includes a wide range of resources for anyone exploring or teaching courses related to education reform and inequality.

State Rep. Fleischmann Visits Neag



The Neag School of Education’s Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) hosted “A CoState Rep. Fleischmannnversation with Representative Andy Fleischmann” this past November at the Storrs campus. As the chairman of the Education Committee of the Connecticut State Assembly, State Rep. Fleischmann (West Hartford) spoke about the future of education in Connecticut schools and how education policy research could better inform policy making in Hartford and beyond.

Hosted by CEPA, this was the first time Fleischmann was invited to the Neag School of Education since he assumed office in 1995. As a major advocate for children and education, Fleischmann has worked on the state and national levels to help ensure that children are receiving the highest quality of education through research and policy implementation.

“One of the things that I would love to come out of this dialogue would be ideas, research, facts, and concepts about what Connecticut can do to make sure it has the most effective teachers, most effective principals, and the most effective superintendents,” Fleischmann said at the event.

“Neag is really trying to jump-start into being the center of policy analysis, and we want to move it into a new realm of influence,” says Morgaen Donaldson, Neag associate professor of educational leadership and the director of CEPA, which works with educational leaders and policymakers on issues related to the development, implementation, and consequences of education policies. “Fleischmann is one of the most influential policymakers in the state. To us, inviting him was a clear choice,” she says.

Ensuring Academic Excellence

Faculty from Neag and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as well as local citizens, current undergraduate and graduate UConn students, and even area high school students visiting the University filled the seats.

Fleischmann spoke at length about developments following the midterm elections and how they will impact schools. He said that it is important for educational researchers to conduct relevant research to support policy changes and new initiatives. Given the recent federal level and statewide elections, he also questioned how policymakers will implement the new actions based on the educational research available.

Fleischmann said that, since 1995, Connecticut has put excessive amounts of money into school readiness programs across the state without conducting any longitudinal studies to gauge the effectiveness of these programs. He said that there should be more communication and more partnering to achieve that success.

“Ideally, we should get new people in the room and have the right type of data collected for longitudinal study designs. This way, we won’t continue to wonder, ‘Gee, how did it go?’ but rather, we will be proactive about these studies,” Fleischmann said.

Given the strong connection between education and politics, Fleischmann emphasized that research from schools such as UConn is essential to policymaking in Hartford. If teachers wanted to see something changed in the classroom, it would first have to begin with some kind of research to show why changes need to be made, he said.

“The No. 1 factor for a student excelling is the quality of the teacher; the second is the school leader. Wouldn’t it be neat for us to figure how to implement the best policies to ensure academic excellence?” Fleischmann said.

CEPA plans on having other key figures come to the Neag School for further discussion on education research and policymaking. In the upcoming semester, Donaldson says she hopes to invite other state representatives as well as members of the Connecticut Education Association, Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, and similar groups.

“I hope that by bringing in researchers to talk to us about their research on policy creation and implementation, it will foster a community of like-minded individuals who can make a change,” Donaldson says.


A Report Card on Teacher Evaluation


Nicole LaPierre works with students in a classroom during her student teaching practice.

Nicole LaPierre ’11 (ED), ’12 MA, works with students in a classroom during her student teaching practice. Pierre is now an elementary teacher at Cider Hill School in Wilton, Conn. (Paul Horton for UConn)

A recent report by UConn education researchers on Connecticut’s new System for Educator Evaluation and Development (SEED) has the potential to impact every public school student in the state.

“Teachers have been identified as the No. 1 school-level influence on students’ achievement,” says Morgaen Donaldson, assistant professor of educational leadership in the Neag School of Education. “That means for students to score high and reach their full potential, teachers need to score high and work to reach their full potential. So for parents, grandparents, and anyone connected with a child, our work evaluating the SEED program is helping ensure students get the high-quality teachers they need to succeed.”

“For students to score high and reach their full potential, teachers need to score high and work to reach their full potential.”

Mandated by the state General Assembly as part of aggressive legislation passed in 2012 to improve the quality of state schools and raise student achievement scores, the study was conducted by Donaldson and six other researchers from the Neag School’s Center for Education Policy Analysis. Among other results, it concludes that with additional administrative support and better-executed implementation, the SEED model has the potential for “even greater gains.”

Although teacher unions have criticized SEED for basing close to half of a teacher’s performance evaluation on their students’ performance, data gathered from the 14 school districts piloting the evaluation system during 2012-13 show that changes in mindset and practice are essential to the kind of teacher growth and improvement SEED was designed to achieve. These changes include:

  • Teachers spending more time on self-assessment and goal-setting;
  • Teachers more carefully considering how to best meet the individual needs and challenges of current students;
  • Principals and other administrators conducting more frequent classroom visits to observe teachers at work.

More than half of participating teachers and administrators rated their post-observation conferences to be “valuable” or “very valuable.” For both groups, however, the time needed to prepare and take part in rigorous observations, develop lesson plans tailored to individual students, and fulfill other SEED requirements was an issue. In addition, the time and funds required for much-needed professional development were cited in the report as an ongoing challenge.

Improvements recommended by Neag researchers include increased opportunities for teachers to learn about SEED; programs to build the skills and abilities of teacher evaluators; help with teacher goals setting; and a system for the state to continue to track and improve the program.

Additional resources needed

“I think it’s clear from our report that most districts will need added resources to carry out SEED, because even in districts with significant resources, teachers and administrators can be spread thin,” says Donaldson. “But the fact that behaviors were changing because of SEED is small but important evidence that shows what SEED can do. It’s going to be hard for educators to perform all that SEED expects without the necessary resources. But if those resources are made available, the impact on K-12 students can be huge. Better teacher performance will mean better student performance.”

While responses to the Neag researchers’ findings from education officials like American Federation of Teachers Connecticut President Melodie Peters have been cautiously neutral, Bridgeport Education Association President Gary Peluchette told the Connecticut Post his concern is that SEED focuses more on “chasing a test score than best practices.”

However, Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor told the Hartford Courant that the Neag report gives “added confidence that the system has the potential to improve instruction for our students, and that the state can make implementation even better through continued and improved supports provided to teachers, schools, and districts. The fact that Neag researchers find there is potential for this system to lead to improvement in both teacher practice and student learning is profoundly important.”

Although many school districts are still figuring out how best to implement it, the SEED model went statewide at the start of the 2013-14 school year. Its process calls for teachers to be rated on a four-step scale as “exemplary,” “proficient,” “developing,” or “below standard.” In the pilot districts, 73 percent of teachers met criteria for “proficient” and 23 percent for “exemplary.”

The fact that Connecticut now has consistent, statewide evaluation standards for all public school teachers is one of the model’s biggest pluses, Donaldson says: “Between SEED and the introduction of the Common Core [State Standards], our school systems are going through huge, unprecedented changes. But if carried out well, the result of these ambitious reforms could be young people who are better educated and more skilled, and that really could make a difference in the future of our state, country, and world.”

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