The Advocacy and Policy Concentration

Advocacy & policy engages communities, citizens, the political world, and the policy dynamics that construct our schools and educational systems. By understanding how policy can support and advance learning, and the obstacles and opportunities to transforming both the policies and structures of education, students are empowered to engage in the kind of work outside the classroom that is needed to ensure a vibrant education inside the classroom. Our setting in Washington, DC — the seat of national policymaking and the site of deep educational challenges and opportunities — affords students a rich environment to engage in hands-on, experience driven study of the dynamics of the educational policy worlds.

The educational contexts of Washington, DC are complex and too often understood in isolation from each other.  Bringing together advocates, policy-makers, instructional leaders, and school officials, the MA in Educational Transformation enables students to learn from diverse perspectives and viewpoints.

Selected Courses

Residency I & II 

Students in this two-semester long course will be placed in a policy-relevant field experience in order to gain an experiential perspective on the nature of educational advocacy and/or the policy-making process in education. Through their field placements, students will gain a hands-on view of mechanics of interest representation and mobilization, efforts at agenda setting, the legislative process, rule-making, media relations, public awareness campaigns, and policy development and implementation. Field placements will range from educational reform organizations, Congressional committees or staff, U.S. Department of Education, charter schools, District of Columbia City Council, Mayor’s Office, DC Public Schools, higher education, teacher unions, children’s advocacy organizations, etc.  The coursework will connect students’ daily experiences with theoretical frameworks of organizational, policy and political change in order to highlight the challenges and opportunities of policy and advocacy work in the field of education.

Organizational Change in Education 

This course will examine the nature of educational organizations – public and private – in the United States and how change occurs within educational institutions, particularly schools and school districts. We will examine the theories of change associated with charter schools and privatization, strategies of interest group mobilization, community mobilization and agenda-setting within the political arena, as well as strategies of litigation and public messaging and media campaigns. We will also examine the school level factors that are necessary for reforms to take root and improve educational outcomes for children, particularly trust, teacher capacity and resource inputs into the system. We will also pay attention to how issues of race and class inequities in political representation translate into disparities of educational opportunity.

Educational Policy Analysis

This course will examine current debates within educational policy and focus on the development of student skills to evaluate research within the field of educational policy. Through examining issues such as charter schools and vouchers, standards and accountability, teacher education reforms, models of instruction for English learners and special needs students, class size reforms, as well as comparative models of educational practices, we will stress the ability to analyze, critique, and evaluate the literature on “what works” in education and to develop the skills of an astute policy analyst in education. Students will take this course concurrently with Residency I and use examples from their own field placement to sharpen their skills.

Accountability, Assessment & Evaluation

This course examines carefully the growth of standards, accountability, and assessment in the U.S. context and examines its effects on student learning and student outcomes. We will examine the nature of the black-white test score gap and the poor-affluent test score gap. We will explore how to define proficiency and issues of validity and reliability in standardized assessment. We will examine the role of formative and summative assessment in instructional practice and its relationship to assessment outcomes for accountability purposes. We will also explore alternative forms of assessment, such as portfolios, performance-based assessments, and self-assessment. Finally, we will examine the politics of testing and the relationship between testing and the purposes of education.

Intergovernmental Relations in Education 

This course will examine the local-state-federal relationship in U.S. education and the governance and policy mechanisms that seek to coordinate activities in what has been called a “loosely-coupled” system. We will explore, in depth, the nature of educational financing, funding formulas, the sources of inequality in educational spending and the effects – anticipated or unanticipated – of state and federal regulation of local districts. We will explore federal mandates to provide educational opportunities for students with special needs and English learners. The course also engages the nature of educational innovation within the federal structure of education and how top-down and bottom-up innovation intersects with educational inequality, and the linkages between local school districts and urban, suburban and state political structures. Finally, we will examine the role of the courts as both a regulator and innovator within intergovernmental relations.