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, as well as 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 of it. Our setting in 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 world.

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

Program Curriculum

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 policymaking process in education. Through placements with educational reform organizations, local public and charter boards, federal government offices, teachers unions, child parent advocacy organizations, and more, students will gain a hands-on view of the 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. Throughout the year, 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.
This course will examine the nature of educational organizations – public and private – in the US 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 – paying close attention to how issues of race and class inequities in political representation translate into disparities of educational opportunity.
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, and comparative models of educational practices, we will stress the ability to analyze, critique, and evaluate the literature on “what works” in education and 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.
This course examines carefully the growth of standards, accountability, and assessment in the US context and examines its effects on student learning and outcomes. Throughout this course, students will explore the nature of the black-white and poor-affluent test score gaps; how to define proficiency and issues of validity and reliability in standardized assessment,; the role of formative and summative assessment in instructional practice and their relationship to assessment outcomes for accountability purposes; alternative forms of assessment, such as portfolios, performance-based assessments, and self-assessment; and the politics of testing and its relationship with the purposes of education.
This course will examine the local-state-federal relationship in US 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.