In the 2018-2019 academic year, the Department of Educational Leadership will be highlighting a new RESEARCH series where we take a deeper look at our programs and researchers to learn more about the work they are doing, what excites them, and how these larger issues relate to their professional careers within the Neag School of Education.
“Reform to me means real, fundamental change,” responded Department of Educational Leadership Professor, Dr. Casey Cobb, when asked about what reform meant to him. He explains the idea that true reform is radical, but “school reform” has been ongoing for the past four decades - meaning we have not gotten it right yet.
Dr. Cobb’s research pushes the education reformers, or those responsible for education reform, to consider the larger sociopolitical, health and economic conditions under which schools operate to ignite real change and improve educational outcomes. In his research, he examines the distribution of resources related to child development across metropolitan Hartford. While school choice programs brought on by the Sheff v. O’Neill case in 1996 have been in place for over 20 years, the greater Hartford area remains one of the most racially and economically segregated regions in the United States.
Specifically, his research uses geospatial techniques to explore housing, economic, health, and educational indicators in Hartford’s Sheff region. While his study is not designed to confer causal relationships, it does offer a social epidemiological case study that policy makers can learn from. Results demonstrate gross inequalities on a variety of key indicators related to child development, including housing and property resources, health outcomes and accessibility, and household income. These findings are significant as they reveal structural inequalities in the relatively small geographic area, which is reflective of similar inequalities in the educational experiences of students in the area.
The use of geospatial techniques to study educational issues and child development is relatively new. The method uses several sources of data more commonly used in Public Health and Economics. This new perspective adds to educational policy reform in a number of ways as it offers a more holistic account of the conditions under which schools operate in more and less advantaged communities. Additionally, the results are presented in multilayered maps, which communicates data in real and specific contexts for a more meaningful impact.
Oftentimes, school reform policies limit their focus to just schools; however, Dr. Cobb’s research tackles inequalities outside of the scholastic environment. This research not only offers insight to scholars in the education space, but it is a successful example of interdisciplinary and inter-modal research that can be used by those in different fields of study as well.
What intrigues Dr. Cobb most about this research is how the mapping data convey powerful messages that can lead to fresh conversations about how best to reform schools and the communities in which they reside. The maps bridge economic, health, housing and education data that are typically looked at in isolation.
“I think we are all unique as researchers because we each bring different knowledge bases, world views, and analytic skills to bear on educational problems. I examine policies with an eye toward their implications for equity and fairness.”
-Dr. Cobb, on his research focus and the importance of diversity among researchers
Dr. Cobb is a professor with the Department of Educational Leadership, whose research focuses on school choice, accountability, and school reform, where he examines the implications for equity and educational opportunity. He holds an A.B. in Economics from Harvard University, an M.S. in Educational Leadership from the University of Maine and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from Arizona State University. He is one of the many professors in the department who is using research to challenge current ideas, develop a broader perspective and create actionable reform.
Written by: Meghan Farrell, October 2018
“Engaged scholarship, as I conceptualize it, takes time and dedication. It is about building relationships and confianza (trust) with community members. It is about working in solidarity alongside community members. It is about co-constructing knowledge with communities. It is about viewing scholarship as an act of resistance,” describes Dr. Erica Fernández on the challenge of using scholarship as a form of engagement. A challenge, that Dr. Fernández demonstrates a strong commitment to—promoting school justice and equity through her research.
One of her current research projects, in collaboration with Dr. Michele Femc-Bagwell, employs photovoice to understand the parental engagement experiences of Parents of Color, specifically undocumented Latinx immigrant parents, in urban schools in Connecticut. Photovoice is a qualitative research method in which community participants use pictures to identify and represent issues that are important to them. Dr. Fernández and Dr. Femc-Bagwell provided access to cameras for the parents in the study to capture visual representations of how they conceptualize acts of parental engagement in their kids’ schools. The research is currently established in two urban schools in the state with plans to expand. They are also planning on integrating teacher and administrator perceptions of parental engagement to form a comprehensive narrative analysis.
Dr. Fernández’s work goes beyond the traditional role of a researcher as she engages and works alongside Parents of Color. She does not just “study” Parents of Color, she works directly with them to make research decisions including design, analysis and the presentation of findings. Through this process, she is able to give study participants a role in the co-construction of knowledge and a voice in the issues directly affecting them.
“By centering the schooling engagement experiences of People and Communities of Color, I provide counternarratives that disrupt and refute harmful deficit ideologies that perpetuate inequities in and around schools.” - Dr. Fernández on her goals of fighting systematic oppression and furthering educational equity through research
This work is particularly meaningful for Dr. Fernández as her parents were undocumented Mexican immigrants. This personal connection to her work has served as a source of motivation and inspiration, driving her to empower and broaden opportunities for Spanish-speaking Latinx immigrant parents through her research. However, her motivation for this area of research is not only because it is familiar, but also because the experiences of undocumented Latinx immigrant parents are historically underreported in academic literature. By amplifying their narratives, she is able to humanize their existence and advocate on their behalf – demonstrating a steadfast commitment to social justice in the face of current anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States.
Over the past eight years, Dr. Fernández has added to larger conversations surrounding educational equity, presenting her work at conferences such as the University Council of Educational Administrators (UCEA), the American Education Research Association (AERA), and the Critical Race Studies in Education Association (CRSEA) conference. However, with her current research, she is taking engagement to the next level as she presented alongside some of the undocumented Latinx parents that she has worked with at a national conference. By engaging with Parents of Color, she is able to leverage resources to parents, giving them a channel in which to tell their story and influence policymakers. Community-engaged research is not only disrupting traditional notions of scholarship, its authenticity is inspirational. The Department of Educational Leadership is incredibly grateful to have faculty like Dr. Fernández, who show an immense passion and dedication to their work and the communities that their work serves.
Written by: Meghan Farrell, November 2018
Women currently represent almost 77% of the teaching workforce. And yet, only about 50% of principals are women (2014), and less than a quarter of school district superintendents are female. Moreover, this is true despite the fact, according to research by Brunner and Kim in 2010, female superintendents tend to be, on average, more prepared for the role than their male counterparts.
The frequent tendency towards grooming and selecting white males for leadership positions over their female and minority counterparts is reflective of larger systemic racism and sexism still present in our society. While most of the behaviors limiting the opportunities of women in educational leadership are subtle and ambiguous—they are discriminatory and harmful nonetheless.
In the fall of 2018, the Connecticut Association of Public School Principals (CAPSS) and the Department of Educational Leadership’s Drs. Laura Burton and Jennie Weiner kicked off the “Women in the Central Office” seminar series, which explores some of the underlying factors of how gender bias and discrimination impact women leaders. Most recently was a session focused on “workplace incivility” and the elements that may contribute to it, including why women experience more uncivil behaviors than men and why women may perpetuate or be perceived to perpetuate uncivil behavior towards other women. Acting as a safe space for female leaders to gather and discuss the ways their social identities shape their beliefs and experiences in their roles and the world at large, these workshops aim to address ways to combat gender bias as well as other forms of discrimination from an individual and organizational perspective.
“We name gender bias and other forms of discrimination (i.e., social identities) to move away from blaming women or asking them to change themselves or their behaviors to fit better with unfair expectations and norms. Instead, we orient our conversations towards helping women leaders to live and lead authentically and in ways true to their values.”
-Drs. Laura Burton and Jennie Weiner
The seminar approach enables participants, comprised of current and aspiring women superintendents, assistant superintendents and other district-level administrators, to make their voices heard on issues directly affecting them and their careers. Discussions in the first installment of the series included networking, incivility at work, and gender and race-based discrimination in the role. In upcoming seminars, these discussions will extend to issues of work-life interface and the expectations put on working women to “do it all.”
The purpose of the series is to bring focus and voice to the special and unique experiences of women in educational leadership—experiences shaped by social identity.
Additionally, in the series, participants have the opportunity to challenge institutional bias, network with women leaders across Connecticut, learn skills and strategies to enhance their effectiveness as a female leader, and enlighten others around issues of work culture and improvement.
Research is the cornerstone of the seminar series—both Drs. Burton and Weiner bring together expertise on women in leadership in sport and organizational change, respectively. Together, they have built a collaborative research agenda to explore how gender and racial bias impacts opportunity and experience in education. More specifically, recently together they looked at how the construction of turnaround leadership and school leadership tends to favor white male professionals by analyzing experiences in turnaround principal preparation programs. In this research, they found that women were often subject to gender bias concerning their leadership approach and acumen. Moreover, they found little discussion or awareness of the effects of gender bias in school leadership. Consequently, this silence caused the women to blame themselves regarding others’ negative feedback, diminishing their sense of efficacy or opportunity in leadership roles.
Most recently, Drs. Burton and Weiner worked with Learning, Leadership, and Education Policy (LLEP) doctoral student, Daron Cyr, on research funded by the Obama Administration's Initiative on Women and Girls of Color to explore the impacts of leadership preparation programs’ failure to discuss issues of social identity. The research focuses primarily on perpetuated microaggressions towards black female participants, highlighting a need for educational institutions to tackle issues of racism and sexism plaguing career advancement in education.
Combating the silence, their research paired with these workshops empower women to engage in deep conversation about their collective and unique experiences, and afford them the opportunity to strategize enhancements to the experiences of women in educational leadership.
Drs. Burton and Weiner are proud of the success of the series thus far, and look forward to the upcoming seminars on January 11, March 15 and May 3, 2019. For more information please visit the CAPSS website.
Written by: Meghan Farrell, December 2018