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Professor Awarded Grant to Study States' Education Policymaking Process

By Amy Matzke-Fawcett

As a child, Rachel White remembers sitting at the dinner table, listening to adults talk about local school issues. Her father, a longtime school board member in their Michigan town, always opened their doors to principals, superintendents and other administrators who wanted to talk about their ideas and concerns.

"I didn't realize that I was exposed to these school policy conversations at such a young age until later in life," said White, an assistant professor in educational foundations and leadership at Old Dominion University.

That early introduction, and passion to improve education through local and state policy, helped shape White's research throughout her schooling and in her first year as a professor at ODU. White has received a $47,000 Spencer Foundation award to conduct a national survey of school district superintendents and interview district leaders to learn their level of understanding of and engagement in the state education policymaking process, and the factors that may cause them to engage (or not engage) in the process.

"I'm coming at this from the perspective that school leaders are uniquely positioned to understand the issues students and educators face in public schools," White said. "These leaders have a responsibility to create equitable educational experiences for their students, and one avenue through which they can do this is through their engagement in the state education policymaking process."

She's particularly interested in district leaders' engagement with state policymakers on issues related to traditionally marginalized populations, like low-income students, non-English speakers. She wants to know how district leaders' interactions with state policymakers may help create more equitable educational policies even beyond their schools.

The work builds on White's dissertation at Michigan State University, which looked at many of the same issues, including understanding the backgrounds and experiences of state policymakers, as well as the voices they value.

White also has received a Summer Research Fellowship Program award from the University, to be completed this summer. This project focuses on how state policymakers' approaches to making education policies vary by their gender and race. Both projects will inform howeducators school[MAE1] [WR2] and district leaders communicate and engage with state policymakers, she said.

"The research is really trying to unpack that state policymaking process for those at the local level, and help policymakers and practitioners collaborate with each other," she said. "So often, people talk about the gap between eitherresearch and practice orpolicy and practice, as if it is a two-way street; I see it more as a traffic circle and am focused on working to improve the flow in the circle by simultaneously narrowing the gap between research, policy and practice."

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