It’s a pretty ideal time to be a graduate student in education policy in Nashville. When I first arrived at Peabody for my Master’s in Public Policy degree, I was fresh out of teaching in a Hong Kong classroom. It was Peabody that had brought me back to my hometown of Nashville, but I didn’t anticipate at the time that my new experiences here would prove just as expansive as those of my life abroad.
I began as a graduate assistant for Tom Ward, now of the Oasis Center, on his two longstanding Vanderbilt programs—the Principals’ Leadership Academy of Nashville (PLAN), and the Educational Leadership Learning Exchange (ELLE). My second semester at Peabody, I supplemented this work with an internship at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC). Come summer time, I joined the Department of Education’s First to the Top Fellowship team, working under Emily Barton’s Curriculum and Instruction division to assist in the tough work of Common Core implementation. I came away with some valuable perspectives from those settings—namely, an appreciation of the role of government in stewarding the public good. It’s true that the real impact of education reform happens in the classroom, where great teachers can do what they do best: challenge and grow students no matter where they start. But what I learned at the state was it takes a strong system of support to ensure that educators have the resources they need to do their jobs right. I’m encouraged by the talent and commitment I see from leaders in the public sector now, especially from young people, who have dedicated themselves to making schools better for kids.
Desiring another perspective, however, I joined SCORE in the fall with the intent to learn how non-profit organizations fit into the reform landscape. SCORE’s mission to educate the public about reform initiatives in the state is important work because it seeks to bridge the specialized, often insulated world of education professionals with the lives of Tennesseeans not directly connected to schools, state agencies, or universities. Through work on the SCORE Prize—our annual award given to the elementary, middle, high school, and district demonstrating the most growth in student achievement—I get to see what’s frequently left out of the reform conversation: those schools, teachers, and students who are leading the pack in improvement across the state. In addition, I’ve been able to do what I love best: write about topics I’m passionate about, like educational technologies and school choice.
Most importantly, in my year and a half in graduate school, I’ve learned that no change happens overnight, and it takes a lot of industrious people to make reform a reality. Often times, I believe we in education invent artificial schisms between us—between teachers and the state, between the state and the academy, between unions and reformers. The truth is, there are many people involved in the demanding work of education reform, and each plays an important role in our common mission to improve learning environments for kids. As tangled as it is, I love being in the middle of it all. I’m considering just hanging around for a few more years, a few credits shy of graduation…it’s not a bad gig, holing up in the epicenter of ed reform.
SCORE is currently recruiting Graduate Fellows for the spring semester. If you are interested in learning more or applying for a SCORE Graduate Fellowship, click here. Applications for the spring semester are due by December 8. To apply, please submit your resume, cover letter, and a 3-5 page writing sample that provides analysis of a contemporary issue in education policy, along with a set of policy recommendations. Applications should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you.