Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

My Life as a Researcher and a Candidate

By Guest Blogger — November 29, 2019 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Taking over the guest blog this week is Andy Saultz, an assistant professor and the director of the Ph.D. in Education and Leadership Program at Pacific University. He is currently running for the Oregan state legislature and was previously a social studies teacher. This week, Andy will be discussing how education policy has shifted in Oregon and why that matters, and how we should expand the scope of what we mean by “education policy.”

I have spent the last decade as a researcher studying educational policy and politics with the goal of improving our system. For the past six months, I have also been a candidate for the Oregon state legislature. I have learned a lot balancing these two roles as I spend my days engaged with literature reviews and methodological detail and my weekends knocking on doors talking with voters. More than anything, it has shed light onto a few blind spots I had as a researcher and how lived experiences of families in the school system are not well represented in the academic discourse.

Class size

The research community is fixated on effect sizes, causality, and complex models. While these help us understand the statistical relationships between variables, they do not always represent individual experiences. The research community too often treats class size as one of many variables to consider. In my conversations as a candidate, class size frequently becomes a symbol of an environment where teachers are able to get to know all the students.

Consider a story I heard the other day from a neighbor with a daughter in kindergarten. My neighbor went to her first parent/teacher conference and was surprised when the teacher told her that her daughter was disruptive, distracted, and rude. My friend, the mother, was horrified. After talking with her husband, and calling the teacher the next week, they found out that the teacher was talking about the other kid in the class with the same name. Her takeaway, class sizes were too big and did not allow the teacher to get to know her daughter.

I hear a lot about class size on the campaign trail, and my sense is that a lot of Oregonians equate class size with the quality of education. To them, class-size impact on test scores misses the point that they want to know their child has a personal connection with her teacher.

Money

I live in northwest Portland, Oregon, in a district that is known for its commitment to public education. Voters proudly tout that they always support the schools and opine that teachers are underpaid. On the campaign trail, I have heard a lot of folks say things like, “We always vote for school bonds but wonder what we get for the additional money.” Voters want to support a cause they feel good about. But increasingly, they also want to see some return for an additional investment. One neighbor I was talking with the other day said, “I always vote for more money for schools, because public education is so important. I just wish I saw something in return for that extra money.” While researchers focus on how money relates to specific student outcomes, many voters just want more information. Too often the state or local government asks voters to invest in public education without following up about how that money was spent to improve schools, student performance, or teacher pay.

An issue of scale

The biggest difference between running for office and researching educational policy is the scale at which the conversations take place. In educational policy-research circles, people tend to focus on systems, districts, or schools. The idea is to think about what creates positive effects and how we can replicate those efforts. Variables are placed in relation to one another. Researchers consider the marginal return of investment when deciding how to proceed.

But parents rarely think in those terms. Instead, they think about their child(ren) and their experience in schools. Parents do not care what the research says if their child cannot read. They do not care that the new standards work on average; they want it to work for their little one. The researcher is trained to resist the anecdote, while a single story is the most powerful thing to a concerned parent.

Researchers can help people understand what others are going through, so they can support initiatives that do not directly help them or their children. They can articulate relative costs and benefits and help communities navigate finite resources. Effective leadership is about listening to individual stories and helping the community come together to use limited resources in a way that best serves all students. Combining these two critical perspective is essential to building a more equitable system.

— Andy Saultz

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP
Education FDA: ‘Very, Very Hopeful’ COVID Shots Will Be Ready for Younger Kids This Year
Dr. Peter Marks said he is hopeful that COVID-19 vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds will be underway by year’s end. Maybe sooner.
4 min read
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021. On Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, Marks urged parents to be patient, saying the agency will rapidly evaluate vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds as soon as it gets the needed data.
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021.
Jim Lo Scalzo/AP