School & District Management

For Joan Baratz Snowden, Who Died This Month, Teachers Were Key to Equity

By Sarah D. Sparks — April 28, 2020 2 min read
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Joan Baratz Snowden, the president of the Education Study Center and veteran education policy researcher, died April 27 at her home in Washington D.C., from cancer. She was 80.

Snowden’s work focused on improving educational opportunities for students of color and improving teacher quality, writing books on teacher preparation, teachers of color, and student social-emotional learning. She served as vice president for assessment and for policy at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and directed research and policy studies for ETS, the Educational Testing Service. Snowden also helped develop a “core curriculum” for training new teachers as part of a 2006 National Academy of Education group.

In a 2008 discussion, Snowden argued that researchers and policymakers focused too narrowly on teacher salary as the path to recruitment without thinking of teachers’ role in broader school improvement.

“Money alone will not get teachers to dysfunctional, disorderly poorly run and resourced schools,” she said. “Teachers value good leadership and the opportunity to collaborate with their colleagues.”

“Joan was this unique combination of intellect and street fighter,” said Drew Gitomer, an education chair at Rutgers Graduate School of Education, who worked with Snowden during her policy work for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the American Federation of Teachers. “When she dissected various policy arguments, it was always from the perspective of what this would mean for the ability of teachers to help all students, particularly those who the system did not give the support they deserved. She did it with empathy, passion, wit, and a searing intellect.”

Snowden also served for 13 years as deputy director and then director of educational issues for the American Federation of Teachers where she worked to professionalize the teaching profession and improve evidence-based teaching policies, said Jessica Smith, AFT’s chief of staff, in a statement.

“Joan helped bring professional issues into the field and build our affiliates’ understanding of the complexity of education reform and the roles that the union can play in improving schools and student achievement,” Smith said. “Joan brought out the best in her Ed Issues colleagues and grounded policy recommendations in knowledge of practice and solid analysis.”

Snowden is survived by her husband Conrad; children David, Sharon, and Jennifer; and six grandchildren.

Photo credit: David Baratz

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.

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