Public Education Policy Seminar and Practicum. Frequently Asked Questions

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1 Public Education Policy Seminar and Practicum Frequently Asked Questions Q: Why enroll in this course? A. The United States is undergoing a massive restructuring of public-sector service delivery. Nowhere are these changes more important and challenging than in public education. This unique, interdisciplinary, and multi-university course offering enables graduate students in education, law, management and business, and policy from Columbia, Dartmouth, Fordham, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, Vanderbilt, NYU, Michigan, Yale, Stanford, and other universities to immerse themselves in an intensive study of emerging and competing strategies for improving public school systems in the United States, and in compelling, highpriority research and consulting projects with important educational policy, legal, and management components. Students work with local and state departments of education, charter school organizations, school-support nonprofits, advocacy groups, social services agencies, foundations, and other publicand social-sector organizations committed to improving the educational outcomes and life chances of children. Q: What is the course? A. The program consists of three components 1) a seminar on improving the institutional and programmatic design, governance, regulation, management, and democratic accountability of public school systems; 2) skills training in research methods, qualitative and quantitative analysis, design thinking, difference and diversity, and a range of twenty-first century team-based problem-solving competencies; and 3) high-priority research and consulting projects on behalf of and often on-site with partner education organizations. Q: What kinds of students enroll in this course? A. The course attracts talented upper-level graduate students in education, law, management and business, and policy motivated by a passion for education and/or an interest in public- and social-sector and other forms of missionoriented consulting. In some cases, this focus has been cultivated through past professional experiences in the education field; in other cases, it is based on other formative academic, professional, or personal experiences. Many participants aspire to work after graduation in professional, management, consulting, academic, or policy roles focused on public education and allied fields. 1

2 Admission to the program is competitive and based on students motivation and desire to immerse themselves in the content of the course, interest in education, relevant skills, and academic success to date. The program engages a diverse student cohort representing a variety of universities and professional schools and educational, professional, and personal experiences. Q: What is the workload, and how is the work distributed over the semester? A. The program has three components: a seminar, skills training, and project work. In order to orient students to the themes of the course, develop skills for use in education-related consulting projects, and maximize students opportunity to work intensively with teammates on the projects and on-site with partner education organizations, the seminar and skills training portions of the program are concentrated towards the beginning of the semester. Thereafter, the time devoted to project work expands. Over the course of the entire semester, students spend roughly 60 hours in seminar classes, 25 hours in classroom-based skills training, and an average of 20 or more hours a week on project work. In total, students can expect to spend approximately 40 hours each week on coursework (including class preparation) and project work. Q: What can I expect from the seminar component of the course? A. Seminar sessions examine research, theories, and models relating to institutional and programmatic design, governance, public engagement, regulation, management, accountability, continuous improvement, and structural reform in the public sector with a focus on K-12 education. In the process, the seminar explores the major debates in U.S. public education. A core focus of the seminar is the design and operation of learning organizations ones committed to using the careful observation of everyday experiences and ongoing successes and failures to generate diagnostic information about how these organizations can steadily improve. Seminar sessions vary in length and content and include a combination of discussion, direct instruction, group exercises, simulations, and personal reflection. Weekly reading assignments include a rich variety of formal and informal case studies from the public, social, and private sectors, from inside and outside the education context, and from the U.S. and abroad. The readings also include research studies and academic and policy articles on education, management, and legal policy and theory. Students apply their knowledge in two or three short papers and in a team presentation to the class. 2

3 Q: What can I expect from the skills training component of the course? A. Skills training focuses on a variety of research, consulting, and problem-solving competencies, including client-centered interviewing, observation, and other forms of qualitative research and analysis; quantitative analysis and measurement; policy research and analysis; structured problem-solving in diverse teams to address multi-dimensional problems; project and product management; oral and written communication and presentation; providing professional advice to leaders of public- and social-sector education organizations; and cultural literacy with a focus on difference and diversity. A large portion of the skills training takes place in dedicated in-class workshops through closely observed exercises and simulations, and is accompanied by regular faculty, project manager, and peer feedback. Exercises in the seminar portion of the class also contribute to skills development, as do a variety of interactive team-based activities. Students put all these skills to immediate practical use as they collaborate closely with their project team and engage with their project client to develop highquality reports and other deliverables and presentations. Q: What does the project work involve? A. Students can expect to work on a substantive, mission-critical education project on par with those conducted by top policy researchers and professional service (consulting) organizations. Students analyze and work directly on a complex problem central to a public or social-sector organization s mission to improve the educational outcomes and life chances of children. While the substance of projects differ, each team typically takes the following steps over the duration of a project: team-building and norming activities; project-plan development; interviews with senior leaders and field-level staff (often principals and teachers) in the relevant organization(s) to understand the institutional landscape and project context; rigorous research and analysis of local, national, comparative, and international sources and consultation with experts to understand and address the problem at hand; intensive team discussions of findings and conclusions and the design of the final products; execution of professionalquality reports and deliverables through a series of drafts, edits, and revisions; presentation of interim results to the respective partner education organization orally and in writing; adjusting products and conclusions based on feedback; a concluding round of analysis and drafting; and delivery of a final presentation to the leadership and key stakeholders of the project sponsor all with the goal of 3

4 improving the effectiveness of that organization s and the broader field s practical actions going forward. Q: How are project teams selected? Can I express a preference among projects? A. Course faculty and staff conduct a comprehensive survey to collect student preferences among education organizations, topics, projects, and geographic locations and also to inventory skills, experience levels, and learning and working styles. When forming project teams, student preferences are a leading decision factor. CPRL strives to match skill sets to the projects and to balance professional disciplines, home universities, work styles, and backgrounds on each project. Q: Where can I find examples of past projects? A. Examples can be found on the last page of this document. Q: Who are CPRL s clients? A. CPRL has served state departments of education, local school districts, charter school management organizations, community-based organizations, national and local education sector support and advocacy groups, education-focused philanthropic foundations, child-welfare agencies, and other public- and socialsector agencies, non-profits and start-ups. Thus far, clients have been located in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas. Clients pay a modest consulting fee which enables CPRL to cover its operational expenses, offer this program without charging students extra tuition, and assure that clients engage CPRL only on matters of importance to them and only on projects to which they are prepared to devote the resources and attention necessary to assure a challenging and high-quality consulting experience for students. Q: What is the role of the professional Engagement Managers? A. Each project has a professional project manager, who is an experienced former P- 12 leader, education researcher, or education-sector consultant. Most Engagement Managers (EMs) are full-time employees of the program; all commit half or more of their work week to guiding projects. The EM serves as a resource to students and is responsible for ensuring that the project is a meaningful learning experience for the team, editing team reports and deliverables and assuring they are of professional grade quality, and helping each student set and make progress against individual development goals. Team meetings, activities, and presentations are led and conducted by students. Under the guidance of 4

5 their EM, team members establish and adjust norms and procedures throughout the semester with the goal of increasing the level of responsibility assumed by student team members. If you would like to speak to one of our professional EMs, please us Q: How will I be evaluated? A. Grades are based on several factors, including class participation and presentations, written assignments, interaction with clients, contribution to and quality of team culture and deliverables, and progress toward personal skilldevelopment goals. Student grades are normed to and reported consistently with the grading system of each student s home graduate or professional school. Q: Do I pay extra tuition to participate in the CPRL program? A. Students are not required to pay extra tuition to participate in the program. The financial arrangements students have with their home professional school remain intact throughout the course of students participation in the program. Q: Does the program offer additional financial aid? A. CPRL provides a small number of tuition support awards (CPRL Scholar Awards) to students who demonstrate exceptional merit and need. To be eligible for a CPRL Scholar Award, students must make a legally enforceable commitment to work three of the first five years after graduation in a full-time government or non-profit job in or supporting the P-12 education sector. CPRL Scholar Awards are available only to cover tuition owed for the term in which the student participates in the CPRL program and cannot be used to supplant other scholarships. CPRL Scholar Awards are capped at $20,000, and most are $15,000 or less. Students interested in being considered for a scholarship must complete a separate optional Scholar Award application located on the CPRL website. Q: What job placement support does the program offer? A. A central CPRL objective is to prepare students for leadership roles in public education organizations committed to improving the life chances of all children and for academic positions focused on public education policy. The program supplements (without supplanting) the career services provided by students home institutions. Both current students and the program s alumni have access to multiple career resources, including a job postings listserv specifically for them, career mentoring, networking opportunities, and a ready source of 5

6 references and recommendations from faculty and staff. The program aims to serve as a talent pipeline into P-12 organizations, and many of those it has worked with in the past, and others, are eager to consider students and alumni for open positions. Course faculty and staff also routinely connect students and alumni to open opportunities and inform partner education organizations about students and alumni they are encouraged to consider. Q: What should I do if I am interested in the course and my school is not currently a CPRL partner? A. CPRL is always interested in expanding its school partnerships and attracting high quality students who are committed to leadership in the education sector. A number of CPRL s current partnerships were initiated by students at schools that had not previously joined the CPRL consortium. If you are interested in the program and your graduate school is not currently a partner, please Q: Can I speak to current students or alumni of the program? A. For a list of current students and alumni who are willing to talk to applicants, please us at If you have any additional questions, us at 6

7 Representative Projects National Advocacy Organization Developed a plan for using the community-driven creation of new schools in areas of New York City undergoing rapid gentrification to expand and maintain social integration of schools without violating legal restrictions on race-based decisions making Large Urban School District (multiple projects) Worked with district leaders on various initiatives related to school improvement and accountability; conducted research on collaborative teacher inquiry teams, developed a plan for evaluating the implementation and results of a new teacher-evaluation system, researched measures of student academic and personal behaviors, developed case studies of schools with strong cultures, and conducted case study research to evaluate the implementation and results of an inter-school collaboration school improvement program National School Support and Innovation Organization Scanned state and local data systems and distance-learning initiatives and proposed governance options for fostering inter-district collaboration in the creation of new datasystem designs Large Urban School District Designed (i) a comprehensive system of qualitative and quantitative measures of school effectiveness to provide schools with actionable improvement data and increase public accountability, and (ii) a process for annually identifying schools for improvement steps and restructuring, consistent with federal and state regulations East Coast State Department of Education Researched best practices nationally and internationally and designed and piloted a system of qualitative review of schools as a leading indicator of student learning and a source of actionable feedback for strategic school improvement Southern State Department of Education Created and implemented a plan for evaluating the design and implementation of a statewide system of distance-learning options for public school children East Coast-Based Charter School Organization Proposed plan and identified legislative and regulatory changes to maximize the autonomy and accountability of schools and districts undertaking comprehensive improvement efforts Parent Advocacy Organization Designed and piloted collaborative parent working groups, which redefine parent engagement with schools and prepare parents to be active and independent problem-solvers and partners in public school improvement. 7

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