Keeping a Foot in Both Worlds
During the first year of the MPA program, we spent a lot of time learning how to bridge the academic and practical worlds. It’s one thing to understand advanced research methodologies and how to apply them, but research is only as good as how it is presented and if it is not digestible and made accessible to its stakeholders, then it is practically useless. This point is really hammered home in our classes and it is reflected in how our work is evaluated. It’s tough to keep a foot in both worlds, but being able to do so is an invaluable trait.
This is where we are right now in our research here at DPI. We’ve found some really cool stuff so far using the vast amounts of data that have been supplied to us. The struggle is taking our findings and packaging them in a way that makes them usable to people on the ground. It’s easy to go buck wild when analyzing a ton of data, wandering into the weeds to chase after some really neat analyses. It’s challenging, however, to keep our research grounded in a way that makes it as practical as possible for educators in North Carolina. The goal of our work isn’t to find the next big breakthrough in education (although that would be nice); it’s to provide research that can be used to make actionable recommendations that will improve North Carolina public schools.
Looking back on it from a practical standpoint, I am grateful that our coursework works towards keeping us grounded in the real world. It’s something that is helping me to keep on eye on the “so what?” factor of our research. Everyday, I’m realizing more and more the importance of being able to keep a foot in both worlds.
Last week, we also had the chance to meet with some of the folks over at SAS who work on EVAAS (Education Value-Added Assessment System) to gain some more insight on how the system works in North Carolina. Talking with the people at SAS further reinforced the importance of straddling the line between the academic and practical to provide services designed to improve public education. The EVAAS system is highly complex in how it calculates the value-added by each teacher in the state, but its results are extremely practical and usable for improving teacher performance and measuring their effectiveness. It was also a great opportunity to see the intersection of the public and private sectors. SAS and DPI work collaboratively to implement and use EVAAS and it was unique to see how two sectors, who some argue are diametrically opposed, come together to work towards the common goal of improving public education in North Carolina.
That pretty much wraps up my update on things here at DPI, so I’m going to brag on some of my students now. Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to go back to Detroit to see the last group of students I taught graduate from high school. Getting to watch them walk across the stage and get their diplomas was overwhelming. Graduation days rank right up there as the proudest days of my life, and I was so thankful to be able to be there to see this group of students graduate. These kids have overcome an almost unthinkable amount of obstacles to be able to graduate from high school and, for many of them, they are the first in their families to do so. They are, without a doubt, some of the strongest, brightest, and most resilient young people I have ever had the honor of meeting and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to be a part of their educational journeys.
Getting to be there for my students’ graduation reinvigorated my passion for the work that I am doing at DPI right now. While I might not be in the classroom anymore, I was reminded that when you put all of the spreadsheets and data runs aside, this work is about improving the lives of students and working towards ensuring that all children have access to an exceptional education.