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Topic: How Stanford GSE is meeting challenges in Education
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Jerry P. Becker

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Registered: 12/3/04
How Stanford GSE is meeting challenges in Education
Posted: Jun 2, 2014 9:21 AM
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From the Stanford Graduate School of Education, Friday, May 30, 2014.
Q&A: Stipek on how Stanford GSE is meeting challenges in Education

By Brooke Donald and Jonathan Rabinovitz

The new dean (Deborah Stipek) discusses the Common Core standards,
research partnerships in education, preparing teachers and other

Deborah Stipek last month began a new term as the I. James Quillen
Dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Education, succeeding Claude
Steele, who became provost at the University of California, Berkeley.
[See Deborah Stipek photo at the end of this article]

Stipek certainly knows the job and the GSE - she served as dean from
2001-2011. "It feels a little like coming home," she says, while
remarking upon some major changes in the neighborhood.

Nationwide, educators are now focusing on the Common Core State
Standards, which set new goals for what children should be learning
in math and English language arts. There also has been increased
attention to the quality of teacher education programs, with the
federal government preparing to roll out its own set of criteria for
rating their effectiveness. And advances in education technology -
the sudden emergence of MOOCs, for instance - provide new avenues for
teaching and learning.

Against this backdrop, there is a critical need for high-quality,
reliable research and scholarship about education.

"These new developments give the GSE both new responsibilities and
opportunities, and they make us more relevant than ever," says
Stipek, who last year was named the Judy Koch Professor of Education
at Stanford, partly in recognition of the research initiatives that
she has launched in early childhood education. An edited interview


How do concerns about the Common Core and teacher preparation affect
the direction in research and practice at the Graduate School of

Nationally, the primary concern in public schools right now is
bringing teachers up to speed with the kind of teaching the Common
Core requires. That has to be one of our primary concerns here at the
GSE; that has to be a driving force in our pre-service teacher
training, in the professional development we offer, in our
collaborations with school districts, and in our research on learning
and new educational technologies.

What do you see as the GSE's role in preparing teachers?

One of our roles is to serve as a model, demonstrating what you can
achieve with a research-based, well-resourced teacher education
program - what you get when you really invest in preparing teachers
well and when you make preparing teachers a central mission of your
school and of your university. We have extraordinary support from
Stanford President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy. They
are very public about how much they value the work we do in teacher
education. Their enthusiasm has been a significant factor in our
ability to offer a very high-quality program.

Almost from the day they arrive our students in the Stanford Teacher
Education Program (STEP) are placed in classrooms with experienced,
highly effective teachers who serve as coaches and mentors. They are
taught by Stanford faculty who are leaders in their fields and know
and contribute to research on effective practice. As a result, our
graduates stay in the profession much longer than is typical for new
teachers, and they excel in the profession. They become leaders,
themselves, in their schools and in education at large. They are
making a difference in thousands of children's lives and they are
impacting the way schools and districts operate.

What do you say to critics who maintain that teacher preparation
programs aren't preparing teachers well?

There is a large group of people who think you don't need to train
teachers, you just need people who know a subject; if you know math,
you can teach math. They don't appreciate how complex teaching is. We
need to think about preparing a teacher in the same way we think
about preparing a doctor or engineer. I'm all for people questioning
how the country is preparing its teachers, but the solution to poor
preparation is not to stop preparing teachers, it is to improve the
quality of the preparation.

The Department of Education is developing criteria for judging
teacher preparation programs. I think they should be held
accountable, and inadequate programs should be called out. I worry,
however, that the criteria will end up being as simple-minded as
those we have seen used to judge schools, and that all the attention
will go to identifying schools that are not doing a good job with
none to understanding what effective teacher preparation looks like
and how as a nation we can improve teacher preparation and ongoing

Given the number of teachers in the United States - roughly 7 million
- can the GSE make a difference in teaching?

The GSE is already demonstrating the value of really effective
pre-service teacher preparation and how to do it well. We have
educators coming from around the world to learn from what we do. Our
research on teacher education and on how people learn is shaping the
understanding of what makes a teacher effective. And we incorporate
our doctoral students, who are learning to be researchers in the
field of teacher education, into STEP; when they graduate, they bring
the knowledge they have gained here to teacher preparation programs
everywhere. My goal is to ensure that we are playing a leadership
role in the conversation about how to improve teacher education in
this country.


How is Common Core affecting teacher training?

Common Core is putting demands on teachers that are far beyond what
they ever have had to do before. For example, they are being asked to
prepare students to think critically, to engage in deep analysis, and
to apply what they know to novel contexts. Here at the GSE, we've
known for a long time that these are the hallmarks of good teaching;
you don't teach by having people read a chapter in a textbook and
then answer factual questions at the end of the chapter. You teach by
engaging students in active problem solving, in critical thinking and
debate, in negotiating different points of view. We're asking
teachers to teach in a way that they have not experienced themselves.
That's a big ask.

Is it worth it?

The Common Core is probably the best thing that's happened in recent
years to education in the United States. I hope we have the grit to
work through the challenges: It would put the country in a new place
economically and competitively. And the emphasis on critical thinking
would improve our democratic functions.

How is STEP preparing teachers for the changes in standards?

We are in a very good position. In a way the rest of the country is
catching up to the teaching approaches that have been taught in STEP
for a long time. Now, instead of having to train our teacher
candidates on how to survive in schools that emphasize
multiple-choice tests, we can help them to be leaders in their


What is the significance of the partnership the GSE has with the San
Francisco Unified School District?

The partnership between Stanford and SFUSD is about five years old,
and it is growing. There are now more projects - about 30 - in which
GSE professors' research is designed specifically to address issues
identified by the district. Faculty and graduate students are
studying English language learning pathways, the use of technology in
the classroom and strategies to increase reading comprehension, among
other subjects. The collaboration gives the GSE an opportunity to
make a measurable difference in the quality of education experienced
by a very diverse population of students. Because the district
identifies the issues, the research has a high likelihood of having
an effect on policies and practice. In turn, we at the GSE are
strategic in the kinds of projects that we take on - we select
problems that districts around the country encounter, so the lessons
learned at SFUSD are useful beyond that district.

You recently announced new funding for faculty research, as part of
the partnership.

Yes, the new Incentive Fund enables faculty to bypass traditional
funding application processes, which can often take more than a year
and do not necessarily align with the district's concerns. It will
also allow a much more timely response to district research needs. In
addition, we are able to support the district through our established
data sharing agreements, which makes GSE the home for some SFUSD data
(with strict measures to ensure student privacy). This gives us the
capacity to respond to district questions quickly and to address
broader policy issues that SFUSD shares with many other districts
across the country.

How else does the partnership aim to produce research that has a
direct effect on the district's work?

The GSE and SFUSD just established the Action Research Team. In the
next school year, three or four of our doctoral students will be
working as research assistants under the direction of the SFUSD's
Research, Planning and Accountability Department. It's a great
opportunity for students to learn how to form relationships with key
district personnel, work closely with practitioners and have hands-on
experience with large data sets. Their findings will be used in real
time to evaluate and inform the district's decisions. This is a
resource the district didn't have available to them before.

Is the GSE looking to concentrate its research in San Francisco?

Our faculty is doing research in districts across the country,
actually, throughout the world, and that's not going to change. No
one is going to tell our faculty they can't work in New York or
LAUSD. And what we're learning in San Francisco is being transferred
or used in other places they're working. We see tremendous value in
the unique sustained relationship we have with San Francisco and
we've created an infrastructure that makes it easier for faculty to
do the research they want to do and for the district to get empirical
evidence to guide their policy decisions. But that doesn't mean we
can't be of value or can't produce important knowledge in other
contexts or districts across the state and nation. I think a diverse
portfolio is important.

And what is the GSE doing to advance the next generation of education

For more than a century we have been preparing the world's top
scholars of education. We can do that in part because we have such an
outstanding faculty. We are training students to do
disciplinary-based, rigorous research that is relevant to educational
practice. More than any other acclaimed doctoral training program,
our students have opportunities to work directly with policy makers
and practitioners. Their research questions are informed by the real
world of education and they learn to produce knowledge than can
inform practitioners and policy makers.

Funding students is the biggest challenge. We've just announced
guaranteed funding for the fifth year of doctoral work for students
who have completed all requirements except for their dissertation.
Nationwide, graduate school has become more expensive, and offering
fifth-year funding is necessary for us to continue to attract the
best candidates. It frees up graduate students to do the kind of work
we have been talking about rather than take jobs that delay their

Also, I just learned that Stanford has been awarded a new $4 million
grant from the Institute of Education Sciences [the research arm of
the U.S. Department of Education] to continue our doctoral training
program in quantitative education policy analysis. I believe that
we're one of five universities to get such funding, and that
underscores the unusual role we're playing nationally in doing
interdisciplinary training of researchers in education. (The program
is managed through the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis
by GSE faculty members.)


Are past approaches to research and practice still relevant given the
recent boom in online learning and other educational technologies?

The potential offered by advances in technology is absolutely
extraordinary. The general principles of effective teaching and
learning apply to online as well as face-to-face learning situations.
Extant research on effective teaching practices and how people learn
apply. But the new educational technologies bring up all kinds of new
research questions that our faculty and students are now working on.

So how does educational technology fit into the GSE's mission?

I have been concerned about how quickly we jump on education
bandwagons in this country without knowing how or even whether
innovations work. Educational technology is no exception. What the
GSE can bring to this burgeoning field is systematic analysis of how
and under what circumstances it improves learning.

Does that mean the GSE sponsors research on MOOCs [massive open
online courses]?

Not just MOOCs. There are many ways in which technology is being used
to teach. There are initiatives like Khan Academy in which students
learn from an expert. There are schools like Rocketship, where
students spend a substantial portion of their day engaged in learning
activities on the computer. The flipped classroom is another recent
innovation. Simulations have been developed to enhance science
learning. You can do a chemistry experiment online now.
Four-year-olds are doing math and literacy activities on iPads. All
of these innovations need to be studied so we know what works, how it
works, and for whom.

Our faculty and students are doing rigorous research on educational
technology with partners across the university, and a number of our
faculty members are offering online courses. We work closely with the
Vice Provost for Online Learning, and together we opened this month
the new digital learning research center at the Barnum Center, under
the direction of two of our professors.

What about new areas in education besides information technology and
online learning?

We want to play a role in the new frontier of brain research on
learning. On July 1, we are welcoming to the GSE faculty one of the
leading researchers in neuroscience, Professor Bruce McCandliss, from
Vanderbilt. Bruce uses fMRI technology to examine typical and
atypical reading development to improve reading interventions for
children, as well as to study the impact of interventions on changes
in functional brain activity. He will make sure that the GSE is a
leader in this rapidly growing area of research.


How can the disparities between poor and rich students, white and
students of color be narrowed?

First we have to recognize that schools are limited in how much they
can bridge the achievement gap as there are so many forces that make
learning a challenge for kids living in poverty. Nutrition, exposure
to violence, financial instability, homelessness, access to health
care affect children's ability to learn. We cannot expect kids to
just go to school and turn off all of the emotional and physical
challenges in their lives. The achievement gap based on income has
gotten worse, not better. As incomes have become polarized, so has
the achievement gap. Income matters.

I don't want to dwell on this because it sounds too much like an
excuse. But I think we have to remind ourselves that although we can
do a much better job, improving education is not going to make the
achievement gap go away completely.

Our strategies to reduce the achievement gap need to start early. We
now recognize that learning begins when children are born and the
achievement gap is well developed before children enter school. A
tremendous amount of brain development occurs in the first five years
- development that lays the foundation for future learning. That
development is affected by the environment. The research on early
childhood by GSE faculty is helping us understand what kinds of
experience matter most and what kinds of interventions will be most
effective in ensuring healthy emotional and cognitive development.

Research at the GSE is also designed to improve the quality of
education that children receive. There are significant inequities in
the experience and subject-matter knowledge of teachers working in
schools serving students living in poverty, and schools serving these
students have fewer financial resources. Some of the work we do
addresses these inequities. Our direct experience in East Palo Alto
Academy helps us develop a deep understanding of the challenges faced
by students, families, and schools in low-income communities.

You can't close the gap if you don't understand it. Research at the
GSE is shedding light on the nature and extent of this problem and
the strategies that have the best chance of closing this gap.


You're dean, but you're also a researcher. What are you working on?

I'm interested in the quality of teaching and learning opportunities
that children have. Currently I am studying this in the context of
early math. Math has not been given a lot of attention in the early
years, especially at pre-school. The focus typically has been on
reading. But we now know that math learning in early childhood is a
strong predictor of later success in school, and that young children
can learn math and enjoy it. With support from the Heising-Simons
Foundation I am leading a national network of scholars who are
developing collaborative projects designed to improve our knowledge
of how to support young children's math learning. We're organized
under the name, DREME, Development and Research on Early Math

How does it feel being dean?

It feels a little like coming home. I have enjoyed reconnecting with
folks around the university and the many good friends of the GSE that
I got to know when I was dean before. I look forward to resuming my
life as a faculty member (best job in the world!), but I'm happy to
be where I am while I am needed.

(Photo by Linda A. Cicero/Stanford News Service)

Deborah Stipek
ACADEMIC TITLE: I. James Quillen Dean
OTHER TITLES: Judy Koch Professor of Education
[See additional information at


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