Message From the Dean

A question I often get from alums is "Why are we now the School of Education and Social Policy?" I respond by saying that "social policy" was added to the name and mission of our School in 1986 by Dean David Wiley, who realized the important role policy can play in effecting change in education and improving people' life chances. It's insufficient to focus on the practice of education or the practice of parenting, for example. To intervene effectively to improve children's learning and development, it's important to realize the powerful effects that local, state and federal policies can have on these practices.

In this issue, we focus on two federal policies with profound effects on children's learning and development -"No Child Left Behind" and the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. You will learn about these policies from our faculty who are studying systematically the consequences on education and well-being of children and adolescents as well as the adults who teach and care for them. We also examine the connection between social policies and public opinion. Do such policies typically reflect public opinion or not, and why or why not? Through "Insight" and our student and alumni profiles, we offer you glimpses into the impacts our social policy graduates are having in the real world of social and educational policy and practice.

I'll close with an insight from my own recent trips into the real worlds of policy and practice. This week began with a trip to Washington, D.C., where I met with other education deans listening to diverse perspectives on "No Child Left Behind" from policy makers in the Executive Branch, leaders of the teachers' union and policy analysts who are examining effects of the policy on student achievement and indicators of teacher quality. As education deans, we wrestled with our place in trying to meet the goal of NCLB to ensure that every student has a teacher who meets standards of quality outlined by the policy.

I returned to Chicago to spend Wednesday being "Principal for a Day" (an annual Chicago Public Schools event) at McCorkle Elementary School on the South Side of Chicago. There I was confronted first-hand with the effects of NCLB in educational practice. All the students are African American, and 97 percent are low income. In six years the school has moved from 9 percent of the students achieving at or above national norms in reading and mathematics to this year having 34 and 40 percent of the students at or above the national norms in reading and mathematics, respectively. The principal told me they would be doing even better if they could keep the kids who start with them. Unfortunately, now that public housing has been torn down and the neighborhood is going through gentrification, more than one-third of the students will not return next year.

I concluded my day at McCorkle with a visit to an eighth-grade social studies class where, to my surprise, the students were studying policy. They had read Dr. Seuss' story about the Lorax and were trying to come up with a policy to solve the problem of the book, which has do with the effects of technology on the environment. I left with the voice of the eighth-grade teacher ringing in my ears as she exclaimed, "Many of our biggest problems can be solved by coming up with an effective policy!"

Penelope L. Peterson, Dean
By Penelope Peterson