The threat of a government shutdown and Hurricane Joaquin did not stop members of Dr. Pamela Eddy’s Educational Policy: Development and Analysis course (EPPL 601) from making what is now a regular School of Education policy trip to Washington, D.C. This year’s group met with some key policymakers representing Capitol Hill as well as leaders from various think tanks.
The full day of meetings started with an overview of the history of educational policy in the United States from Jeff Nellhaus, Chief of Assessment for the Partnership for Assessment and Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Nellhaus brought an especially unique perspective to the discussion in part due to over two decades of experience as a commissioner with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Two representatives from Achieve – a nonprofit education reform organization that focuses on college and career readiness – followed Nellhaus at the PARCC office meeting. Marie O’Hare spoke about the college and career ready agenda of the organization, and Aneesa Badrinarayan discussed the Next Generation Science Standards as part of ongoing reforms to K-12 science education. PARCC Senior Program Associate for Policy, Research, and Design, Casey Maliszewski helped organize and facilitate all of the morning meetings at the PARCC offices.
School of Education alum and current Director of Policy Analysis and Public Sector Programs for the Association of Governing Boards (AGB), Cristin Toutsi, served as the luncheon speaker for the group. Toutsi provided a review of some of the top public policy issues in higher education and discussed how her higher education master’s degree has contributed to her career. It was on a similar policy trip to Washington, D.C. while a student in the program at William and Mary that Toutsi first met members of the leadership staff at the AGB where she has now been employed for eight years.
According to Davis Clement, second-year doctoral student in the EPPL K-12 Administration program, “By visiting with both policymakers and policy implementers, we were able to see the difference in the effects of both on educational practice. Those who make rules and implement guidelines, like the people at PARCC, who are perhaps more connected with research than lawmakers, really do have a lot of influence over what policy looks like for practitioners.” Highlighting how policy theory works in practice is one of the learning objectives of the day-long trip.
Meetings on Capitol Hill began with Bryce McKibben, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions’ (HELP) lead staffer on higher education policy issues. “I was impressed by how knowledgeable McKibben was concerning policy issues affecting higher education in HELP. Student loan debt is an issue that greatly impacts my life and that of others, and I was pleased to hear that the HELP office places a high level of importance on this issue,” said Amanda Johnson, second-year doctoral student in the EPPL Higher Education Administration program.
McKibben also impressed upon the group the importance of engaging in scholarly activism through the use of tools such as social media. David Dailey, legislative director for Congressman Bobby Scott, echoed the importance of such activism as well. “I was struck by just how much policymakers on Capitol Hill are reliant upon bite-sized data and small, packaged summaries of research. It made me rethink how I should approach policy research and advocacy,” Clement commented.
Johnson also reflected on what she learned about the use of social media from the day’s discussions: “I learned how to and how not to reach policymakers concerning advocacy issues. The people we spoke to in HELP, Congressman Scott's, and Representative Wittman's offices placed emphasis on the use of social media in order to reach policymakers. Both Scott and Wittman check their Facebook pages regularly!”
The day concluded in a meeting with yet another William and Mary alum, Brent Robinson, who currently serves as the legislative director for U.S. Representative Rob Wittman. Robinson shared information regarding current House initiatives and engaged the group in a discussion concerning each student’s area of research interest as it pertains to educational policy. Although the train back to Richmond and Williamsburg departed shortly thereafter, Dr. Eddy looks forward to returning to D.C. in the fall of 2016 with next year’s students!
Professor Eddy shared, “Organizing and navigating a group trip like this takes a great deal of coordination, and this year also included a lot of luck! We were fortunate that the government did not have a shutdown and that the storm averted our area so we could make the trip. What is so motivating for me each year is the commitment students make to take this trip—paying their own expenses for travel to Washington, leaving Williamsburg at 5 am to catch the train, getting home after a 16 hour day full of walking the city, and for many juggling work and family schedules. Yet, the rewards are many. Students come back feeling like policy insiders—this year they heard the news of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s resignation during a meeting on Capitol Hill!”
The Educational Policy, Planning, and Leadership Department provided funding for the students' lunch for this trip.