VCU’s School of Education is committed to bridging the research and policy gap. Part of this involves building community with policy makers at the local, state and federal levels to inform the research we conduct. For example, recent VCU SOE research conferences and colloquiums have included keynotes by Mayor Levar Stoney, Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras, and Virginia Department of Education Director of Research Jennifer Piver-Renna. VCU SOE also supports its faculty in the translation of research into policy. A new initiative through the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium will work with School of Education researchers to turn findings into policy briefs aligned with current policy priorities.
Here are just some examples of faculty work that have had direct policy implications in education.
Dr. LaRon Scott’s research is positioned at the intersection of practice and policy at the local, state and national levels. Specifically, his research is broadly focused on higher education and K-12 school practices and policies for recruiting and retaining teachers of color, male teachers of color, and more precisely, the intersection of race and gender practices for recruiting and retaining special education teachers of color.
His research for recruiting and retaining special education teachers of color is featured in a special issue of Inclusion, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) organization, whose aim is to promote progressive policies on disability issues. His work on this topic will also be featured in a forthcoming special issue of the peer-reviewed journal Remedial and Special Education. Dr. Scott’s research agenda on recruiting and retaining teachers of color helped to inform policy at AAIDD’s National Goals Conference held in Washington D.C. in 2015.
Closer to home, his research has translated to educational policy initiatives to include providing feedback on Virginia Congressman Bobby Scott’s H.R. 6236 Act related to innovations to recruit and retain excellent teachers. He also receives funding through the Virginia Department of Education to prepare special educators online throughout Virginia. The Certifying Online Virginia Educators (COVE) initiative has allowed his research to merge with practices by encouraging and launching partnerships with K-12 school districts across Virginia, many of whom are adopting initiatives aimed at recruiting and retaining teachers of color as a result of Dr. Scott’s efforts.
Sexual abuse of students by employees in our schools is a continuing tragedy for which there are few apparent preventative measures being adopted by schools. At least 10% of public school students – 4.5 million – report being the targets of sexual misconduct by an employee while a student in grades K-12.
Dr. Charol Shakeshaft has examined over 100 cases in 33 states where a school employee has been found guilty in a criminal trial of the sexual abuse of a preK-12 public school student. By documenting the safety expectations that are breached in these cases where a student has been sexually abused, she has identified where and how effective prevention interventions can be made.
Dr. Shakeshaft’s research has been used by members of Congress and state-level policymakers to support changes in laws governing school safety. She has testified in legislative hearings about changes that help protect students.
Can We Learn and Live Together, co-authored by Dr. Siegel-Hawley, was the product of numerous conversations and convenings across VCU, University of Richmond and Housing Opportunities Made Equal. As the cross-sector group of authors considered issues of housing and school segregation, they were closely engaged with an ad hoc group of individuals associated with a housing advocacy non-profit, legal aid association, other universities and several former leaders of an urban school system. Conversations about bridging the school and housing worlds continue in the region and state.
Dr. Kevin Sutherland is one of the principal investigators of BEST in CLASS, a Tier-2 intervention that trains and coaches teachers in evidence-based practices in order to improve teachers’ interactions and relationships with young children and elementary students who exhibit problem behavior in the classroom. Recent studies of BEST in CLASS have shown that children exposed to the intervention have reductions in problem behavior, improved engagement, and that their interactions and relationships with their teachers improve in comparison to children in a business-as-usual condition. In addition, teachers who receive BEST in CLASS training and coaching report increased self-efficacy and the overall classroom quality improved, positively impacting the learning of all children in the classroom.
These findings are important as BEST in CLASS is a feasible approach to training and coaching teachers to improve their instruction with young children at-risk for emotional/behavioral disorders (EBD). Studies suggest that between 9 and 16 percent of children and youth have EBDs, and research suggests that coercive interactions between teachers and children early in school predicts later learning and behavior problems. By intervening early with programs such as BEST in CLASS the developmental trajectory of this vulnerable population of children can be impacted in a positive manner, equipping teachers with practices that they can use to help children learn.
Policy implications include an increased focus on student-teacher relationships in teacher preparation programs as well as investing in resources for coaching to provide support to teachers in implementing programs such as BEST in CLASS with high fidelity, particularly in schools in low-resource communities.
- For practitioners: BEST in CLASS: Improving Interactions Between Teachers and Students [PDF]
- 2018 publication: Prevention and treatment of externalizing problem behaviors in young children, AERA Open
- 2017 publication: Reducing child problem behaviors and improving teacher-child interactions and relationships, Early Childhood Research Quarterly
The purpose of Dr. Adai Tefera’s work is to examine how policies aimed at improving the educational opportunities and outcomes of culturally and linguistically diverse students identified with disabilities become enacted in practice and shape the experiences of students. She focuses on how local contextual factors, including historical, spatial, and sociocultural forces converge with policy, impacting the experiences of educators and students. More specifically, Dr. Tefera focuses on working across research, policy, and practice circles. She was an educational fellow with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation where she worked with Congressman Chaka Fattah’s on policies related to educational equity and access in higher education, as well as creating more equitable school finance systems to improve student outcomes. Most recently, she partnered with Anne Holton, former Virginia Secretary of Education in Virginia, to review racial disproportionality in the identification and disciplining of students with disabilities, and examine the access and opportunities of students with disabilities and their families in one of Virginia’s school divisions. Dr. Tefera’s primary intent is to continue to foster collaborations across research, policy, and practice circles for the advancement of educational equity and justice.
Dr. Colleen Thoma is a past Ruderman Policy fellow (2014), which provided an opportunity for her to focus her research to influence policies designed to improve the transition from school to adult life for youth with disabilities. She wrote a series of three policy briefs on transition, on social security financial supports for youth in transition, and strategies that support the transition to post-secondary education for youth with intellectual disability and autism. She also led a team of experts in 2015 in the development of a series of educational policy goals for children and youth with intellectual disability and disseminated those goals in a book chapter, journal article and video. She and Dr. LaRon Scott also co-edited a special edition of the Inclusion journal that featured recent research focusing on the goal areas identified in 2015 (June, 2018).