School of Education News

Seven from School of Education are 2017 NAEd/Spencer Fellowship recipients

May 26, 2017

The National Academy of Education (NAEd) announced the recipients of the 2017 NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral and Dissertation Fellowship Programs on May 25.

And no institution is home to more recipients this year than UW-Madison’s School of Education and its seven awardees.

“We are thrilled that so many of our faculty and graduate students have been awarded NAEd/Spencer Fellowships,” says School of Education Dean Diana Hess, the Karen A. Falk Distinguished Chair of Education. “The fellowships are highly competitive, with many hundreds of scholars applying each year. In addition to receiving funding to support their research projects, these fellows are mentored by members of the National Academy of Education — an important component of the program that will positively impact their development as scholars.”

The 30 2017 NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellows — selected from a pool of roughly 300 applicants — are examining critical areas of education research and will each receive $70,000 for a period of up to two years to complete their work and attend professional development retreats. These fellowships support non-residential postdoctoral proposals that make significant scholarly contributions to the field of education.

The four faculty members with UW-Madison’s School of Education receiving these fellows, and the projects they’ll be working on, are (information about each fellowship recipient and the project they will be working on is provided by NAEd):

Bullock• Erika C. Bullock, an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction -- Bullock earned a B.S. in computer science from Spelman College and an M.Ed. and Ph.D. in mathematics education from Georgia State University. In her scholarship, Bullock seeks to create new possibilities for mathematics education by confronting the field’s epistemic limitations — both past and current. Her research seeks to interrogate the boundaries of mathematics education as both a historical product and cultural practice, particularly related to questions of equity and opportunity. The research connects different social, cultural, and historical disciplines outside of education to engage in studies of mathematics education. She employs critical theories of race, standpoint feminism, and literatures from sociology, geography, curriculum studies, and the history of science. Bullock’s published work has appeared in Educational Studies in Mathematics, The Journal of Mathematics Education at Teachers College, The Journal of Education, The Mathematics Enthusiast, and Teachers College Record. She is also associate to the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Urban Mathematics Education.

Bullock will be working on a project titled, “Tracing Equity Discourses in Mathematics Education.” For nearly 40 years, mathematics education has engaged in various efforts to address equity for students who, for various reasons related to identity and demography, are unsuccessful in and disconnected from mathematics. Despite this prolonged attention to equity in scholarship, curriculum, policy, and teacher education, the gap between less privileged students and their more privileged counterparts has been consistent. Many scholars have raised the concern that equity efforts have not yielded the gains that the time, attention, and resources given them would dictate. However, there does not exist an empirical evaluation of equity discourse on a large scale. In this study, I will use discourse tracing — an approach to critical discourse analysis — as a four-phase methodological approach that allows for mapping the proliferation of equity discourses over time. Through this mapping, I will examine the successes and limitations of equity discourse and consider ways in which the field can move toward addressing and eliminating inequities. Data for this study include scholarly literature, policy and curriculum documents, and unstructured interviews with equity-oriented scholars in mathematics education. This tracing will provide a picture of equity in mathematics education over time that can function as a resource in future curriculum and policy discussions within and outside the mathematics education community.

Louie• Nicole Louie, an incoming assistant professor with the Department of Curriculum and Instruction -- Louie earned her doctorate in mathematics education from the University of California, Berkeley. The enduring concern behind her scholarship — fueled by her experiences as a teacher and learner is in how people define what it means to be “smart,” and who is allowed to attain this status. She is especially interested in teachers’ efforts to challenge narrow, exclusionary discourses of intelligence, and to support students to relate to one another as intellectual equals. Her writing on the tensions teachers face and the supports they need as they engage in this work has appeared in Teachers College Record and Teaching and Teacher Education, and in “Mathematics for Equity,” a book she co-edited. Her current work explores the role of racial hierarchies (as they intersect with gender, class, and (dis)ability labels) in the reproduction and disruption of hierarchies of mathematical ability.

Louie will be working on a project titled, “Empowering teachers, empowering students? Mathematics teacher collaboration and race in Chicago Public Schools.” The Chicago P12 Math Collaborative (“the Collaborative”) aims to transform mathematics instruction throughout the Chicago Public Schools. Student-centered, intellectually ambitious teaching that improves outcomes for students of color is at the heart of the Collaborative’s vision. Over the past five years, the Collaborative has developed an approach to professional development (PD) that simultaneously asserts this vision and nurtures professional communities in which teachers take the lead in finding ways to enact it.

The purpose of this study is to examine the affordances of the Collaborative’s approach to large-scale, student- and teacher-centered PD, as well as its limitations. On the one hand, school cultures are shifting; as one principal described, “Our whole staff is coming kind of to a threshold where they’re becoming a collaborative staff. They are trusting each other to [give and] take criticism and also to do something positive with it.” Mathematics instruction is shifting as well; in the words of a teacher, “kids (are becoming) the agents of their learning, and kids (are) doing the major thinking.” On the other hand, teachers casually label children “high kids” and “low kids,” and both subtle and not-so-subtle linking of intelligence and race (as it intersects with class, gender, and other social categories) pepper teacher talk. In this project, I therefore investigate two major questions: (1) How do teachers negotiate a shared vision for mathematics instruction in the context of district-led efforts to support ambitious mathematics teaching and learning? and (2) How does educators’ work toward an ambitious vision of mathematics instruction disrupt racial hierarchies in mathematics education? How does it reproduce racial hierarchies?

Moeller• Kathryn Moeller, an assistant professor with the Department of Educational Policy Studies  -- Her interdisciplinary, ethnographic scholarship examines the gendered, sexualized, and racialized nature of corporate power in the fields of education, feminism, and international development. She is the author of the forthcoming book, “The Girl Effect: Capitalism, Feminism, and the Corporate Politics of Ending Poverty (2018).” Her work has also been published in British Journal of Sociology of Education, International Journal of Education Development, and Feminist Studies. She received her Ph.D. (2012) from the Social and Cultural Studies Program at the University of California, Berkeley with a designated emphasis in gender, women, and sexuality. Prior to graduate school, she was a high school teacher in the U.S. and Honduras.

Moeller’ is working on a project titled, “Rich Dividends?: The Political Economy of Corporations in Education.” This ethnographic study seeks to understand the shifting terrain of urban education as corporations and their foundations become increasingly powerful actors in shaping education policy and practice through corporate partnerships with public schools. It examines the political economy of corporations in education amidst urban school districts’ failure to meet the educational needs of communities of color and increasing state divestment in public education. Drawing on case studies of corporate partnerships with four high schools in Chicago Public Schools, the study asks the following research question: in the context of racial, class, and geographic-based disparities in education, how and why are US transnational corporations investing in urban education, and what are the intended and unintended effects of their influence? The research will provide new insights into the practices and implications of corporate influence in education; a nuanced understanding of how schools, districts, communities, and corporations and their foundations negotiate the terms of these partnerships; and an assessment of the extent to which these partnerships influence student, school, and district-level outcomes. In this way, this study in Chicago will offer insights into the corporatization of education in the U.S.

Turner• Erica O. Turner, assistant professor, Department of Educational Policy Studies –  A scholar of education policy, Turner’s research examines how diverse groups — from school district leaders to students to community members — make sense of and negotiate education problems, policies, and equity in the shifting organizational, social, political, and economic contexts of urban school districts. She uses socio-cultural, political, and race-critical theories and qualitative methods to illuminate local governance of public schools as a site of contestation and possibility for educational equity. Her research is published in journals such as the American Educational Research Journal, Teachers College Record, and Urban Education. Her work has been sponsored by the University of Wisconsin, the Spencer Foundation, the State Farm Companies Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Turner is an Anna Julia Cooper Fellow and an ELL Policy Fellow. She was a middle school teacher before earning her Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley.

Turner is working on a project titled, “Embracing Complexity: The Diverse Efforts to Address Racial Inequity in One School District.” After decades of school choice and testing policies, educators, activists, and scholars are turning to community engagement strategies to advance racial equity in schools. This puts a spotlight on the challenges and promise of diverse stakeholders working towards policy change. The proposed study examines how school and civic actors in Madison, Wisconsin make sense of racial inequity, envision new possibilities, and pursue interrelated efforts to advance policy change as they confront persistent racial inequity. Using new socio-cultural theories of policy, contemporary theories of race, and a comparative case study design, I examine race talk in policy deliberation across three issues–disparities in school discipline, access to advanced course-taking, and emergent bilinguals’ education–which engage different racialized groups and constellations of discourses, strategies, processes, and resources. The study furthers knowledge of how complex policy ecologies contribute to, complicate, or undermine equity in school district policymaking; enriches our conceptualization of education problems and aims, equity, and policy strategies; and provides new theoretical understandings of policy as a racialized, socio-cultural phenomenon. In examining Madison, a best-case situation of diverse citizen involvement, this study points to the possibilities for more democratic, effective and just policy, a necessity in our increasingly racially diverse country.

The Dissertation Fellowship Program seeks to encourage a new generation of scholars from a wide range of disciplines and professional fields to undertake research relevant to the improvement of education. The 35 dissertation fellows — selected from a pool of roughly 500 applicants — will each receive $25,700 for a period of up to two years to complete their research and also attend professional development retreats. These scholars are working on dissertations that show potential for bringing fresh and constructive perspectives to the history, theory, analysis or practice of formal or informal education anywhere in the world.

The three Ph.D. candidates with UW-Madison’s School of Education who received a 2017 NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellow are (information about each fellowship recipient and the dissertation project they will be working on is provided by NAEd):

Boonstra• Kathryn Boonstra, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Curriculum and Instruction -- Her research and teaching interests center on issues of equity and social justice in early childhood education, specifically the role of race, culture, and social contexts in early childhood teaching and teacher education. In her dissertation, she investigates classroom discipline in pre-K and kindergarten settings, and the social, cultural, and historical contexts that shape teachers’ practices. Drawing on ethnographic methods, this work sheds light on the underlying mechanisms that contribute to inequality in school discipline outcomes and educational opportunity more broadly. Prior to coming to UW–Madison, Boonstra taught pre-K and kindergarten in Washington, D.C. She earned a B.A. in international relations from Brown University and an M.A.T. in early childhood education from American University.

Boonstra is working on a project titled, “First Time Out: A Qualitative Study of Classroom Discipline in Early Childhood Education.” Beginning as early as preschool, African American students are two to four times more likely to be suspended from school than white students. While the scope and severity of disparities in school discipline are well documented, there is an urgent need to understand the underlying school processes and classroom interactions that drive unequal outcomes. In this dissertation, Boonstra examines discipline practices during the transitional years of pre-K and kindergarten, when children’s school experiences are known to have lasting impacts on later achievement, development, and school success. Specifically, she seeks to understand how educators construct meaning around student behavior, how these meanings are activated in different relationships and classroom contexts, and what these patterns tell us about the ways race, culture, and discipline intersect in the school lives of young children. Boonstra uses multiple data sources — including eight months of participatory classroom observation; in-depth interviews with educators, school leaders, and staff; and document and media analyses — to probe teachers’ decision-making processes and to examine how, why, and under what conditions they elect to employ discipline in relation to particular students. Situated in a district that is working to address longstanding racial disparities in academic and disciplinary outcomes, this study will provide insight into how equity-oriented reforms translate into classroom practices.

Boonstra is being advised by Beth Graue, the School of Education’s Sorenson Professor of Curriculum and Instruction. Graue also is chair of the department.

Majee• Upenyu Majee, joint Ph.D. candidate, departments of Educational Policy Studies and Development Studies. His research interests include the nature and implications of engagements between Global South and Global North entities that create and constitute the global higher education policy infrastructure. Majee holds MA degrees in educational leadership and policy analysis and African languages and literature from UW-Madison, and a BA degree in English literature and linguistics from the University of Zimbabwe. While at UW-Madison, Majee has worked as an academic lead for a pre-college program serving college-bound students from minority backgrounds; teaching assistant at undergraduate and graduate levels; and academic coordinator for the State Department-funded Mandela Washington Fellowship/Young African Leaders Initiative. Prior to coming to the United States for graduate studies, he spent eight years with the ministry of education in Zimbabwe teaching high school English, and serving as headmaster/principal.

Majee is working on a project titled, “(Re)imagining and (Re)enacting Competing Policy Imperatives. The Case of Post-Apartheid South African Higher Education.” Following international isolation, regional destabilization, and racial discrimination during apartheid, South African public universities face increasing pressures to respond simultaneously to conflicting policy imperatives. First is the pressure to internationalize, understood as integrating within the competitive, globalized knowledge economy that places high value on elite, world-class and research-intensive universities. Second is the pressure for regional cooperation, linked to South Africa’s indebtedness to neighboring countries for, among other things, the destabilization that they suffered for supporting the anti-apartheid struggle. Third are national demands for racial equity and redress through higher education transformation/decolonization, necessitated by the legacy of exclusionary policies and practices enacted during apartheid. Majee draws and builds on sociological institutionalism (Barnett & Finnemore, 1999, 2004) to understand how higher education stakeholders (re)imagine and (re)enact the internationalization, regionalization, and transformation/decolonization imperatives of the country’s post-apartheid public universities – to whom they belong, who they serve, and what knowledge they value and generate. The dissertation is based on a six-month institutional ethnography at one of the country’s leading historically white research-intensive universities. It explores how public universities position themselves as institutional actors globally, regionally and nationally; and how South African and international students experience the competing imperatives shaping higher education policy and practice. The study’s findings will help explicate the tensions that arise for countries with entrenched histories of racial conflict, as they navigate post-/neo-colonial relations, re-invent their educational missions in response to new mandates, and carve out their place in an increasingly competitive, globalized marketplace for higher education.

Majee is being advised by Nancy Kendall, an associate professor with the Department of Educational Policy Studies.

Silver• Rachel Silver, joint doctoral candidate with the departments of Educational Policy Studies and Anthropology. Her research explores the relationship between discourses on girls’ education and sexuality in international development and the lived experiences of adolescents. Silver is co-author of “Educated for Change?: Muslim Refugee Women in the West (2012)” — an ethnography of young women’s school lives in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps and northern New England — as well as chapters in edited volumes on globalization and education, forced migration in the global South, and ethnographic methods. Silver received an International Dissertation Research Fellowship from the Social Science Research Council in 2016. She holds an M.A. in anthropology from UW-Madison, an M.A. in African studies from Yale University, and a B.A. in anthropology from Bates College.

Silver is working on a project titled, “Mother, Daughter, Schoolgirl: Student Pregnancy and Readmission Policy in Malawi’s Era of Education for All.” In Malawi, the pregnant schoolgirl embodies failure for diverse actors and institutions. She signals moral degeneration and a loss of control over girls’ sexuality for parents and teachers, chiefs and clerics. At the same time, she demonstrates the programmatic failure of schooling to delay reproduction and trigger a “ripple effect” of positive social, demographic, and economic outcomes touted in mainstream international development discourse. Silver’s dissertation explores this convergence and shows (1) how schoolgirl pregnancy has come to be understood and constituted as a social problem by a range of actors and (2) how discourses on, and policies related to, pregnant students shape the possibilities for young women’s wellbeing and schooling experiences. Using multi-sited ethnographic methods and an anthropology of policy approach, Silver focuses specifically on Malawi’s 1993 Readmission Policy, which banned the practice of permanently expelling pregnant girls from school, and its 2016 reform. Readmission Policy serves as a lens through which to examine why, though young mothers in Malawi have been allowed to re-enroll in school for over two decades, very few do, and how key stakeholders understand the relationship between sexuality and schooling. Silver considers how girls and women navigate between their roles as students, workers, wives, and mothers, and ask what it means for adolescents and the project of education when reproduction is taken to signal schooling’s failed promise.

Silver is also being advised by Kendall.

“The NAEd/Spencer Fellowship Programs not only promote important research, but also help to develop the careers of scholars who demonstrate great promise for making significant contributions to education,” NAEd President Michael Feuer said in this news release announcing this year’s NAEd/Spencer Fellowship recipients.

Founded in 1965, the NAEd consists of U.S. members and foreign associates who are elected on the basis of outstanding scholarship related to education. The Academy undertakes research studies to address pressing issues in education and administers professional development programs to enhance the preparation of the next generation of education scholars.

UW-Madison's Gloria Ladson-Billings was elected the next president of NAEd in December 2016. Her term will begin in the fall of 2017 and will last four years. Ladson-Billings was elected by her peer NAEd members.


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