On rankings, ‘education debt’ and outreach scholarship
The 2007 U.S. News & World Report rankings of America’s best graduate schools has just been released, and when I saw it, the old adage, “Live by the sword; die by the sword,” quickly came to mind, although in our case, it is national rankings. While we were disappointed to see that we dropped from 25th to 35th place, it was not a surprise. Given the change we made in how we reported total research expenditures, including those from P.K. Yonge (which are now far more accurate and realistic), we knew it would happen, an even stronger reminder of how important securing external funds has become in higher education. At the same time, I was very pleased to note that two programs increased their rankings (Counselor Education moved up to No. 2; Special Education moved back into the top ten at No. 9) and two new programs were now ranked (Elementary Education at No. 12; Curriculum & Instruction at No. 22). We also remain the highest ranked college of education in the state, and one of the highest ranked colleges on campus. I am confident that with the new faculty we have hired to complement our already strong faculty, and with the leadership of the Office of Educational Research by Associate DeanPaul Sindelar , we will soon rise again, and perhaps even surpass our earlier rankings.
As I write this column, I am still in San Francisco attending the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting, and I am struck by how well this year’s theme, educational research and the public interest, maps to the work being done in our college. Gloria Ladson Billings gave a brilliant and inspirational presidential address, and her central point was that society does not have an achievement gap, but instead has an “education debt” that is owed to children who have been marginalized and have suffered from an appalling lack of resources for quality education since the time this country was founded. While she did a wonderful analysis that walked the audience through different historical periods, she did not take the next step of outlining the ways in which this “debt” can be repaid. I believe the engaged scholarship paradigm that we are building in our college illustrates how educational institutions can provide their share. As I have said before, the initiatives developed by the three outreach centers (the UF Alliance, Center for School Improvement, and the Lastinger Center for Learning), coupled with the work being done in the departments and PKY, dramatically demonstrate that a passionate commitment to equity and social justice combined with first-rate, research-based practices and dissemination strategies can begin to make a difference. My belief is that as more and more people across the country recognize the validity of these approaches, which are firmly grounded in the cultural contexts of family and community values, we will lead other higher education institutions in reshaping educational research to align with the public interest, and contribute to the public good.
On April 20 we will honor this year’s recipients of the Scholarship of Engagement awards, and recognize our donors who have contributed to student scholarships. I encourage everyone to attend if possible, since any remaining proceeds are used to provide funds for students who need additional financial assistance for special circumstances. Provost Janie Fouke will be our guest speaker, and a strong turnout will demonstrate to her the leadership role our college can play across campus in addressing critical issues for children and families as noted in President Machen’s draft work plan. Rankings may come and go, but the needs of high-poverty children being served by our programs will continue across time, and that is where many of us will concentrate our energy and resources to make one small payment on a “education debt” that is long overdue.