The Mosbacher Institute’s second Education Policy Workshop featured Dr. Amy Ellen Schwartz, the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Professor of Public Affairs at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University and the Director of the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University, on Tuesday, February 23, 2016. Dr. Schwartz spoke at the George Bush Presidential Library & Museum to a standing room only crowd about the impact factors beyond classroom instruction have on the educational outcomes of students. Previous reforms including decreasing class sizes, professional development, curriculum writing, and rewriting finance formulas have had some success in improving student outcomes and addressing inequity, but classroom instruction is only a part of children’s days. What happens outside of the classroom is also very important to their holistic development.
Dr. Schwartz’s started her talk describing the huge longitudinal data set she has been able to collect on the largest US school district – New York City School District—and thanking various sources for sharing the data that make her research possible. The data has allowed her to evaluate the outcomes relating to a number of research questions. One project, titled “Let Them Eat Lunch,” explores the free and reduced lunch program. Proponents of the lunch program claim the initiative ensures students are eating and so more ready to learn; thus, the lunch program acts as an outside of the classroom intervention that may improve students’ performance. Dr. Schwartz explained that qualifying students often do not take advantage of the program due to a negative stigma, prompting her curiosity as to the efficacy and value of the program. She looked at the impacts of a universal free meal plan and found mixed results. While standardized test scores increased for some grades, she also found increases in obesity for some grades. Dr. Schwartz explained the results could be attributed to a number of factors which she continues to explore.
In addition to this study, Dr. Schwartz touched on her research involving a summer job program designed for high schoolers in New York City. The program has lowered youth unemployment and seems to have had positive impacts on test taking, progress through high school, and high school graduation rates. Moreover, repeated or increased participation in the program suggested substantially increased positive effects for the students. Dr. Schwartz highlighted these results and underlined the importance of including high schoolers and their outside of the classroom/extra-curricular experience when developing education-related policy.
In addition to her presentation, Dr. Schwartz had several meetings with students and faculty throughout her visit. She had breakfast with a group of education policy students, spoke with a Bush School education policy class, and met with several faculty members about shared research interests.