Author Archives: adamrosenzweig

Reflection

I had a conversation this morning with two close friends in the Education Policy and Management program. One of them had been feeling unsettled all week and something in particular that she said stuck with me – she said that she feels far away from her work experience.

We talked about how many weeks can sometimes go by in which we never mention the word “student.” We shared our frustration with the often-lackluster findings of social science research, asking each other if we’ll ever find answers to the problems that drove us here. We reflect on our vastly expanded perspectives on the education sector as a whole, and wonder aloud where our place is in it.

In short, we’re a little frustrated and confused. It’s easy to feel disconnected from the work that inspired us to apply to in the first place. Sometimes it’s hard to see how all the research and the case studies and the problem sets make life better for a kid sitting in a desk somewhere.

With less than six weeks of coursework left, it’s safe to say that all of my HGSE friends and I in master’s programs are primarily concerned with figuring out what to do after graduation. Many of us have grown close in the last year. People want to know where their friends will be next year. We commiserate with each other about the stresses, and celebrate with each other the successes. There is awkwardness as friends apply for the same competitive jobs.

Stepping back from the details of the job search, we ask ourselves bigger questions about what we want to do with our lives. What did we learn this year? How will it help us in the future? What’s the best way for us to impact education? I can’t help but notice that we had to answer many of these questions during our application process a year ago. What happened to that confidence? That sureness of purpose?

The short answer is that it’s still there, but this is a particularly reflective moment. And rightly so. Many of us worked harder this year than we ever have before. Most of us certainly learned more. I would be worried if we didn’t hesitate a bit on our way out the door. Despite “learning at the nexus of practice, policy, and research,” feeling far away from the work is a natural part of this experience. If you’re thinking about enrolling at HGSE, I hope you’re ready to truly explore and grow as a professional and a person. At the same time, I hope that you grow out of this place when your time is over – when it’s time to get back to work.

What I learned this year

This time last year, like some of you, I had just been notified of my admission to the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I had many of the same thoughts and feelings that I imagine you have right now – excitement, gratitude, anxiety, curiosity, relief, etc. In six weeks my classmates and I will submit our final exams, papers, and projects, and my year at HGSE will end. It is a time of much reflection. In no particular order, here are some of the things I learned this year:
• I need to eat something approximately once every 90 minutes. Class meetings are typically 1.5 to 3 hours long. The result was that a majority of my calories were consumed this year in the form of snacks.
• Measures of central tendency are useful. Right? Averages are helpful both academically and psychologically. But beware the Normal distribution: it’s one thing to discover it through research; it’s a potentially more dangerous thing to expect it. Put another way, can you think of examples from life where we don’t want something to take the shape of the bell curve?
• Human capital > signaling. Two theories regarding the value of schooling: the first is that education really does make us better, thereby increasing our human capital; the second is that education only signals to others that we were already smart enough in the first place. I am demonstrably more talented now than I was nine months ago, and most of that is attributable to this degree. It’s not a waste of time, and it’s not just a signal, provided one actually does the work.
• A place is only as good as the people I’m with. I learned more from my peers than I did from my professors. I learned more from my professors than I did from the readings. HGSE brings together unbelievably talented and committed people, and that has made all the difference.
• Faith without works is dead – James 2:26. The strongest conviction is useless without evidence. The strongest evidence is useless without action. I’m grateful for the academic training I participated in this year, but I’m anxious to get back to the work of improving education for children. Ultimately, that has to be the beginning and the end of all efforts.

The Job Search

They told me this would happen – that the post-HGSE horizon comes up fast and, before I knew it, I’d be back in the job market. They were right.

It seems like the common greeting around campus has become, “Hey! How’s your job search going?” Answers vary. A small number of people already have offers, most have sent out at least a couple of résumés, and some haven’t moved beyond thinking about it.

I heard that HGSE’s Career Services were superior to many other institutions. I haven’t been disappointed. I met several potential employers through events that were organized by Career Services. Aside from large-scale career fairs, the university also arranges smaller session with individual employers looking to hire HGSE graduates.

Many of these events come during Recruiting Intensive Period, which happens once each semester. In addition to on-campus opportunities, HGSE’s online job center is more than just craigslist in Crimson.

Also, I got an email today from my faculty advisor asking all of his advisees if he could buy us pizza some night this week to talk about the job search. It may not be the fanciest venue, and I’m sure that similar conversations take place at other universities, but it’s encouraging to know that our professors have our backs. Jobs don’t fall from the sky around here, but the bottom line is that if you’re proactive then you can get a lot of support from the institution.

Having said that, if you know someone who’s hiring in the Bay Area…please contact me!

So you applied…Now what?

If you’re reading this, then the deadline to apply for Fall 2012 admission to HGSE has come and gone. If you submitted an application, you may be wondering, “What do I do with myself now?” As a former admission counselor and former HGSE applicant, I want to share some thoughts and ideas regarding your current situation. In very particular order:

1. Congratulate yourself! Seriously. Just a guess, but you’re probably the kind of person that’s too tough on yourself most of the time. Take a moment to acknowledge that applying to HGSE took courage, self-reflection, and lots of time and resources. Even if your admission decision doesn’t turn out the way you hoped, you have already gained from this experience. Well done!
2. Thank the people who helped you with your application (e.g. your recommenders). Let them know that, regardless of the outcome, you appreciate their confidence in you.
3. Get back to work. There’s nothing else you can do to augment your application now, so forget about it for a while. Get back to the daily business of living. Enjoy the time you have now that you’re not working on your essay any more! Think about what you want to accomplish by next fall – regardless of your admission decision and (trite reference alert!) focus your energy on being that change that you want to see in the world.
4. Stay in touch. Follow this blog, check the HGSE website, and let us know if you have any questions.

Best wishes to all of you this season!

First semester finals: Doing is Being

“Doing is being,” according to Professor Kathryn Masyn. After taking Professor Masyn’s Introduction to Applied Data Analysis this fall, I think what she means is that classroom learning is abstract – it only becomes real in practice. This past semester, each of my final projects were great examples of “being by doing,” of putting knowledge into practice. I’d like to briefly describe my finals so that prospective students can really understand the kind of work that goes on at HGSE. (Of course, this is only my experience, and does not represent every student at HSGE).

For Politics of U.S. Education Policy (A-024, Professor Marty West) we were asked to write a final paper on a topic of our choice that demonstrated our understanding of the course material. I chose to write about the political lessons to be learned from a program called School-Within-a-School at Brookline High School here in Brookline, Massachusetts. My research included literature on the schools-within-schools movement, classroom observations, and interviews with current and former administrators at the program. That paper ended up being around sixteen pages in length.

For Implementing Inclusive Education (A-117, Professor Thomas Hehir) the class was divided into several small teams of three to five students. Each team was assigned to a local school that is successfully including students with disabilities in regular classrooms and curriculum. Our assignment was to work with the staff at our assigned school to identify and explore a problem of practice, apply ideas from our course to the problem, and present our findings in front of the class as well as representatives from the schools we worked in. Each team was also asked to submit a group essay (about 20 pages) describing their problem of practice, research methods, results, and recommendations. My team studied a program at Newton North High School that connects students with disabilities who have “aged out” of high school to vocational and volunteer opportunities in the community.

In Introduction to Education Finance and Budgeting (A-029, Professor Jon Fullerton) we again worked in small teams on specific consulting projects for the Somerville Public Schools district. For example, my partner and I spent six weeks working on a literature review and cost-benefit analysis of preschool spending in the district. We presented our findings (using PowerPoint) at Somerville High School in front of the district Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Director of Data, Budget Director, and other administrators.

Our final assignment in Introduction to Applied Data Analysis (S-040, Professor Kathryn Masyn) was to produce a publication-ready empirical research article. We worked in pairs using STATA (statistical software) and a large data set to formulate a research question, analyze empirical evidence using multivariate linear regression techniques, and write up our findings in APA manuscript style (about 15 pages).

Needless to say, this was a lot of work. I could not have completed most of these assignments at the beginning of the semester. Turning in these final projects caused me to reflect on how much I’ve learned since August. I was gratified to see that all of my final projects involved applying classroom learning to the real world. If you believe that “doing is being,” then I encourage you to continue exploring all the opportunities at HGSE!

Learning from friends: HGSE Student Research Conference

HGSE is obviously home to a world-class faculty. With my first semester ending, I continue to be impressed by the knowledge, candor, and professionalism of my professors. I firmly believe, however, that I have learned just as much (if not more) from my peers as from the faculty.

My fellow students at HGSE and the other graduate schools are constant sources of inspiration. Their experience, passion, and intellect are the most dynamic resource at Harvard. Accordingly, I was thrilled to hear the announcement of the annual Harvard Graduate School of Education Student Research Conference. 

The conference provides an opportunity for students to learn about presenting original research at a professional conference. As graduate students, so much of our time is spent squirreled away focusing on our own work. So this is a rare and welcome opportunity to see what my friends have been working on! It’s a privilege to be able to learn from friends, and I’m excited to see what the community puts together!

ThanksGIVING Drive = success!

‘Tis the season to be thankful for our myriad blessings. Accordingly, my friends and I who serve on the Education Policy and Management Student Association organized a school-wide “ThanksGIVING Drive” to collect and donate food, clothing, and money to local charities. We structured the drive as a friendly competition between all the programs at HGSE. The program with the highest rate of participation won a pizza party study break – sponsored by the EPM program.

The event, which took place last week, was a huge success! We collected a ton of goods, and we’re delivering them to a couple of excellent local charities. One of our goals for the drive, aside from collecting goods, was to bring the HGSE community together. Everyone here is so busy, especially this time of year. It was great to see people taking a few moments to donate to a good cause, and encourage their classmates to do the same. I’m proud of all my colleagues here at HGSE, and the spirit they displayed this past week. Happy Thanksgiving!

Questions and answers

I applied to graduate school because I wanted answers. What I got were more questions. I shouldn’t be surprised though, because I remember having the same realization at the end of college. As an undergraduate I majored in History because I had so many questions about how the world came to be the way that it is. When college was over I remember thinking to myself, “I thought I’d be smarter by now.” Sometimes I fear that I’ll feel the same way after this year. What if I don’t know how to close the achievement gap? What if I don’t know how to build inclusive educational settings for students with disabilities? What if I don’t know how to perform a multiple regression analysis?! It’s a cause for pause – to ask myself what exactly I’m looking for. To ask myself why I really applied to graduate school?

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig observes, “It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life. Not the top.” (An apt metaphor in the field of education, where so many Herculean efforts can be described just as easily as Sisyphean.) I have to admit that I used to believe that just coming to Harvard meant reaching “the top” of the mountain. Implicit in that belief was that I understood all the problems, and that all I needed was to pick up some answers from these folks at Harvard so I could get back to fixing education. Like Rod Stewart said: “Look how wrong you can be.”

Every day I add nuance to my understanding of the problems and solutions in education. The people I’ve met at HGSE inspire, support and challenge me – and they expect the same in return. I can’t say that I’m always satisfied with this lack of definitive answers, but I’m beginning to see it less as a deficiency of answers and more as a deepening understanding of the problems. The problem, perhaps, is that my thinking was still constrained by the answer-seeking process that has served me well for my whole life in school. Until now. Typically in education teachers ask the questions and expect students to give the right answers. That way of thinking is turning out to be close to the top of my personal reform agenda. Why did I apply to graduate school? To get the right answers. What am I getting? The right questions.