West Dallas STEM School Featured in Park Cities People Insert on STEAM

SMU’s Stephanie L. Knight, Leon Simmons Endowed Dean, heads up the planning grant for the upcoming West Dallas STEM School.

Park Cities People and Preston Hollow People published a special section on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) education, including an article on the design and planning for the new West Dallas STEM school. The work for the PreK-8 school is supported by a $2 million grant provided by Toyota USA Foundation to SMU Simmons. Read more about the partnership between Simmons, Dallas ISD, Toyota, and members of the West Dallas communities.

Dominique Baker Receives AERA and Spencer Foundation Grants

Dominique J. Baker, assistant professor of education policy, has been awarded an American Educational Research Association (AERA) research grant and a Spencer Foundation small research grant.

The AERA research grant will provide $25,000 to examine the effect of a Texas state policy designed to increase college completion and limit college student debt by incentivizing students to take fewer classes unrelated to their degree (excess semester credit hour policies).

In Texas, public institutions may charge in-state students up to the full out-of-state price once students gain credits above a certain level.

This policy is designed to discourage students from taking classes not needed for graduation while encouraging colleges to create more streamlined pathways to a degree. Prior research suggests that these types of policies may encourage students to simply borrow more instead of focusing on graduating more quickly. These types of policies may also affect transfer students if their transfer credits do not count toward their degree program, but do count toward the overall number of cumulative credits they are allowed to pursue.

The Spencer small research grant will provide $50,000 for Baker to investigate whether Texas community college districts show evidence of racial gerrymandering. Some scholars have found evidence of racial gerrymandering in K-12 attendance school zones across the United States. However, little research has focused on how district boundaries are created for community colleges. This project will use several different geospatial techniques to produce evidence on whether racial gerrymandering exists, and whether boundaries alleviate or worsen segregation in community colleges.

While both research projects focus on Texas as case studies, these policies exist in several other states.  Baker aims to provide scholars, policymakers, and the public with evidence on the extent to which inequities are embedded within state higher education policies on course-taking behaviors, and in the creation of community college districts.

She will begin work on both studies in 2020.

Pavlakis and Richards Analyze Education Outcomes of Homeless Students in Houston

Alexandra Pavlakis, assistant professor, Education Policy and Leadership Department

Student homelessness is on the rise nationally, and roughly, 10 percent of all U.S. homeless students live in Texas. To see how this growing student population is faring educationally, professors Alexandra Pavlakis, Meredith Richards, and postdoctoral fellow Kessa Roberts are engaged in long-term research with the Houston Independent School District, the seventh-largest district in the country. The number of homeless students there rose to approximately 30,000 after Hurricane Harvey, and many have not recovered.

Meredith Richards, assistant professor, Education Policy and Leadership Department

Working with the school district and Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC) at Rice University, Pavlakis, Richards, and Roberts want to know how homeless students are doing relative to non-homeless students. They are examining attendance, discipline, achievement, and attainment. Part of what they are seeing is that outcomes depend on factors such as where students sleep at night, and if they are on their own or accompanied by adults.

They just concluded their first phase of research, which involves quantitative analysis, and their report comes out in the spring.

As a commitment to the project, their research team created and distributed a bilingual directory of community resources to homeless families in the school district. The Moody Foundation and SMU’s University Research Council support the research.

 

CORE Finds Positive Results for Summer Programs Run by the Dallas City of Learning Collaborative

Annie Wright, director of evaluation for CORE

The Dallas City of Learning, an organizational effort to fight student loss of learning during summer, received a positive assessment from the Center on Research and Evaluation at SMU Simmons.

Annie Wright, CORE’s director of evaluation, reported that the more students participated in summer learning programs, the more pronounced were the gains.

“What we’re seeing is that the effect of summer learning extends well into the school year,” Wright said.

The Dallas City of Learning is a partnership between the City of Dallas, Dallas ISD, and Big Thought. Read more.

Marketplace Radio Reports on Status of Student Loans Using Dominique Baker’s Expertise

More students from higher-income families are taking out loans to go to college, according to a Marketplace report on public radio. Assistant Professor Dominique Baker explains how higher-income families are more apt to chose more expensive schools and also use Parent PLUS, which allows borrowing up to the full cost of attendance.

Baker says, “Income is not wealth. That’s critical to keep in mind because there are some families that have the same amounts of income, but they have different economic resources that they can tap into to help support students through college.”  Read more.

Gándara Selected as Finalist for William T. Grant Scholars Program

Denisa Gándara, assistant professor of higher education in the Department of Education Policy and Leadership, is one of ten finalists for the William T. Grant Scholars Program. Early career researchers submit proposals for five-year research and mentoring plans designed to expand their skills and knowledge. Applicants are nominated by their institutions.

The ten finalists will be interviewed in February 2019 and four to six Scholars will be announced in March. Those selected will each receive $350,000 over five years and participate in annual meetings. The Scholars Program began in 1982 and has a rich history of supporting the development of early-career researchers in the social, behavioral, and health sciences.

Dean Knight Responds to DMN Commentary on the Moral Imperative to Bridge Dallas’ Economic Divide

The strength of a dedicated partnership between SMU Simmons, Dallas ISD, and Toyota to create a new STEM school in West Dallas will create new opportunities for students and their families, says Dean Stephanie L. Knight in a commentary published in The Dallas Morning News, November 26, 2019. Her op-ed was written in response to a city-wide challenge issued by the chairman of the Dallas Citizens Council to bridge the economic divide found in under-resourced areas.

Toyota awarded a $2 million planning grant to the Simmons School for the development of a new STEM  pre-K to eighth-grade school, and Dallas ISD anticipates opening the school in 2021. Read more.

Dean Stephanie Knight and leaders from SMU, Dallas ISD, and Toyota give updates on the STEM school at a meeting, Wednesday, September 11, 2019, at the Lakewest YMCA in West Dallas.

Batenberg Discusses Gifted and Talented Education in Parents Magazine

Ann Batenberg, clinical associate professor of gifted education in Simmons, provides a framework for how gifted education is working in the U.S.

In a Parents magazine article, she discusses how a lack of federal laws pertaining to gifted education has lead to a lack of identifying and serving students. She also says using local norms may be better determinants than national testing. “High test scores have proven to be better at predicting the income level of a student, not their academic achievement,” she adds. Read more.

 

Pavlakis Contributes Insights on Uprooted Students in Public Radio Documentary

Alexandra Pavlakis, assistant professor in Education Policy and Leadership, researches the effects of homelessness on students, so when APM Reports decided to do a documentary on children who get uprooted from schools repeatedly, Pavlakis was consulted.

Her insights on the increasing population of homeless students are featured in “Students on the Move: Keeping uprooted kids in school.” The documentary was distributed to 300 public radio stations, including KERA 90.1 in North Texas. The station aired the documentary August 18, 2019.

APM Reports provides the audio story and the transcript.

The Atlantic Features Gándara’s Expertise in Article on U of Alaska Cuts

Assistant Professor Denisa Gándara in the Department of Education Policy and Leadership was interviewed by The Atlantic on state funding cuts to the University of Alaska system. Initially, the governor asked the university for $130 million in cuts, then negotiated $70 million over three years.

Gándara points out that both the state and the university have been relying heavily on revenues from the oil market, and not moving away from that dependence. The university should be emphasizing its role in educating students for non-oil dependent jobs, she says. Read more of her observations on the consequences of these cuts.