With each issue, Trib+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to public education. Here is this week's subject:
Cathy Horn is co-director of the new Education Research Center at the University of Houston, one of only three in the state. The facility aims to ask and answer key research questions about education policy in the state.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Edu: Tell me about the University of Houston’s new Education Research Center and why it’s needed in Houston.
Cathy Horn: We serve the state but we pay special attention to the community around us. In this region, we serve more than almost a quarter of the state’s total population and have more than 20 percent of the state’s students in the Gulf Coast region. We are in an important place to understand key critical education policy questions. For us, it was a very logical endeavor to undertake. I’m really interested in providing access to important data.
One of the benefits of an Education Research Center is it lets us usefully ask and answer questions about work happening at the policy level. We’re interested in trying to understand the effectiveness of the work happening in the state that aims to improve experiences for students as they move through the K-12 system, into and out of the post secondary system and into the workforce.
Trib+Edu: What kinds of specific questions will your research aim to address?
Horn: We want to ask questions like, what are the impact of dual credit courses on credit retention and degree attainment? How are those outcomes mediated by high school characteristics? We want to know what are differences in key outcomes for low-income students who begin their post secondary educational experience at a broad access institution.
Trib+Edu: Walk me through how the Education Research Center will ask and answer these questions.
Horn: We will have a review process that will ask for application proposals people and organizations in the community want to do. We’ll have folks at the University of Houston asking important questions and we’ll also have our colleagues at Rice, Houston Community College and other institutions around the region. We also anticipate having other educational partners, like school districts.
We have an internal advisory board to make decisions about what research projects are likely to bring the most useful information. The state will make final decisions on what questions to answer. After that, it's about businesses doing large-scale secondary data analysis.
Trib+Edu: This facility will be the third Education Research Center in the state. What’s the same and what’s different about what you’re doing?
Horn: As we join our colleagues, we’re really working with them to help provide critical research-based answers to policy questions. Each Education Research Center has a different internal focus with the specific research questions being asked. Ultimately, it’s a collaborative enterprise that becomes really helpful in the state and its ability to make sound decisions.
Trib+Edu: Where will your research end up?
Horn: Some information will land in peer-reviewed journals, scholarly venues. Other kinds of venues we anticipate our work and work of our partners in this Education Research Center is also in policy briefs, in regional analyses. It’s important that our work is presented in practitioner friendly, immediately translatable forms for policymakers.
Trib+Edu: How do you hope to impact policy?
Horn: We’re enhancing the policy discussion. Policymakers are trying to research as much as they can in the choices they’re making, but the state's Education Research Centers all offer access to a unique set of data that lets us answer some really important questions differently and in many cases, better.
What’s unique about the Education Research Center data and unique nationally, is that very few states track this data over an extraordinarily extended period of time and note the pathways students who enter our public elementary and secondary schools take as they work their way through the educational system and into the workforce. It’s something that simply isn’t available and it’s critical because it lets us better understand what’s happening so we can make recommendations.
Trib+Edu: How do you see the center’s role within the community?
Horn: I do hope that organizations who don’t necessarily see themselves as researchers, but have important research-based questions, understand they’re an important part of a collaborative utilizing of the Education Research Center. I get worried when I start talking about big data and people’s eyes glaze over because that’s not what they do, it’s not their passion.
In many cases, the passion of their work prompts really fundamental questions that need to be asked and we are anxious to be supportive in working through those questions. We bring expertise in the analytical side that matches well with expertise on practitioners’ side. We need to be having more inclusive discussions about important questions that need to be asked and answered.