Old Members Trust Travel Grant Report – Helen Baxendale
Over the summer of 2017, I undertook six weeks of fieldwork in several major cities of the United States to deepen my understanding of the politics of education policymaking and the recent impact of the so-called ‘education reform movement’ on the shape of American schooling. My research focusses primarily on the inception, development, and legacy of the Teach for America program – a totemic example of the ‘reform movement,’ which, since its founding 1990, has challenged the jurisdiction of conventional teacher training institutions, teachers’ unions, and traditional modes of public education administration. I am seeking to explain how TFA has managed to “disrupt” substantially traditional public education systems, especially when powerful vested interests are hostile to the organisation’s mission and existence.
To this end, I conducted interviews with current and former Teach for America personnel, (including the founder, Wendy Kopp, and many other senior staff) with leading educational researchers at universities, think tanks, and in the national media, and with union leaders and other critics of the reform movement, such as Diane Ravitch. I have returned to Oxford with a large volume of interview data, and a long list of contacts to draw on as I continue my research. Travel to the United States also permitted me to access school board meeting minutes and local media coverage of the expansion and growth of the Teach for America program to particular locations, such as Los Angeles, New York City, and Phoenix. This material has provided essential contextual information for my dissertation, and would otherwise have been inaccessible, as very little of this material is likely to be digitised soon.
The Old Members Trust Travel Grant also helped to facilitate my attendance at the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco, which was an incomparable opportunity to discuss my dissertation with some of the leading scholars in my field and to learn more about the latest research in closely related areas. The exchanges I had at APSA yielded considerable theoretical insights and introduced me to new sources of data I had not previously considered. More generally, the conference was a very useful insight to the ‘culture’ of the American academy which differs from the British scene in ways I had not previously appreciated.
I am very grateful for the support of the Old Members of University College. Without their generous endowment I would not have been able to cover nearly as much ground, make as many fruitful connections, or glean as much useful data as I did.