Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Friday, March 3, 2017

Education Analytics PAship a ‘great complement’ to policy grad program

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Rob Meyer

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Selina Eadie

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Drew McDermott

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Stephanie (Rubin) Murray

Rob Meyer’s commitment to improving K-12 students’ academic success spans three decades. As an educator and researcher, he has shared his passion with students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and school leaders across the country.

Meyer expanded that commitment in 2015 by supporting a project assistant (PA) position at Education Analytics for a graduate student attending UW-Madison’s La Follette School of Public Affairs. He launched Education Analytics, a Madison-based nonprofit organization that partners with school districts and state education agencies across the country to improve students’ educational outcomes, in 2012.

Drew McDermott (MPA ’16) was its first PA, working part time during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 academic years and full time the summer between his first and second years at La Follette as well as a few months after graduating.

“Through Education Analytics, I gained a clear understanding of many of the issues faced by school district and state education administrators in measuring student achievement and supporting effective teaching practice,” said McDermott, who joined Equal Opportunity Schools, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization, in October 2016.

Selina Eadie (MPA ’13) was one of Education Analytics’ first full-time employees and helped develop the PA position, which covers full tuition (in-state or out-of-state) plus a stipend for 20 hours of work per week during the academic year. Working remotely in California, Eadie now serves as an Education Analytics data strategy manager – a new position due to the organization’s rapid expansion.

“I was a strong advocate of the PAship because I think it’s rare for grad school students to get tuition covered and a stipend while working with an outside organization,” said Eadie, who worked in afterschool programs through AmeriCorps after receiving her bachelor’s degree from the University of California-Santa Barbara. “It’s great to supplement your graduate experience with a PAship in general, but working for a data policy nonprofit organization is directly applicable to a master’s degree in public affairs (MPA).”

Selection for the merit-based PAship is primarily project-dependent, Eadie said, adding that La Follette students bring wide-ranging experience to the organization.

Incoming PAs receive hands-on training on data analysis systems, crafting accessible communication to stakeholders about data, and creating results that focus on both technical and consequential validity. The fellowship then gives PAs the opportunity for real-world application of these skills by directly supporting data analysis projects, data-driven research, and communication with partners across the field.

The current PA – Stephanie (Rubin) Murray – worked for the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance before starting graduate school in 2016. Todd Berry, president of the Taxpayers Alliance since 1994, was Eadie’s budgeting professor at the La Follette School.

“Stephanie had done some great work with Todd,” Eadie recalled. “She had been drafting reports on analyses by the Alliance, and we had a lot of projects that matched her skillset.”

Murray, who was born and raised in Fredericksburg, Virginia, began work at Education Analytics the summer before starting her first semester at La Follette.

“I really appreciated the opportunity to start at Education Analytics in June,” said Murray, who came to Wisconsin when her now-husband took a job with Epic Systems in nearby Verona. “The idea of starting a new job and grad school at the same time was kind of scary.”

Much of Murray’s work deals with helping school districts seek funding opportunities and submit grant proposals – several of which were due shortly after she joined Education Analytics.

“Everyone welcomed me with open arms,” said Murray, who has bachelor degrees in economics and English from Saint Vincent College in Pennsylvania. “Learning to navigate the world of education funding has been a tremendous learning experience; it has been challenging in the best way.”

She is especially excited to expand her knowledge on social-emotional learning. “I would like to focus on that for one of my La Follette School courses,” Murray said.

McDermott’s PAship also introduced him to issues that he explored further from an academic perspective through his graduate work. “Their willingness to incorporate my personal goals into my role at the organization fostered an incredible learning environment,” he said.

“The fellowship was a great complement and balance to the more traditional aspects of a policy graduate program, a fantastic applied application of the evaluation and research skills that La Follette professors promote through the program’s coursework,” McDermott added.

Meyer, who received his doctorate in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, launched Education Analytics as an outgrowth of his work on school and educator effectiveness at UW–Madison, where he is the director of the Value-Added Research Center at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.

“Our organization is very excited about this opportunity to advance a student’s education and provide a meaningful, diverse work experience,” said Meyer, a La Follette School research professor. “We are structured around the significance of data-informed decision-making – a value shared by the La Follette School, especially in its statistical sequence of courses.”

Education Analytics supports districts and states around the nation through the use of analytics tools to measure student growth, estimate educator impact on student growth, improve the quality of teacher-created measures of student achievement, and advise on the use of these results to improve educational outcomes and promote equity.

In particular, one of the metrics Education Analytics calculates for a number of states and districts is a type of student growth model called a value-added measure. Value-added measures of teacher or school performance are based on student test scores but are adjusted in ways that more accurately reflect educator contributions as compared to other student outcome measures that do not take context into account.

“Our objective is to give educators, students, and leaders the tools they need to help make their system work better,” Meyer said. “Our goal is to provide accurate measures. We know that through accuracy, we are being fair.”