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May 6, 2015

Faculty research celebration focuses on education, policy impact

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  • Boston
Topic was Research in Action: Policy and Community in Child Development

Professors Miren Uriarte of the College of Public and Community Service, and Tara Parker and Anne Douglass of the College of Education and Human Development shared their high-impact research at the annual Faculty Research Celebration on Tuesday. 

“The phrase ‘research in action’ truly speaks to what it means to study and do research here at the University of Massachusetts Boston,” Chancellor J. Keith Motley said. “The research done here has real-world implications. That might just be a cliché phrase somewhere else, but because of the extraordinary depth and breadth of our faculty’s research, scholarship, and community engagement, there are many substantive examples of how research done here has solved problems, provided crucial information, and improved lives.”

Uriarte, a professor of human services and current member of the Boston School Committee, talked about her study on the results of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests. Uriarte’s research showed that the state should be looking at detailed demographic data, not just the overall pass rate, when measuring success. She learned that the expectation was that English Language Learners would have the same proficiency as other learners within one year, and that immersion programs were being favored over traditional bilingual education.

“This was like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Not only do we know that children don’t acquire a second language in a year, we know that the most effective integration of immigrant children is when they are able to manage both cultures equally well, so that they’re not constantly having to make choices between home and the world around them,” Uriarte said.

Uriarte has been researching this issue for more than 15 years. When Boston Mayor Marty Walsh appointed her to the School Committee in February, he acknowledged that she has “firsthand knowledge about what policies and investments can be made to make headway” on the issue of achievement gaps that persist for young Latinos in the city.

Associate Professor of Leadership in Education Tara Parker’s research agenda focuses on higher education policy related to access and equity for historically underrepresented groups, particularly students of color. She and her research team did case studies in five states, interviewing policymakers and administrators, faculty, and staff on the effectiveness of developmental, or remedial, education.

“While institutional leaders were happy to talk about the way they continue to fill their institutional missions, we often found that they were conflicted as policies often constrained their abilities to serve students. But this conflict also led to institutions to become creative in the ways they serve students,” Parker said.

Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction Anne Douglass moved into academia because of her commitment to impacting policy change. She says that trauma exposure is common among young children and their families and teachers in urban neighborhoods, and that early care and education providers are uniquely positioned to support families and reduce risk factors. She is currently examining this along with the Boston Public Health Commission through federal grants from the U.S. Department of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“In terms of contributions for policy, for improving quality, I think this research offers a new way of thinking about parent-teacher partnerships at the organizational and systems level. It really moves beyond that individual training of teachers in isolation,” Douglass said.

The Friends of the Joseph P. Healey Library sponsored the event.

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