Theory of Action
Andrew Breitbart said, “Politics is downstream from culture.” There is no doubt that the influence Breitbart News has had on political discourse infamously reflects its late founder’s belief. But what is culture downstream from? In my research, I draw on the economics of education, psychology, and sociology literatures and investigate how schools impact this driver of politics and the policies that affect social equity in the U.S. I specifically leverage rigorous causal methods to identify how educational programs and interventions affect students’ outgroup attitudes, prosocial and empathic behaviors, and sociopolitical preferences.
Three key observations from education motivate my work. First, decades of substantial education reform have not meaningfully reduced racial and socioeconomic disparities on traditional measures of educational success (e.g., test scores). Second, substantial variation in these particular outcomes cannot be attributed to differences between schools. Finally, many U.S. schools serve a predominantly White and/or socioeconomically advantaged population of students, but most research ignores how these youth are educated. I thus believe that to meaningfully reduce racial and socioeconomic inequality in our society, schools should reduce individuals' negative outgroup prejudices, increase prosociality, and foster a commitment to equity. I believe these efforts are especially important in contexts that serve youth with racial and/or socioeconomic advantage.
For many of my research studies, I also partner with educational agencies to conduct evaluations of their policies and programs. I view this work as critical and complementary to my research interests described above, which are less focused on the immediate educational outcomes of concern to most states and districts. Changing attitudes and behaviors is difficult work that takes time. As such, I believe it is imperative to support agencies' current efforts towards improving the opportunities of their most marginalized students.