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Doctoral candidates Taylor, Umansky recognized for research potential

May 25, 2014
Eric Taylor and Ilana Umansky
Eric Taylor and Ilana Umansky
Taylor's work on teachers’ use of technology and Umansky's on labeling of English Language Learners wins kudos from NAEd/Spencer.

Two students at Stanford Graduate School of Education — Eric Taylor and Ilana Umansky — have been awarded National Academy of Education/Spencer Dissertation Fellowships for 2014-2015.

Some 600 students apply for the highly competitive dissertation grants, which went this year to 31 candidates, according to the NAEd, which administers the awards in partnership with the Spencer Foundation. The program “aims to identify the most talented researchers conducting dissertation research related to education,” the group says. The fellowships provide $25,000 in support for such work on the history, theory or practice of formal or informal education.

Both Taylor and Umansky are in the interdisciplinary education research program offered through Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis.

Taylor studies the economics of education, and does research on personnel in the education sector. Working with co-authors, he had two papers recently in the American Economic Review:The effect of evaluation on teacher performance” and “Information and employee evaluation: Evidence from a randomized intervention in public schools.” Prior to Stanford, he worked at Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research, and at the Los Angeles Education Partnership. He received a masters in public policy from from UCLA.

Taylor’s grant proposal is titled “New technology and teacher performance.” 
His summary, as posted on the NAEd website, says:

“The job of classroom teacher, like most occupations, has changed and will continue to change as new computer tools and software become available to enhance or replace labor. I study the effects of a labor-replacing computer technology on the productivity of classroom teachers. I examine teachers' own decisions about how to educate students in their classrooms, measure how those decisions change when a new technology is introduced, and estimate the net effect on the variation in teacher performance. Data for the study come from a series of field experiments in which teachers were given computer-aided instruction (CAI) software to use in their classrooms. Preliminary results suggest that, in math classes, CAI reduces the variance of teacher productivity, as measured by student test score growth. The change in productivity partly reflects changes in teachers' level of work effort and teachers' decisions about how to allocate class time. How computers affect teacher decisions and productivity is immediately relevant to both ongoing education policy debates about teaching quality and the day-to-day management of a large workforce.”

Umansky’s research combines policy analysis, sociological theory and quantitative methods to shed light on the educational opportunities, experiences and outcomes of immigrant and English learner (EL) students. She has examined such subjects as course access, language of instruction, reclassification, and the impact of the EL label. She works in close partnership with school districts, grounding her research in questions and responses that support greater educational equity and excellence for immigrant and EL-classified students. She recently co-authored a paper with GSE professor Sean Reardon: “Reclassification patterns among Latino English Learner students in bilingual, dual immersion and English immersion classrooms.”

Umansky has worked with the World Bank, the Organization of American States, Research Triangle Institute, and Sesame Workshop and has conducted educational equity and quality research in Nicaragua, Mexico, Colombia, El Salvador and other countries in Latin America. She has a masters from Harvard Graduate School of Education and a masters in sociology from Stanford University.

Umansky’s grant proposal is titled “Peeling back the label: Studies of educational opportunity among students learning English.”
 The NAEd website offers a summary:

“This dissertation examines the educational opportunities and resulting outcomes of the fastest growing official subgroup of students in U.S. schools, students learning English. Using quantitative methodologies, longitudinal data from a large, urban school district in California, and drawing upon sociological theory on educational stratification, immigration, language, race and ethnicity, and labeling, the dissertation is comprised of three main analyses. The first analysis examines the reclassification patterns of Latino English learner students, identifying not only the median amount of time it takes to reclassify but, importantly, what proportion of students reclassify by the end of elementary, middle, and high school, and how these reclassification patterns differ based on students' linguistic instructional environment. The second analysis examines English learner students' course-taking both descriptively and quasi-experimentally. The third analysis turns to look at the long-term effects of classification as an English learner on achievement. In summary, this dissertation addresses an issue of urgency in education today: the highly inequitable outcomes of students learning English. The dissertation explores key aspects of the educational opportunities afforded to English learners, the causal outcomes of those opportunities, and, importantly, the malleable factors that can improve the opportunities and outcomes of students learning English.” 

The dissertation fellows from Stanford University in previous years are Elizabeth Buckner, Brianna Cardiff-Hicks, Lorien Chambers Schuldt, Jon Valant in 2013; Julie Cohen in 2012; Rebecca Dizon-Ross and Sara Rutherford-Quach in 2011; and Kendra Bischoff, Maria Perez and David Yeager in 2010.