Education policies address broad issues of human capital development, equity of opportunities and outcomes, fair and efficient allocation of education resources, societal opportunity structures that impede and facilitate education success, and political structures that frame how education policy is formulated and implemented. For example, education policy Ph.D.’s might study whether reducing the size of high schools in large urban districts improves the performance of students who attend those schools as well as the performance of students who continue to attend other district schools. Or, whether state school finance court cases challenging the equity or adequacy of the distribution of resources across school districts improves outcomes for disadvantaged students. Or whether regular education students fare well when students with disabilities are educated in their same classrooms rather than in segregated classrooms.
Moreover, the field involves study of policies and issues that while not strictly “education” have an effect on educational outcomes. For example, the level of crime in a student’s neighborhood or the quality of a student’s housing or the food policies in a student’s school or district can affect student performance, attendance and school environment. These related issues are also part of the education policy filed.
Expertise in education policy involves the ability to approach research by undertaking causal studies of effects of policies and by undertaking process studies of the formulation and implementation of policies. Economics, politics, and sociology form the core disciplines for this field. Students are expected to have an understanding of all aspects of the field, but to specialize in a discipline and approach. The U. S. Department of Education sponsored Pre-Doctoral Interdisciplinary Training Program (PIRT) is an exceptional resource for NYU students interested in education policy (http://steinhardt.nyu.edu/ihdsc/iespirt/fellowship). The PIRT program provides tuition and stipend support for doctoral students, seminars featuring national experts in education policy, and access to opportunities to work for and with a wide variety of faculty from around the University. All students applying to the Wagner Ph.D. program in educational policy should indicate if they are interested in being part of the PIRT program.
In advance of taking the exam, students should meet with faculty members supervising the field to discuss their course preparation and outside reading and to declare which approaches, disciplines, and ages of students they intend to focus on. While questions will not be limited to these areas, faculty will take into account student interests when writing and reading exams. Moreover, because of the broad nature of the field, the comprehensive exams will provide students with a significant degree of choice. The exam will include five or six questions, from which students must answer three.