Nothing will get a labor economist’s mental gears turning like the word “shortage.” At the very utterance of this term, Michael Podgursky’s ears perk up, his eyebrow rises, and he leans over his desk: “What do you mean by shortages?” It’s not that Podgursky isn’t accustomed to hearing the word—quite the contrary, actually. As a professor of Economics at MU, his query results from extensive research on education, a field that has fallen victim on numerous occasions to accusations of “shortages.”
There are a lot of anecdotal claims about school uniforms helping to level economic status, increase attendance rates, create a healthier school environment, curb school violence, increase academic achievement, and so forth. Unfortunately, none of them have been substantiated. And yet, according to recent estimates, today “roughly 25% of our elementary public schools have mandatory school uniform policies,” observes David Brunsma, whereas in the mid-1990s only 5% had such policies.
Dr. Higgins wants “kids [to] understand that they’ve known all their lives,” and talks about several of the Missouri Folk Arts Program’s initiatives to bring the folk arts to the schools.
K-12 education is an important area of concern for the United States. According to Podgursky, the country hasn’t been faring well in terms of international test scores. Research shows that countries with higher levels of scores grow faster, and that students who score higher earn more money than those with lower scores.
Recently, school districts and states have started collecting large data sets about students and teachers. Podgursky compares this tremendous treasure-trove of data to a candy shop for economists. These longitudinal data systems are important, because by analyzing student growth and achievement he can also determine the productivity rates of individual teachers.
The undergraduate research experience is a unique opportunity. Blockus reports that aside from preparing students for graduate school, research is a growth experience in which students will be “perhaps encountering some of the same frustrations, challenges, and problems as well as some of the same successes and accomplishments.” She observes that students “learn from each other, feed off of each other, and hopefully form friendships as well.” Blockus herself is living proof of the power of research on a young mind. As a college student she spent a summer working for the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, OARDC, a “very valuable experience.”
Graduate students are often required to spend a good portion of their education as researchers. The Undergraduate Research program at MU offers students a preview of what graduate school is all about. Blockus explains that the summer research program is helpful to students considering graduate education: “Students who do research in the summer get a real taste of that so they can confirm that that’s what they want to do.” The undergraduate students regularly work with professors, scholars, and post-doctorate fellows during the course of their research.
Student researchers have an opportunity to present their research at academic conferences across the country. Not only do they get to expose their work to a new audience, but they can also observe other projects outside of MU. “There are plenty of opportunities for students to see what’s happening not only in their own research group, but also in other research groups,” Blockus says. In the past, undergraduate researchers have traveled to major cities including Chicago, San Francisco, and New York City. “That’s a really neat experience,” she explains, “whether it is interacting with other scholars on campus or with scholars across the country or world.”
Even though the student researchers are usually not going to get their studies published in an academic journal, these researchers have an opportunity to make a difference with their findings. For example, every summer approximately twenty researchers go to Jefferson City to present their finding to lawmakers. “We work with the students to take their posters, turn those posters into something that very accessible to the public and elected officials,” Blockus explains. “This is our way of reminding the state officials of some of the things we do, and the special ways we are adding value to student experiences here at MU.”
Some of the images that people have about research include laboratories, as well as boring and solitary confinement. Well, Blockus tries to dispel some of these misconceptions. These undergraduate researchers have an opportunity to work one-on-one with researchers from a variety of countries (including Pakistan, South Korea, Australia, England, and Israel). “It really helps broaden their understanding of how science is a global experience” says Blockus. “The students are really working in a team environment, learning how to interact with other people on projects.”
At the first and only sanctioned online-degree program with a focus on mental health issues in schools in the country, students can take individual courses based on their unique needs through continuing education, and even earn a degree at the Masters or Education Specialist level. Recognized as a national model, the Center’s online program focuses on evidence-based practice and on current, practical application-driven principles and tested theories; people working in the field can take coursework in areas with which they are being confronted professionally.
Koller offers more history on how the Center came to be, as well as on his teaching philosophy.
Brunsma’s follow-up book, Evaluating Public School Uniforms: A Decade of Research (2006), consists of a collection of empirical studies by scholars on the subject.
Brunsma describes the research that led to The School Uniform Movement and What It Tells Us About American Education: A Symbolic Crusade (2004).