The National Academy of Education advances high-quality research to improve education policy and practice in the United States. Its members are a very distinguished and a very select group of education experts from all over the nation and world and its new president is Madison’s own Gloria Ladson-Billings.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Ladson-Billings tells Madison 365. “I was first elected to the academy a little over 10 years ago and it is an incredible organization.”
Ladson-Billings is a leading pedagogical theorist and teacher educator known for her groundbreaking work in the fields of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy and Critical Race Theory. She is the Kellner Family Distinguished Professor of Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and faculty affiliate in the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She says that she has known for a little while now that she was elected president by her peers, but was just waiting for the official press release to come out to speak publically about it.
Her term as the next president of the National Academy of Education (NAEd) will begin in fall of 2017 and will last four years. Ladson-Billings will succeed Michael Feuer, dean of George Washington University’s graduate school of education and human development.
The National Academies include science, engineering, and medicine and they work to improve government decision making and public policy, increase public understanding, and promote the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in matters involving science, engineering, technology, and health. Independent, expert reports and other scientific activities inform policies and actions that have the power to improve the lives of people in the U.S. and around the world.
“The National Academy of Science was put in place by a national charter that Abraham Lincoln signed in 1863 to investigate, examine, and experiment on any subject about science,” Ladson-Billings says. “The National Academy of Education is not really one of these academies but we’re in their building. We rent space from them. We are the new kids on the block and we came about in 1965. Every now and then we do work with the other academies.”
The National Academy of Education advances high-quality research to improve education policy and practice. Founded in 1965, the NAEd consists of U.S. members and foreign associates who are elected on the basis of outstanding scholarship related to education. The academy undertakes research studies to address pressing issues in education and administers professional development programs to enhance the preparation of the next generation of education scholars.
“We’re a stand-alone organizations that mimic the academies. Like those organizations, you can’t just join, you have to be elected,” Ladson-Billings says. “And you can’t petition to be elected … somebody has to notice you out there.”
The academy’s president is elected by its membership, who are themselves elected on the basis of outstanding scholarship or contributions to education. Ladson-Billings says that there are three or four National Academy of Education (NAEd) members on the UW campus with her.
“As president, one of the things that I’d like to do is to increase the recognition of our brand – I don’t think a lot of people know what the academy is or what we do,” Ladson-Billings says. “I’d also like to do more work with the other academies. I think that there’s some synergy there. I would like to develop some consensus panels on what I see are pressing issues.”
Ladson-Billings has spent here lifetime in the educational field and is the author of the critically acclaimed books, “The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African-American Students” and “Crossing Over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms.” Her latest book is “Beyond the Big House: African American Educators on Teacher Education.”
Ladson-Billings says that she came from an educational talk and a luncheon where a speaker was talking about the charter school movement. “One of the things that has happened is a precipitous drop of black teachers in New York City,” she says. “So, somehow everybody is calling charter schools the saving grace and the question is: are they? What does the research say? To me, that’s one of those issues.”
It probably depends on who is putting their own spin on it, right? “That’s why it would be really good to pull together the best minds we know to look at what is really happening,” Ladson-Billings says.
The academy has been working hard to broaden the group’s mostly older and white membership. As the first African American to lead the National Academy of Education, Ladson-Billings has some specific interests in issues of equity and what is happening to young students in various different racial and ethnic groups. “I think it really matters and I think it is the question of particularly urban schools and increasingly suburban schools,” Ladson-Billings says. “It’s a question in Madison schools.
“One of my goals is to see if I can help to revitalize some folks who are in the academy but don’t really participate,” she says. “One of our big charges will also be bringing along the next cohort and the next generation of young scholars. We do that through the Spencer Post-doctorate Fellowship Program.”
The National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship Program supports early career scholars working in critical areas of education research. “Many of us in the academy were Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. I was before I came to Wisconsin,” Ladson-Billings says. “We know that that is a promising group of people that we should be continuing to support and bring along and then maybe even looking a little further beyond the early-career people, we want to look at some of our graduate students.”
The academy, which includes 199 American members and 11 international associates, chooses new members annually based on education scholarship every year.
“We want to increase the visibility of the organization and keep strengthening our brand. It’s a very powerful and distinguished group of people that are in it,” Ladson-Billings says. “[Psychologist] Kenneth Clark of the famous Doll Tests [to study the psychological effects of segregation on African-American children in the ’40s] was in the academy. We have a Nobel Laureate physicist in the academy who is very interested in education. Bruce Alberts, who was the president of the National Academy of Science, is in the academy because he is very deeply interested in the teaching of science.
“It’s not a shabby group,” Ladson-Billings adds, laughing. “But I think many people have only looked at it as honorific and not seen it as a platform for which we could actually try and do something. Because we are education writ large, we have people in the academy from every imaginable study. We have a lot of talent and expertise here.”