"In my work to understand reform at a macro level, it's important I not lose sight of what it looks like and feels like inside a single school."
As the first Director of Research at Brown University's famed Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Joe McDonald studied how American schools can become more effective and accountable learning environments for kids. When NYU invited him to be a part of the Department of Teaching and Learning, McDonald "saw a chance to get involved in school reform in New York, where I'm from originally, and also a chance to return to teaching, which I had begun to miss as a researcher."
McDonald is teaching again, but his research continues as well. With a grant from the Spencer Foundation, he is currently studying large-scale efforts to improve schools in five American cities. Another grant from the Noyce Foundation enables him to study an effort to create new, smaller, and more effective high schools in a number of other cities.
His research has resulted in the books School Reform Behind the Scenes and Redesigning School. McDonald's most recent book is Power of Protocols. "Protocols are devices for organizing meetings for teachers, either by time or subject, so that they might better learn from each other. School reform circles across the country are pioneering protocols; their goals are to improve productivity and problem solving."
But McDonald is not content to merely study and write about school reform. He is constantly weighing his work against the reality of New York City schools. This is important to him because McDonald taught high school for seventeen years before receiving his EdD from Harvard University.
"In my work to understand reform at a macro level, it's important I not lose sight of what it looks like and feels like inside a single school. I need to keep rooted in schooling and the lives of kids and teachers - the dailyness of school - for my work to make a difference."
To this end, McDonald has been instrumental in forming the University Neighborhood High School on the Lower East Side, a partnership school with NYU that caters to the diverse population of the neighborhood where it is situated. "UNHS has been very successful and it's been great fun to help get it off the ground," he says.
More recently, McDonald was instrumental in the development of the Department of Teaching and Learning's doctoral program. "We've been successful in recruiting a range of people who have at least five years experience teaching, and who are interested in teacher education, school reform and curriculum development. We wanted a program that would attract people who might have great strength in many areas and a great breadth of interest. We now have a premiere doctoral program where we're attracting students from all over the world. Really top notch young scholars."
McDonald is excited by the program's addition to the Department, and looks forward to the Department "remaining a vital part of the Steinhardt School by preparing teachers and staying connected with schools - especially those in NYC. I hope we get even better than we are at serving the schools we work with as partners, as well as serving our students who want to be teachers. They're great students, a terrific group of people."