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HGSE Faculty Evaluate National Education Initiatives in Mexico

Several HGSE faculty members recently traveled to Mexico to study four key education policy initiatives. This study is a major collaboration between HGSE and an international department of education, as well as a unique opportunity for faculty to work together on an interdisciplinary research project.

"This is a major commitment on the part of the Ed School faculty to international education that could set the stage for continuous work with federal and state government agencies and institutions in Mexico," says Ford Foundation Professor Fernando Reimers, who is the principal investigator for this research project. "We hope that this evaluation will contribute to the evolving education agenda in Mexico."

Over the next few months, 11 faculty members will study four key national policy initiatives--including programs that provide universal coverage of preschool, early literacy instruction, and school initiated improvement--and facilitate interdisciplinary integration of different curriculum subjects using technology.


The Harvard faculty members bring interdisciplinary expertise to these four large scale programs. Reimers, who directs the Office of Global Education, as well as the program in International Education Policy, has extensive experience advising governments and development institutions on education policy reform. He has been conducting education research in Mexico since joining the HGSE faculty in 1997.

The following HGSE faculty members are collaborating in this project:

  • Acting Dean and Lesser Professor Kathleen McCartney and future Professor Hiro Yoshikwa are studying the preschool policy reform.
  • Reimers and Shattuck Professor Catherine Snow are studying the national literacy program.
  • Thompson Professor and Academic Dean Richard Murnane in collaboration with Anrig Professor Richard Elmore, Eliot Professor John Willett, and doctoral student Sergio Cardenas are studying the program that decentralizes decision-making in schools.
  • Lecturer Illona Holland in collaboration with Senior Lecturer Jim Honan, Wirth Professor Chris Dede, and Professor David Perkins are studying the crosscurricular technology integration program.

Reimers hopes the study can aid conversations between the senior education officials of the current administration and a new administration that will be appointed by the president elected this July. "We are grateful to our colleagues in Mexico for the opportunity to participate with them on education reform" said Reimers.

In late March, several faculty members including Reimers, McCartney, Murnane, Honan, Holland, and Cardenas traveled to Mexico to meet with Mexican officials, collect data, and conduct interviews and classroom observations. This offered a unique and different experience for many faculty members.

McCartney and Yoshikawa traveled over two and half hours outside of Mexico City to visit a child center where the parents and the communities found and provided the building to meet program demands. McCartney was fascinated by what she saw. "I was in the middle of nowhere and parents were there to meet with us and were so proud," she says.

Mexico requires preschool age children to attend school--something that even the U.S. has yet to implement. McCartney spoke to parents about the program and, although many of Mexico's parents admitted it was hard to leave their children, they recognize how important it is for their education.

Over the next few months, faculty members will revisit Mexico and host their Mexican counterparts at Harvard to advance the study. "This is a promising collaborative effort that can have multiple positive impacts on the HGSE community," Reimers says.

The collaborative and interdisciplinary approach has turned into two core courses at the school. Furthermore, this work can help compare research on U.S. education. "If, as a result of this project, we begin to understand that some education challenges, and their potential solutions, cross national and disciplinary boundaries this generous opportunity created by our colleagues in Mexico will have made us humbler and wiser," Reimers says.

"In my view this is the kind of work teams of faculty from HGSE should be involved in on a regular basis," says Honan, who would like to see HGSE continue with this type of multidisciplinary response in the future. "It's important, complex, timely, and positions work in terms of outreach, technical assistance, and research in strategic ways."

The experience is proving to be rewarding not only on a collaborative scale, but also a personal one for many faculty members.

"I predict this will enrich my research experience," McCartney says. "It is an important large collaborative with the ability to impact policy directly."