Living the Promise: The Ted and Jo Dutton Presidential Chair in Education Policy and Politics

A Gift to UCR Supports Analysis, Action, and Reflection in Schools

Ted and Jo Dutton, left, stand with Professor Joseph Kahne and his wife, Tamar Dorfman. Photo by Carrie Rosema

UC Riverside Professor Joseph Kahne often delves into big ideas in his research. He studies government policy, the purpose of education, youth engagement, and digital media and in this fast-changing world, often all these at the same time.

As a former high school teacher, Kahne’s research and reform work explores ways that educational programs and policies can influence the quality, quantity, and equality of youth civic and political development and participation – especially in this digital age.

Today, as the inaugural Ted and Jo Dutton endowed presidential chair for education policy and politics in the Graduate School of Education, Kahne’s work is motivated by a deep desire to reform and strengthen schools across the nation. He sits on the steering committee of the National Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, and is currently the chair of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics.

Jo Dutton credits former Graduate School of Education Dean Doug Mitchell as instrumental to their gift which resulted in the Ted and Jo Dutton Presidential Chair in Education Policy and Politics. “My husband and I believe that politics influence everything we do in our lives, including in our educational system. We think people need to realize the importance of politics on policy. Or policy on politics,” she said.

An excerpt from a Q&A with Professor Kahne, prepared for the upcoming issue of the UCR magazine, offers insight into how the endowed chair will support his research:

You were a high school teacher. How did you end up in your field of education policy?

After college, my first job was teaching at a public high school in New York City. One thing that experience really deepened for me was my desire to work on reform and to try to strengthen schools.

It was clear that there are many people working super hard to support kids, and there are many kids for whom their education was just so important. What was challenging [was] policies weren’t right. There wasn’t enough support for the kinds of reform and improvement that I felt would be helpful.

Do you have any examples or ways where you’ve seen your research change education policies?

The research I’ve done has helped identify the kinds of learning opportunities that promote desired civic outcomes – and it’s examined the degree to which all students receive these opportunities.

Unfortunately, as educators, we aren’t doing as much in this arena as we might. And low-income students and students of color get significantly fewer of the opportunities that we’ve found to be most effective.

In addition, all students need opportunities to engage with people who have different beliefs. Depending on the situation they may try to find common ground, to convince them to change their mind, and to learn from them.

Students also need instruction tied to core knowledge so that they understand how government works – how a bill becomes a law. And students need opportunities to imagine effective ways to promote what they believe.

In addition, key skills like how to run a meeting, how to engage in a contentious conversation productively, how to do careful analysis, using evidence and argument to reach better conclusions – these are all crucial civic capacities – and they are also important job and life skills. So the fact that education policy often doesn’t focus on those democratic purposes—explicitly and carefully — made me really want to do more to promote democratic goals.

A lot of my work has been on trying to think about how schools can address the democratic purposes of education fully, as a focus for educational policy analysis and evaluation. For example, we are now in the fourth year working with Oakland Unified School District on an initiative we call Educating for Democracy in the Digital Age.

How will the Dutton chair help you with your research?

I feel so fortunate. The Chair provides a fabulous foundation for the kind of work that I want to do. It will enable me to support graduate and undergraduate students on my research projects. And it will provide support for other costs associated with the research and school reform work I plan to do.

Why is UCR the right place for your research?

Certainly, the Inland Empire is a very dynamic place to be. And UCR is expanding and developing in significant ways. That kind of growth is not common among higher education institutions. The University is building on a solid tradition, and it is also clearly a place that is open to exploring new possibilities and taking advantage of opportunities as they develop. That’s super exciting – both in terms of the education we offer and the research work we do. There’s tremendous positive energy on the campus.

You can see the campus expanding in exciting ways and focusing on issues and priorities that are fundamentally important for this region of California, but also for the state and nation. I love being part of a university that is tackling big issues while working to deepen understanding and promote meaningful change.

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