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‘Abstract’ podcast from VCU-led consortium explores vexing issues of K-12 public education

By Brian McNeill, University Public Affairs
bwmcneill@vcu.edu, 804-827-0889

Monday, Aug. 28, 2017

A new podcast by the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium — a collaboration between the VCU School of Education and seven Richmond-area school districts — is exploring some of the most pressing issues in K-12 public education, including racial disproportionality in school discipline, college access for students in Virginia and teacher morale.

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VCU School of Education doctoral student David Naff records an intro to an upcoming episode of Abstract in the recording studio in James Branch Cabell Library.

The podcast, “Abstract,” features discussions with Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium study team members, researchers, local K-12 teachers and others about the consortium’s research aimed at solving educational issues and improving teaching and learning.

“At the Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium at VCU, we strive to conduct research that is relevant to the needs of local school divisions and share it in ways that are engaging and accessible,” said “Abstract” host David Naff, a doctoral candidate in educational psychology at VCU and assistant director of research and evaluation for the consortium. “Podcasts have been growing in popularity and we knew that by creating Abstract we could offer an interesting way for people to explore issues in public education while providing a platform for combining the voices of stakeholders from research and practice.”

The podcast focuses primarily on issues in public education in the Richmond region, but the topics also frequently have implications for schools across the country.

“Metropolitan Richmond isn’t the only place with an increasingly diverse student body, or issues related to the school-to-prison pipeline, or teacher shortages,” Naff said. “We have lots of people invested in public education locally, but they fit into a broader conversation about how important it is to ensure equitable education for our students nationally.

“While people in and around Richmond might be able to hear their neighbors or colleagues on this podcast, I believe someone in other parts of the country would be able to relate to the content just as well,” he added. “We have listeners from different states and even other parts of the world. To me, that shows how eager we are to talk about issues in education.”

“Abstract” recently launched a special series, “Abstract: Crossroads in Education,” that features conversations about the current state and future direction of public education. So far, it has included interviews with researchers from the School of Education, a local superintendent, and representatives from Richmond Teachers for Social Justice. A new episode features a conversation with VCU students who are poised to become public school teachers.

“Chances are, if you are interested in issues related to public education, we have an episode for you,” Naff said.

Before coming to VCU to pursue his Ph.D., Naff was a high school counselor in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He teaches classes through VCU and Wake Forest University, and works with Armstrong High School to design and evaluate an academy for the school’s freshmen. His research focuses on how students in high-poverty schools perceive themselves in the future and make decisions about pursuing a college degree.

The idea behind the podcast, Naff said, is to disseminate the consortium’s research, but also to contribute to the broader conversation about public education.

“I really believe that the kind of research that moves the world forward is thoughtful about the people potentially impacted by it,” he said. “In the educational research world we can often get caught up in conversations about whether we are more focused on research or service. Ideally, we are doing both. ‘Abstract’ is intended as a space for bringing together different voices in education and capitalizing on the opportunity for us to learn from each other.”

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