Ben Starsky

Is the 2016 election any different when it comes to education policy?

This was the question on Ben Starsky’s mind as he noticed presidential candidates avoiding talking about education policy and the direction they intended to take.

Seeking to fill this void, Starsky, a teaching associate and doctoral candidate in the University of Washington College of Education, designed a new course “Education Policy and the Presidency: Exploring the Connection Between the White House and the School House."
Starsky has always been naturally inclined to teaching and credits his advisor Joy Williamson-Lott, professor of education, with her influence in encouraging students to strive for personal engagement. His vision for “Education Policy and the Presidency” evolved organically through conversations with colleagues about insufficient discussion of education policy in current political campaigns. The course focuses on developing students’ ability to critique the current political landscape through an understanding of relevant historical documents.

“I’m a historian of education, so historical context and being able to articulate the trends — or perhaps, the pendulum swings — in the field of education was an important learning outcome for the course," Starsky said. "At the end of the day, this course allowed me to bring together a number of exciting topics students have asked about for years.”

The goal of the course is to enable students to discern the contradictory purposes of education policy and engage in political conversations. Students explore the impacts of Common Core Curriculum, No Child Left Behind legislation and federal grant competitions like Race to the Top.

Starsky’s own doctoral research is exploring the historic policies of public schools in the 1970s, focusing on community control and the desegregation of Seattle teachers. He believes that studying the history of education policy is essential not only for students, but for policymakers and civically engaged citizens as well.

In designing “Education Policy and the Presidency,” Starsky said he wanted to extend beyond the traditional classroom model to reach students on a critical level. Students in this course are required to design lesson plans and take turns teaching the class. For many students, these skills will be used in their future careers as educators.

“Honestly, I’d love to see a version of this class run in every department on campus — examining the economic policies, the public health policies, the foreign affairs policies — of all of the candidates," Starsky said. "Students are hungry for that sort of course content, and it is neatly aligned with the university’s mission 'to promote [student] capacity to make humane and informed decisions'.”

Ultimately, Starsky said, he hopes courses like this not only prepare future educators, but prepare current citizens to think critically about how their level of awareness regarding current issues can impact their communities and nation.


Ben Starsky, Teaching Associate

Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications