Conversation with CHASP Faculty Fellow Dr. Jennifer Holme

alt="CHASP Faculty Fellow Dr. Jennifer Holme"

A Conversation with CHASP Faculty Fellow Dr. Jennifer Holme

February 2019


Jennifer Jellison Holme, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Educational Policy and Planning in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy and CHASP Faculty Fellow at The University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on the politics and implementation of educational policy, with a particular focus on the relationship among school reform, equity, and diversity in schools. Holme received her Ph.D. in Education Policy (Urban Schooling) from UCLA, her Ed.M in Administration, Planning and Social Policy from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and her B.A. in Sociology (magna cum laude) from UCLA. She most recently published a pivotal book, Striving in Common: A Regional Equity Framework for Urban Schools (Harvard Education Press).

Melissa Bellin is a first-year candidate for the Master of Public Affairs (DC Concentration) and CHASP Ambassador at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. She studied Sociology at Harvard University, with a certification in French. During her time as an education professional while an undergraduate student and after graduation, Melissa developed a deep interest in the external factors that impact student achievement – including race, class, and housing.

See below for what Melissa learned from her one-on-one conversation with Dr. Holme about her path and her work.


A Conversation with CHASP Faculty Fellow Dr. Jennifer Holme
By Melissa Bellin (@MissyBellin)

Dr. Jennifer Holme has always been interested in issues of equality and inequality. This interest stems from her childhood, where she saw distinct differences between her school community and her neighborhood. Dr. Holme attended a school in an affluent area of San Diego, while her neighborhood was composed of mostly working-class residents. As a child, Dr. Holme was aware of the class divisions surrounding her, but she did not yet have the language to understand them.

As an undergraduate at UCLA, Dr. Holme was able to explore this experience from an academic perspective. She took a course titled The Sociology of Education, which discussed race and equity in the classroom. She loved it. So much, in fact, that she approached the professor about continuing to study the topic after graduation. The professor recommended that she apply to the Harvard Graduate School of Education to pursue her master’s degree in Education Policy. Several years later, the very same professor served as her mentor for her doctoral dissertation in Education Policy (Urban Schooling) from UCLA.

The impact of economic segregation on schools has been a continuous theme throughout Dr. Holme’s career. When asked about the most pressing issue facing schools, Dr. Holme noted the growing economic segregation between neighborhoods, and how this segregation is reflected in schools. She specifically worries about schools in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty. She explained that society at large tends to focus on education as a social policy solution, which leads us to blame schools for the social problems facing a community. By blaming schools, Dr. Holme worries that we fail to critically examine what is happening within communities experiencing poverty. 

To confront economic segregation in schools, Dr. Holme proposed that we think bigger. “We must think more broadly and systemically about policies that contribute to growing inequity,” she said. First, it is important to make sure that education policy approaches do not happen in isolation. They should be implemented collaboratively with related initiatives in housing or health care. Second, Dr. Holme advocated that school districts expand their horizons –a topic that she explores in her book Striving in Common: A Regional Equity Framework for Urban Schools. To increase diversity, she explained that school districts could encompass a region, rather than a city or a community. This would not only benefit schools in communities that lack resources, but it would also cut down on the competition for resources that currently takes place between localities.

In addition to economic diversity, Dr. Holme stressed the importance of increased racial integration in schools. “The history of this nation is that opportunity is racialized,” she said. “Schools have to have both.”

When asked about the impact of urban gentrification on school diversity, Dr. Holme noted areas for potential benefit and harm. She explained that school districts could use school choice policies to capitalize on increased neighborhood diversity. However, she also noted that historical segregation has created deep distrust in communities of color, which can be politically insurmountable. After decades of neglect, gentrifying school districts might distrust the newfound attention they receive from policy makers. To overcome these challenges, Dr. Holme suggests that districts design school enrollment policies that are intentionally diverse and cities implement policies that maintain economic balance. This would allow schools and neighborhoods to have a more reciprocal relationship. Just as neighborhoods drive school change, smart policies can allow schools to drive neighborhood change. 

To masters students pursuing education policy, Dr. Holme had the following advice: find professors that are working on topics of interest and ask to volunteer on their research projects.

More about Dr. Jennifer Holme

More about Melisa Bellin