Combining his research on the economics of education and school finance with a passion for the transformative power of education, David Knight aims to better understand policies that can contribute to more equitable education systems.
Knight joins the University of Washington College of Education faculty this fall as an assistant professor in educational foundations, leadership and policy and Nielsen Scholar. He previously served as an assistant professor in educational leadership and foundations at the University of Texas at El Paso and director of the Center for Education Research and Policy Studies. He earned his PhD at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education.
His most recent publication in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management evaluated the cost‐effectiveness of two early childhood interventions that use instructional coaching and parent coaching as levers for improvement.
In the following Q&A, Knight discusses why he decided to explore education policy, his research agenda and more.
What drew you to education?
Moving from Canada to the United States during my formative years, I became interested in social policy. So in college, I majored in economics. I became passionate about the transformative power of education while working with student athletes as a peer-tutor in economics.
A few things struck me as I learned more about education in the United States. The U.S. is one of the only OECD countries that sends more resources to schools serving wealthier and predominantly white student populations. At the same time, there is substantial evidence that equalizing funding and desegregating schools can have substantial positive impacts on students’ life outcomes.
I pursued a master’s in economics and PhD in education policy because I am passionate about understanding and addressing policies that create inequitable education systems.
Describe your research agenda. What makes this work meaningful to you?
My work applies the tools of economics to better understand educational processes and outcomes. I study how states and school districts spend their money and look for ways that schools can distribute resources more equitably and efficiently.
My research fits into three strands: school finance, educator labor markets and cost-effectiveness analysis, and I frame all of this work around equity and distributive justice. School finance research examines state school finance systems, school district resource allocation and school budgeting.
Most of a school district’s budget pays teacher salaries. To this end, my second research strand focuses on the educator labor market, which includes trends in teacher hiring, career transitions, turnover and dismissal.
Last, I use cost-effectiveness analysis to assess whether resources are allocated efficiently. This work is centered around addressing disparities in educational opportunities among students — disparities that are created directly through government policies and can therefore be addressed.
This work matters to me because I believe social institutions play a vital role in democracies. I think the question of equitable resources is foundational to many other educational policy problems. As researchers, I see an important role in not just providing technical solutions to policy problems, but asking deeper questions about transformational change.
What attracted you to UW College of Education?
The UW College of Education has a long history of centering social justice in its research and community work. The faculty here are well-known around the world for their work on equity and I have followed UW College of Education research for many years.
I consider it an absolute honor and privilege to join the faculty here and I am excited about the learning opportunities I have working alongside wonderful colleagues and students. This is an incredibly exciting and important time to be studying at the UW and I am looking forward to learning and hopefully helping to shape the equity-minded focus of the college.
What's a course you're particularly excited to teach?
I’m excited to teach School Finance (EDLPS 510) this fall. With the recent McCleary decision in Washington, and similar state supreme court decisions around the country, the topics in this course are particularly timely.
In the spring, I teach a course called Marshalling Resources and Improving Systems in the Danforth Educational Leadership Program. In this course, we focus on strategies school leaders can use to dismantle inequitable patterns of resource allocation across and within schools.
I’m honored to work directly with practitioner-scholars enrolled in our Danforth program. Interacting with school leaders making important budget and resource decisions helps me situate my work in the everyday lives of K-12 educators.
What's something that students and colleagues should know about you?
I am deeply passionate about education policy and I enjoy sharing this sentiment with students and colleagues. Building relationships is an important part of my work and I look forward to working hard alongside fellow Huskies.
Besides your work, what's something that you're passionate about?
I enjoy music and sports. Jazz at Massey Hall is currently sitting on my record player and I’m looking forward to the start of the NHL season.
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