My primary research concerns three values central to social justice: equality, freedom, and autonomy. I explore the nature and demands of these values and how they relate to one another. My secondary research investigates issues of educational justice with a focus on the U.S. evidence-based approach to school improvement.
My dissertation, Relational Equality: A Conceptual and Normative Analysis, investigates relational egalitarianism, the view that relationships among members of society are the proper object of egalitarian concern. I analyze core relational egalitarian concepts and commitments, focusing on the central notion of 'relating as equals,' and arrange them into an abstract framework that's useful for theorizing about relational equality. Using that framework, I begin developing a substantive account of relational equality. Because relational egalitarians tend to emphasize its negative demands (e.g. eradicating status hierarchies, non-domination), I focus on what relational equality positively requires. I characterize egalitarian relationships among members of society in terms of mutual accountability and answerability. I argue that egalitarian relationships and the social conditions that enable them are valuable because they aid development and exercise of agential capacities within interdependent societies. The value of relational equality generates moral demands for persons and a society in which members stand and relate as equals is an attractive social ideal. I ground relational equality as a political value that generates demands of justice by showing that it is important for securing the fair value of the basic liberties, fair equality of opportunity, and the social bases of self-respect. Although this grounding fits with a broader range of liberal commitments, I argue that a minimal perfectionist liberalism inspired by J.S. Mill can ground a more robust account of relational egalitarian justice because relational equality provides necessary social conditions for persons to realize their nature as deliberative agents within society.
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Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice: Predicting What Will Work Locally, with Nancy Cartwright in American Educational Research Journal 57 (3), August 2019.
Abstract: This article addresses the gap between what works in research and what works in practice. Currently, research in evidence-based education policy and practice focuses on randomized controlled trials. These can support causal ascriptions (‘‘It worked’’) but provide little basis for local effectiveness predictions (‘‘It will work here’’), which are what matter for practice. We argue that moving from ascription to prediction by way of causal generalization (‘‘It works’’) is unrealistic and urge focusing research efforts directly on how to build local effectiveness predictions. We outline various kinds of information that can improve predictions and encourage using methods better equipped for acquiring that information. We compare our proposal with others advocating a better mix of methods, like implementation science, improvement science, and practice-based evidence.
The Key Role of Representativeness in Evidence-based Education Educational Research and Evaluation 25 (3-4), June 2019.
(Reprinted in The Evidential Basis of Evidence-based Education, Routeledge 2020; ISBN 9780367520335)
Abstract: Within evidence-based education, results from randomised controlled trials (RCTs), and meta-analyses of them, are taken as reliable evidence for effectiveness – they speak to “what works”. Extending RCT results requires establishing that study samples and settings are representative of the intended target. Although widely recognised as important for drawing causal inferences from RCTs, claims regarding representativeness tend to be poorly evidenced. Strategies for demonstrating it typically involve comparing observable characteristics (e.g., race, gender, location) of study samples to those in the population of interest to decision makers. This paper argues that these strategies provide insufficient evidence for establishing representativeness. Characteristics typically used for comparison are unlikely to be causally relevant to all educational interventions. Treating them as evidence that supports extending RCT results without providing evidence demonstrating their relevance undermines the inference. Determining what factors are causally relevant requires studying the causal mechanisms underlying the interventions in question.
Meeting Our Standards for Educational Justice: Doing Our Best with the Evidence with Nancy Cartwright in Theory and Research in Education 16 (1), March 2018.
Abstract: The United States considers educating all students to a threshold of adequate outcomes to be a central goal of educational justice. The No Child Left Behind Act introduced evidence-based policy and accountability protocols to ensure that all students receive an education that enables them to meet adequacy standards. Unfortunately, evidence-based policy has been less effective than expected. This article pinpoints under-examined methodological problems and suggests a more effective way to incorporate educational research findings into local evidence-based policy decisions. It identifies some things educators need to know and do to determine whether available interventions can play the right casual role in their setting to produce desired effects. It examines the value and limits of educational research, especially randomized controlled trials, for this task.
Teaching Philosophy through a Role-Immersion Game: Reacting to the Past, with Andy Lamey and Noel Martin in Teaching Philosophy 41 (2), June 2018.
Abstract: A growing body of research suggests that students achieve learning outcomes at higher rates when instructors use active-learning methods rather than standard modes of instruction. To investigate how one such method might be used to teach philosophy, we observed two classes that employed Reacting to the Past (hereafter, Reacting), an educational role-immersion game. We chose to investigate Reacting because role-immersion games are considered a particularly effective active-learning strategy. Professors who have used Reacting to teach history, interdisciplinary humanities, and political theory agree that it engages students and teaches general skills like collaboration and communication. We investigated whether it can be effective for teaching philosophical content and skills like analyzing, evaluating, crafting, and communicating arguments in addition to bringing the more general benefits of active learning to philosophy classrooms. Overall, we find Reacting to be a useful tool for achieving these ends. While we do not argue that Reacting is uniquely useful for teaching philosophy, we conclude that it is worthy of consideration by philosophers interested in creative active-learning strategies, especially given that it offers a prepackaged set of flexible, user-friendly tools for motivating and engaging students.
Works in Progress
"Prioritizing Disadvantaged Students in Principle and in Practice"
Abstract: U.S. education policy uses an evidence-based education model (US-EBE) to pursue two goals: (1) raise achievement in the U.S. overall by facilitating improvement among all students; (2) close achievement gaps between socially advantaged and disadvantaged groups by leveling-up disadvantaged students. I argue that US-EBE can advance eitherthe first goal orthe second goal but not both simultaneously as intended. This descriptive point raises a normative question: which goal should we pursue using US-EBE? This essay explores moral considerations that bear on this question, focusing on costs and benefits for students.I argue, provisionally, that we ought to use US-EBE to narrow gaps. Further, I argue that the costs associated with doing so are morally justifiable whereas those associated with the alternative are not.
"Is it Fair to Hold Educators Accountable for Student Outcomes?"
Abstract: For nearly twenty years, federal education policy in the U.S. has employed an evidence-based approach to school improvement that provides evidence about 'what works' and installs protocols for holding schools and educators accountable for their students' academic outcomes. Given the common idea that accountability requires sufficient control, the fairness of these protocols depends on whether the evidence-based aspects of the current policy model give educators sufficient control to justify holding them accountable for their students’ outcomes. I construct what I take to be the best argument for the fairness of current accountability protocols. While it is valid, I argue that it is unsound because it relies on a premise that overstates the causal claims warranted by experimental research. However, replacing that premise with a weaker, true, claim renders the argument invalid. I consider potential harms that may befall educators and students if we fail to see that this crucial premise is false. I argue that we must change our accountability practices if they are to be fair.
"Democratic Equality and the Value of Responsibility"
Abstract: Many egalitarians claim that the distribution of individuals' egalitarian entitlements should reflect their responsible choices or desert, i.e. individuals are entitled to equal shares but inequalities that arise from their responsible choices or desert can be justified. This responsibility-sensitive egalitarian position balances the value of equality with the value of personal responsbility. Proponents defend it by showing that it captures common judgments about fairness, desert, and the value of personal choice. Many of them argue that Elizabeth Anderson's relational eglaitarian view, democratic equality, is implausible because it fails to balance equality with responsibility and thus conflicts with these common judgments. Although it denies that responsible choice can justify departures from the sort of equality that justice requires, I argue that democratic equality, as I interpret it, does balance the values of equality and responsibility and it does so in a way that aligns with the common judgments that motivate responsibility-sensitive egalitairanism.