Dr. Andrew Porter has lectured in front of college chalkboards, directed educational-policy groups at the National Institute of Education, and most recently headed the Learning Sciences Institute at Vanderbilt University. On August 1, he will become the new dean of the Graduate School of Education (GSE). He is replacing Dr. Susan Fuhrman, who stepped down as dean last year to become the president of Columbia Teachers College.
Trained as an applied statistician and psychometrician, Porter comes to Penn at a time when national trends in education are in close alignment with his area of expertise. The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) places heavy emphasis on measuring student improvement and influencing how teachers make decisions about their curricula. Both subjects have engaged his attention—and his prowess in quantitative analysis—since the 1970s.
“‘Research-based practice’ is mentioned in NCLB 111 times,” he says, adding that the 2001 law makes GSE’s research mission more relevant than ever. “Well, there’s a supply side of the equation: Is there any research? And there’s a demand side of the equation: Does anybody care? The demand side of the equation has been really tough, but NCLB has been helping with that.”
Porter says one of the things that excites him about coming to Penn is its involvement with public schooling in West Philadelphia—including the University-supported Penn-Alexander elementary school and a planned new high school—which offers rich research opportunites. Such projects have the potential to benefit more than just the local community, in Porter’s view.
“As we do these activities in West Philly, we need to be aware of careful documentation of what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, what our results are, and how that might be replicated by others,” he says. “If we make good things happen for some students in Philadelphia, that’s not going to solve the education problems in the world. But that’s really what we have to focus on: How do we help to solve the quality of education for the whole world, or at least the United States.”
That global perspective is characteristic of a man who formerly chaired the National Research Council’s Board on International Comparative Studies in Education. In his new post Porter is keen to expand interdisciplinary connections between the GSE and other parts of the University, and to harness the international diversity of Penn’s student body to broaden the discussion of educational practices.
“How do you see that what you do here isn’t the limit of all possibilities?” the new dean says. “ You’ve got to look at other places where they do things differently.”—TP