December 6, 2010

Q&A with School of Education’s David Andrews

New dean sees growth in full-time degrees and in JHU collaborations

Dedicated to improving academic and behavioral outcomes for at-risk children and youth, David Andrews says he came to Johns Hopkins because he saw opportunities for a school ready to achieve the next level of national prominence. Photo: Will Kirk/

Dedicated to improving academic and behavioral outcomes for at-risk children and youth, David Andrews says he came to Johns Hopkins because he saw opportunities for a school ready to achieve the next level of national prominence. Photo: Will Kirk/Homewoodphoto.

This is the last in a yearlong series of talks with the leaders of Johns Hopkins’ nine academic divisions and the Applied Physics Laboratory. To see the entire series, go to and click on “Q&A with the Deans and Directors” under the Departments heading.

When David Andrews became dean of the School of Education on Sept. 1, he took charge of a school steeped in history yet still in its infancy. While Johns Hopkins’ involvement with public education dates back to 1909, the School of Education became a free-standing division of the university only four years ago, in January 2007.

Andrews, a distinguished scholar who has dedicated his career to improving academic and behavioral outcomes for at-risk children and youth, came to Johns Hopkins, he said, because he saw a field of opportunities for a school ready to achieve the next level of national prominence.

In the announcement of his appointment, President Ronald J. Daniels described Andrews as a collaborator, consensus builder and experienced fundraiser.

Andrews has spent his entire career enhancing opportunities for children and youth from both research and academic platforms. As an administrator in higher education, he has led large, diverse academic communities in establishing multidisciplinary approaches to meeting the educational and developmental needs of children.

At Ohio State, Andrews is credited with spearheading many initiatives, including an ambitious faculty recruitment effort.

Andrews became a member of the Ohio State faculty in 1995 and rose to dean of the College of Human Ecology in 1998. In 2006, he led the effort to merge two large and highly successful colleges at Ohio State, resulting in the creation of the College of Education and Human Ecology. He was subsequently appointed dean of the merged school.

He was most recently a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Ohio State, where he was instrumental in an innovative partnership with the public schools in Columbus, Ohio, to establish in a low-income area of the city a model world-class early childhood laboratory.

Prior to joining Ohio State, Andrews held positions at Oregon State University and the University of Oregon.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Auburn University. He holds a master’s degree from Kansas State University and a doctorate from Florida State University, both in child development.

The Gazette recently sat down with Andrews to discuss the public education system and where the Johns Hopkins School of Education is headed. In addition to hearing his thoughts on the future of K-12 education, we learned that Andrews likes to be in the saddle, and to serve and volley now and again.

Q: What was your first order of business as dean here?

A: Meeting everyone. The interview process, if you will, getting to know what is here. Getting to know everyone and develop a common vision and build a consensus of where we needed to go. Also, finding my way around town.

Q: What did you seek out in Baltimore?

A: My wife and I did the crab cake thing. In this line of work, you get to see all the restaurants pretty quickly as you have donors, supporters and other people who want to get to know you. I went to Annapolis right away. We have two horses, so we had to find a place to put them.

Q: What kind of horses?

A: One is a quarter horse, and one is a paint. They’re pets. We ride them on trails. Not competitive, just for fun.

Q: You founded the College of Education and Human Ecology at Ohio State. What was the major difference between stepping into this deanship at Johns Hopkins and your role at Ohio State?

A: The biggest difference between Johns Hopkins and Ohio State is size and scope. This is a much more intimate setting, but high quality.

Johns Hopkins is also a lot more decentralized than anyplace in the world [laughs]. It didn’t take long to figure that out. The individual schools have a lot more independence and more responsibility for their own future. That is one of the things that attracted me here.

I think there are a lot of advantages in moving to a school that is trying to build a culture. We have the advantage of 100 years of training teachers but really only a three-year history of being a school.

Q: So, that drew you here.

A: That, and Johns Hopkins. The school’s stature attracted me, too. The reputation of the university coupled with the fact that it’s a relatively new program with an already high ranking.

I was also attracted to the school’s commitment to the community—in particular, President Daniels’ commitment to East Baltimore and the fact we are building a new school there.

Q: What is the School of Education’s role in these community efforts?

A: Our role with this particular school is to help make it the best school possible, and a national model. We will bring our resources to bear on a project that creates examples for the rest of Baltimore and the United States. This will be a learning model. How do we create a school in what will become a mixed-income community, and then have it succeed? We will find out.

Q: Big-picture question: How would you describe the current landscape of K-12 education? Is it the haves versus the have-nots?

A: We have been trying to close the achievement gap for some time, and haven’t made enough progress. That is still one of the major issues: the achievement of more economically advantaged kids [as compared with] their socioeconomically disadvantaged counterparts. There are still major gaps in learning outcomes.

I think the movement toward more accountability for schools is helping us out quite a bit. We have some really good pockets of examples of where we have closed the achievement gap, but we just haven’t been able to take it to scale in a way that impacts an entire community.

Q: What are some of the biggest obstacles for the socioeconomically disadvantaged?

A: It’s a very complex issue. There is not one single issue or factor to point to. We know four or five different elements of what is going on. We know it’s hard to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers in our most-challenging schools. Teachers placed in urban schools typically stay there two or three years, and then they’re out of the setting. By the end of five years, half of the teachers are gone—and that is just when they’re getting good.

And then you have kids coming into kindergarten already behind. In our most-challenged schools, I would say the majority of students, up to 75 percent, show up not ready for kindergarten. So what you have is relatively inexperienced teachers who are challenged by a group of kids who need more. These kids should be on a steeper learning curve, not less. They need to catch up with their [higher-achieving] peers, and it takes a lot of effort to do that. It’s not an easy situation. They come from neighborhoods where there is not as much adult and family support.

Is it doable to close this gap? Yes. We just need to have the resolve.

Q: You said we have had some success. Can you point to one thing Johns Hopkins has done?

A: Our biggest success is the systemwide program that Bob Slavin put in called Success for All. That clearly is something that is scalable. In a recent federal competition, it was awarded $50 million to take it to scale because it was one of the few evidence-based programs that exist in the country. Success for All is a schoolwide reform program focused on literacy and math but with very systemic and strategic approaches to implementing the way we teach, the way we support teachers, the way we deal with students. There is an integrity to the approach.

Another major success is the Center for Social Organization of Schools and the work of Bob Balfanz. He went in on the high school level with a very strategic and systematic approach.

Q: Let’s switch to science education on the elementary school level. Are the curricula up-to-date? Are we engaging students?

A: I think the real issue with what we call STEM education [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] is a pipeline issue. We don’t have enough students coming out of schools who are prepared to go into college-level engineering courses, for example. The high school dropout rate is fueled by not enough ninth-grade rigor in math.

But when you really look at it, it’s a whole pipeline continuum where second- and third-graders start falling behind in math. They don’t like it too much, or are not very good at it. By the time fifth or sixth grade comes around, you are dropping down from 90 percent proficiency to 70 percent proficiency.

And then, due to accountability, we might back off a little bit. The end result is a lack of students who are coming out of high school prepared and excited about math and science.

So there is not one solution. You really have to tend to the pipeline from the early grades all the way up to recruitment in college. We can’t just recruit the ones who are achieving on the highest level in the math and sciences and settle. We have a line of jobs that are available now that require some pretty high levels of technical expertise and math skills.

Q: Do you see much room for collaboration with other university divisions?

A: Yes. This has to be a collaborative effort in the K-12 realm. And that is true if you’re talking about STEM or closing the achievement gap or talking about working in urban schools. The new ways of approaching these challenges are going to come out of multidisciplinary initiatives. We’re going to need our sociologists, our psychiatrists, our cognitive scientists. It’s all of us working together trying to deal with these issues.

On the STEM side, obviously the schools of Engineering and Medicine are potentially partners, and Public Health as well. They face these pipeline issues. Everyone recognizes the crisis and the fact that we are losing our competitiveness in math and the sciences.

Q: What about interactions with Peabody?

A: Definitely. The whole concept of arts integration in schools as a way to get to science is a really fascinating approach. We already had some conferences and joint activity with Peabody in that area.

Johns Hopkins is just rich with really engaged and socially conscientious professors and scientists who are really interested in tackling these complex issues from multiple perspectives.

Q: One issue, certainly, is how to deal with students who are learning-challenged on some level. For example, those with autism. How important is it to identify these disorders or disabilities?

A: Very important that we identify any learning issue or challenge. And if we can identify it early, it gives us a better prognosis.

Autism is one of those areas that make us tend to the relationship between cognitive ability and social/emotional development. We tend to think about schools in terms of academic outcomes, and now we are very much aware of the relationship between social/emotional development and the parallels of that on learning outcomes.

It’s a major issue. The growth of incidence rates of autism is something that we are all paying close attention to. We’re trying to get a better explanation of where these high-incidence rates are coming from. Is it changes in assessment techniques, diagnostic criteria or a combination that is giving us this increased prevalence?

We have always had a strong partnership with the Kennedy Krieger Institute, but this opens up even greater opportunities for partnerships with Kennedy Krieger, which has done a lot of work in the autism area. How do we ensure that the learning opportunities for kids on the autism spectrum are available and present in public schools?

Q: How do you see the school evolving over the next decade?

A: Our history has been in part-time degrees, but our future will likely be in full-time degrees, including doctoral programs. Not to sacrifice what we are currently doing, but that is where our growth will be. I see us preparing more people to go into academic positions.

Q: Describe the typical School of Education student.

A: The typical student is now a master’s-level student, returning for more education. We have an equal number of men and women. I say the vast majority of our students are actually teaching while they are here. They are already in the classroom. They are learning at night and teaching during the day. We have some very talented and dedicated people. Not only teachers. The school also has public safety professionals and those learning to be counselors.

Q: Is there too much oversight or regulation of teachers? Not enough?

A: I think we’re pushing toward accountability. We want to make sure students are learning. The way we approach that is to standardize approaches and create some levels of oversight that, quite frankly, aren’t necessary for great teachers. Great teachers will get great learning outcomes.

Unfortunately, all the teachers in our public schools are not great, and so we put together a set of policies and practices that try to ensure that every child has a high-quality learning experience. To do that, we set accountability standards at the lowest denominator. Some find it burdensome.

Q: Do you foresee much growth nationally and internationally for the school?

A: Absolutely. We have to expand our footprint. We have a very solid reputation locally and some examples of national impact but really haven’t fully explored our national impact. Historically, we’ve been a part-time program. The majority of the students are local. We are not drawing students from a national and international market, clearly not the same volume as some of our benchmark competition.

As the No. 6 school in the country [as ranked by U.S. News & World Report in its 2011 edition of America’s Best Graduate Schools], we are expected to have a much bigger footprint and impact than we currently have. We’ll be expanding the faculty and research capacity here over the next three to five years. There will be significant growth and geographic coverage of our students. We need students with an international perspective, and I will make this a high priority.

Q: Would you describe yourself as competitive?

A: Yeah, very. I’m a tennis player from way back. I was a teaching pro for a long time. I still play.

Q: Have you seen the film ‘Waiting for Superman’ yet? Any thoughts?

A: I haven’t seen it yet. We did a showing of it for the school, [but] I had to be out of town at the time. I know a lot of the players in the film. Our own Bob Balfanz is in the movie. I spent a considerable amount of time with Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone. So I know the issues and the approach they took.

I think it’s a great dialogue, and I have no problem with people challenging the status quo.

I think the issues are a little more complicated than the movie makes it to be, or so I’ve gathered. Charter schools are one answer, but we don’t have enough highly motivated kids and outstanding teachers to bring some of these approaches to scale. It’s a bit too simplistic an approach.

Q: What are you reading now?

A: Right now I’m reading The Great American University: Its Rise to Preeminence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected. President Daniels gave me a copy. I typically don’t read about the histories of universities, but this is a good book. It gives an overview of the impact of universities, especially research ones, on the United States.