Every year in the fall, swarms of recent high school graduates arrive on campuses throughout the country. For many, fall is the start of independence and pursuit of dreams; for others, new rigors of college life make it a time of disarray. Matthew Kraft, assistant professor of education, is also arriving at Brown this fall. He works to improve the preparedness of incoming freshmen by bringing high school teacher productivity into the spotlight.
Kraft’s expertise stems from his experience as a teacher in the United States and abroad. After returning from teaching and volunteering in Ecuador, Brazil, and other parts of Central America, he realized there was a need to ensure high-quality education for students within his own community. That led him to Stanford University (M.A., international comparative education) and later to Harvard University (Ed.D., quantitative policy analysis in education).
His research focuses on the economics of education, which includes the development of human capital, improvement of teacher productivity, and the role institutions play in improving the performance of educators. Kraft uses myriad tools to measure teacher productivity and student success but says some of them are limited in scope.
Standardized tests often fail to account for teachers’ contributions to students, Kraft said. The public may hear about a student who achieves educational goals, but that is not simply a matter of gaining knowledge. There are “teachers’ contributions to a student’s emotional, social, moral, and intellectual growth,” Kraft said. “Trying to understand the role of teachers not only in promoting core content knowledge, but also in promoting personal skills, character building, perseverance, grit, and self control ... Those are all things that make a difference in students’ lives.”
Kraft learned those things over time, and his path to Brown was not exactly linear.
Growing up, Kraft was not interested in the education field and did not plan to study it. “I was always interested in traveling. My parents and I really valued the opportunities we had to travel abroad and learn about different cultures,” Kraft said. As a result of his upbringing, Kraft studied international relations as an undergraduate at Stanford University. He was interested in the role education systems play in a country’s development.
“In focusing on the role of education on development, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Ecuador and teach,” Kraft said. When he returned to Stanford for graduate study, he found that knowing the challenges teachers faced in other countries helped him work toward high-quality education for students in large urban public schools. “One of the hardest things I had to do was convincing students that the things they were doing [in class] were connected to their daily lives and were relevant,” Kraft said of his experience teaching in Oakland and Berkeley. “It’s one of the things that are central to getting students motivated.”
For his efforts, Kraft has been recognized with numerous awards, fellowships, and grants. In 2012, he was one of the 25 scholars who received Spencer Dissertation Fellowships, a competitive program with up to 600 applicants that supports scholars who undertake research on the improvement of education. He is also is co-author of seven papers and is currently working on another eight papers highlighting the measurability of teacher evaluations and student achievement in public schools. Kraft has presented his work in major cities throughout the United States — Boston, Baltimore, Washington, New Orleans, Denver, Phoenix.
“With Matthew coming to the urban education policy program, I think we will become one of the five best programs in the country,” said Kenneth Wong, chair of the Department of Education at Brown.
Kraft’s experience in improving educational policies will inform his teaching of statistical methods and program evaluation courses for graduate and undergraduate students, Wong said.
For his part, Kraft is looking forward to work at Brown. Friends and colleagues have told him that it is a powerful experience to be a faculty member at Brown, Kraft said. “I was very interested in the opportunity to be at a place that values teaching as well as rigorous scholarship.”