School of Education rises in national rankings


Alyssa Carnevali | Staff Photographer

The School of Education, located in 5500 Posvar Hall.

By Spencer Levering, Staff Writer

After finishing her first year at Pitt, rising sophomore Lauren Jewell is proud to be a student in the school of education.

“There’s just nothing like the program,” Jewell, a combined accelerated studies in education (CASE) major, said. “It is so incredibly unique.”

Jewell’s enthusiasm came after the U.S. News & World Report ranked Pitt’s School of Education as the 27th best in the nation last month, placing it in the top 10% of education programs in the country. This marks a significant increase from when the program was ranked 39th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

“The School of Education has made some really great strides,” Dr. Stefano Bagnato, a professor of psychology and pediatrics within the school of education, said.

Among those strides are a new undergraduate teacher education program being offered this fall, a reorganization of departments within the school, a push to hire new faculty and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.

When Dr. Valerie Kinloch became dean of the school of education in 2017, she said one of her goals was to create more collaboration among faculty members within the school.

“My quest has always been to figure out with my colleagues how to take the work that they are doing within their respective units in the school, and how to amplify that work in a way that breaks down silos and creates more collective action,” Kinloch said.

This initiative led Kinloch to reduce the number of departments within the school of education from six to three: health and human development; teaching, learning, and leading; and educational foundations, organizations, and policy.

“Those are three anchor institutions, or sites, within our school where faculty collaborate, where faculty work with students, where faculty work with each other, and they’re literally taking up big questions that can impact not just Pittsburgh, but the entire world,” Kinloch said.

Health and human development teaches about the effects that wellness has on childhood development; teaching, learning, and leading teaches educational practices; and educational foundations, organizations, and policy teaches about the societal structures that make schooling the way it is.

Bagnato called the decision to consolidate departments within the school of education “a big change and a really great change.”

“This is the most collaborative interdisciplinary center that I’ve ever worked in,” Bagnato said. “My department, which used to be called Psychology & Education, is now called the Department of Health and Human Development, and that tells you something about the interface between health, wellness, medicine, psychology, education, and it communicates that education is part of the community and is interdisciplinary. It doesn’t stand alone.”

To improve further, Kinloch implemented a new mission vision statement for the school of education that establishes standards the school strives to meet.

“It’s the first time that we really have a philosophy that guides our practices,” Bagnato said.

On top of overhauling departmental structures and hiring new faculty, the school of education has also committed to engaging with topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion both in the classroom and among the staff.

“You can’t go through the CASE program without talking about diversity very openly,” Jewell said. “Everyone’s required to participate, it’s not something you choose to participate in.”

Jewell described how seminars about LGBTQ+ and race-based inclusion within the classroom set Pitt’s School of Education apart from other American universities.

“I have a lot of friends that go to the University of Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, a lot of schools for education and I’ll tell them about my curriculum,” Jewell said. “They don’t have the conversations we have.”

Bagnato credits the new faculty for improving the school of education in recent years.

“We’ve hired some good young faculty that are very adept at getting government grants,” Bagnato said.

As a student, Jewell has experienced direct benefits from the school’s decision to hire younger educators.

“I’ve had older professors of education and [because] it’s a field that is so quickly changing, I think having younger professors is better for what we’re trying to do,” Jewell said. “Especially with the talk of early interventionism with students with disabilities, and integrating technology, it’s easier to have teachers who understand it.”

Bagnato emphasized how more inclusive hiring within the school of education positively impacts students in the program.

“Because of the movement towards diversity, equity, and inclusion, we’ve made a lot of great strides in hiring faculty that we should have hired years ago,” Bagnato said. “The people who are teaching our students look like people from the community.”

Kinloch echoed the same sentiment.

“You have to have faculty members who are critically conscious, critically engaged, who are committed to being student-centered, but who are also doing important research and scholarly engagements in communities and with communities,” Kinloch said.

Efforts to build relationships between the school of education and the greater Pittsburgh community have also been established in recent years.

Genius, Joy, and Love, a program established by Kinloch, aims to encourage local high school students of color to pursue a career in education while showing Pittsburgh instructors how to approach racial justice in the classroom.

“It’s all about ‘How do we bring our school of education to them?’,” Kinloch said. “How do we not expect them to just come and show up at our door? But how do we say, ‘We’re coming to you and we want to give you experiences that relate to who we are as a school of education and these are the reasons why you should join us.’”

Through the CASE program, Jewell got a job that provides free tutoring to students in the Homewood neighborhood.

“There’s nothing like being in a classroom of students,” Jewell said. “You can try to tell people how to teach, but you’re never gonna get it until you’re there and until you’re facing the hardships that students are facing, and until you make an emotional connection with a group of kids.”

Jewell mentioned the emphasis the school of education puts on real-world teaching experience. 

“I’m from Georgia, but nothing here gave me the hands-on opportunities that I would want like Pitt offers,” Jewell says. “Pitt is really one of the only education programs where you are essentially student teaching, you know, doing observation, your freshman year if you choose to take classes that offer such.”

As she looks toward the future, Kinloch says she wants to keep building on the values that the school of education champions.

“We have to understand what equity is and we have to understand what justice and innovation are, and we have to be willing to think outside the box and listen to other people’s perspectives as we build the type of school of education that has some real impact in the world,” Kinloch said.

Bagnato feels positive about the direction the school of education is heading in.

“There’s a lot of energy, a lot of excitement, a lot of new things happening, and that bodes well,” Bagnato says.

As for Jewell, she feels confident about her own future in the school of education.

“I’ve never been so proud to be a part of a program in my entire life,” Jewell said. “I’m very, very happy that it’s where I am. The people in this program are just beyond incredible, the professors are amazing, the administrative staff is so understanding and very communicative, and I think everyone should take education classes at some point, especially the ones they offer at Pitt.”