Zahava Stadler, MPA '15, is currently the Manager of Policy and Research at EdBuild, a nonprofit organization focused on education finance policy. Fels student Meghan Pierce, MPA '18, sat down with Zahava to discuss EdBuild, her career, and Fels.
Please describe your organization and its mission:
EdBuild is a nonprofit organization focused on education finance policy. Its mission is to bring common sense and fairness to the way we fund schools. Education funding in the United States has significant problems—problems with equity and problematic incentives—and EdBuild seeks to address those issues through conducting and sharing research and working directly with state policymakers. In this way, EdBuild essentially functions half as a nonpartisan think-tank and half as a technical assistance provider to state governments.
Please describe your position and the duties it entail:
In my role as Manager of Policy and Research, I research and write about issues of fairness and justice in the way states fund public schools and manage related research projects. I provide support to other members of our staff as they advise state policymakers on how to improve education funding policies. I also help handle my organization's press relations and social media presence.
How did you become interested in this work?
In a way, this is a more focused version of the education policy work I’ve done in the past. Education policy conversations often begin from the premise that public schools will struggle to effectively serve low-income students, and that the focus should be on policies that mitigate that: testing regimes that identify low-performing schools for intervention, teacher evaluation and compensation policies that can enhance teacher quality, school choice policies that might get students into better schools. What I like about EdBuild is that we focus on what I consider the “first-order issue” in education equality: making sure that public investments are going where they’re needed to, so that schools have the resources to successfully support and teach low-income students.
How has Fels helped you in your career?
I do a lot of writing in my current role, and I need to describe some pretty arcane topics in accessible ways. The writing assignments we completed at Fels, starting with the policy memos we prepared for orientation through the assignments for many of our core classes (particularly Policy Development and Public Management), helped me refine the skills I would need for this aspect of my work.
What was your favorite Fels course and why?
My favorite Fels elective was a class on lobbying. The class helped me refine how I make an argument, but more importantly, it was the class that gave me the best opportunity to get to know some of the executive students, which I really appreciated.
What advice do you have for current Fels students?
The Penn campus has so many great professors—in Fels, of course - but also in the other graduate schools. Most people at Fels have one or two areas of policy that interest them in particular, and there is usually a professor on campus—in SP2, the GSE, the SAS, the law school, or any number of other departments—that specializes in the issues that most interest you. Seek them out! Almost any professor on campus will be happy to discuss their work and your interests, and you may find a great elective or even a research assistantship in another graduate school that will deepen your Penn experience.