Doctoral Research Centers on Educational Inequality and Ways in which Parents, Teachers, and Peers Contribute to Socio-Economic and Racial Achievement Gaps
Emily Penner
Ph.D. Student

Irvine, Calif., August 1, 2011

Emily Penner is a doctoral student in Education with a specialization in Education Policy and Social Context. Emily completed her B.A. in Economics and International Relations at Claremont McKenna College in 2005. Her interest in social science research was sparked as an undergraduate by interviews she conducted with remittance receivers for a research project while studying abroad in Havana, Cuba.

After college, Emily joined Teach for America and taught bilingual Spanish and English at the first and second grade levels for three years in Oakland, California. She also served as a founding teacher of a small school that has gone on to be one of Oakland’s most successful new schools. Emily then worked in Vista, California as a reading intervention specialist and English Language Development coordinator. Emily’s research is motivated by her time in Teach for America, and centers on educational inequality and the ways in which parents, teachers, and peers contribute to socio-economic and racial achievement gaps.

Her research on parenting includes work with Stephanie Reich and Greg Duncan evaluating a randomized control trial parenting intervention using Baby Books (Bonding, Growing, Discovering, Developing, and Learning) to improve low-income new mothers’ parenting practices. Research from this project has been published in Academic Pediatrics, and finds that the intervention was successful in promoting mothers’ use of better safety practices. A second paper, with Anamarie Auger, finding the intervention was successful in lessening mothers’ endorsement of corporal punishment, is under review. In current work, Emily is extending this line of research by examining the longer-term effects of early parenting influences. 

Emily’s ongoing research on teachers re-examines the increasingly popular value-added models for measuring teacher effects on student achievement. With Marianne Bitler and Thad Domina, she compares standard teacher value-added models examining teachers’ effects on reading and mathematics achievement to models showing that teachers affect students’ height and weight. This project suggests that conclusions based on value-added models are tenuous and their incorporation into teacher evaluation should be preceded by additional research examining their accuracy.

Finally, Emily’s research on peers with Greg Duncan uses random assignment of roommates at a large public university to examine how peers impact a variety of academic and social outcomes. She has collaborated with Thad Domina, Andrew Penner, and AnneMarie Conley on a project examining how an eighth grade mathematics curricular acceleration in a Southern California school district impacted student achievement through changing the peers that students encountered in their mathematics classes.

She is also involved in projects examining distributional differences in the educational attainment of immigrants in Southern California and comparative education policy in Latin America. Emily currently serves as a graduate student researcher for the University of California Educational Evaluation Center’s Irvine site. While not working on research, she enjoys gardening, swimming, yoga, and chasing food trucks around Irvine.