New Waterbury Chair in Equity Pedagogy helping to drive change

Jim Carlson
December 17, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As the new Waterbury Chair in Equity Pedagogy in the College of Education, Francesca Lopez already is playing an integral role in the college’s expanding, strategic efforts to review and address diversity, equity and inclusion.


Francesca Lopez is the Waterbury Chair in Equity Pedagogy in the College of Education

IMAGE: Provided

Projects in which she’s become involved in the past five months on the job include:

— A research-practice partnership with Erica Frankenberg, professor of education (educational leadership), and Penn State College of Education Dean Kim Lawless proposing to help a school district maintain its integration efforts once its desegregation oversight by the court ends; the efforts from the project will help inform institutional change, aligned with the college’s strategic plan.

—A second project with Frankenberg proposing to examine how dual language programs in various contexts have promoted (or hindered) integration efforts.

— She and Royel Johnson, assistant professor of education (higher education), have worked with Max Crowley, Edna Bennett Pierce Endowed Faculty Fellow and associate professor of human development, and Taylor Scott, assistant research professor at the Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, to submit several funding proposals.

—A collaboration with Ashley Patterson, assistant professor of education (language, culture and society) and LaWanda Ward, assistant professor of education and research associate in the Center for the Study of Higher Education, to engage with scholars for a conference focused on disseminating evidence to address inequity in education to legislators. Several other proposals are focused on examining how scholars of color engage with policymakers to influence the use of evidence, not as lobbying, but as dissemination of evidence of best practice.

“Collectively, this group of proposals will provide the opportunity to leverage the deep expertise in our college — as well as engage in interdisciplinary expertise outside of our college — in ways that can influence policies and practices,” Lopez said. “Considering the college’s strategic plan, as well as efforts underway at Penn State, I believe the research, as well as many other research projects being carried out by my colleagues, can directly inform the kinds of changes the college and Penn State are wanting to make to address inequity.”

Lopez said the entities that have reached out to her are specifically asking for research evidence on ways to address inequity — from the kind of knowledge educators need to have to the kinds of policies that need to change.

“The discussions I’ve been part of with leadership both in the College of Education and Penn State in general are all focused on ways to address inequity,” she said. “I believe the potential impact of research focused on addressing these issues is profound. I certainly have not experienced this level of interdisciplinary engagement in issues pertaining to both the University and our communities at previous institutions.”

Lopez came to Penn State from the University of Arizona, where she was the Ernest W. McFarland distinguished professor in leadership for education policy and reform, founder and director of the Education Policy Center, and associate dean of the College of Education.

Lopez said anti-racist work is at the center of her research.

“Policies, practices, systems in place to maintain the status quo need to be identified and replaced with anti-racist approaches,” she said, citing an example: “If we consider that Pennsylvania is one of two states in the U.S. with three of the highest suspending districts nationwide for Black, Indigenous and Latinx K-12 students, the data point to racism in K-12 disciplinary policies. These policies that create a situation for disproportionate suspensions also create situations for disproportionate time lost from instruction, which impacts the opportunities students have to learn.

“Research that is anti-racist would examine what the policies are for disciplinary actions, and identify ways to change the policies so that they are not perpetuating inequities for students of color not only in terms of discipline, but other outcomes.”

What she values in her research, Lopez said, is collaborating with others with the goal of driving change.

“I think that my goal to leverage the expertise in the College of Education as Waterbury Chair of Equity Pedagogy reflects that, and is consistent with Dean Lawless’ goals to implement diversity, equity and inclusion throughout — and beyond — the college,” she said.

Her current interests stem from her childhood as a former English learner who began schooling in the United States in third grade, said Lopez, adding that she remembered what it was like to have teachers think less of her and her potential.

“I became a bilingual elementary teacher because of those experiences, wanting to make sure my students had far better experiences than I had,” Lopez said. “But as soon as I was in the classroom, I realized the system wasn’t what it should be, so I went back to pursue graduate studies with the long-term goal of teaching teachers — so that they’d know more than I did when I began my career in education.

“Now all these years later in my current position, what drives me is the scale of the impact we can make, collectively, in the College of Education. More than anything, I enjoy collaborating with others on research and other endeavors, to broaden the reach and influence of evidence. I’m thrilled to be here, and am so grateful for the wonderful community of colleagues with a shared commitment to equity.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 15, 2021