By MARTY LEVINE
Joshua Bleiberg is not about to give up his native Philly sports fandom for his new gig as assistant professor of quantitative policy in the School of Education — but he seems to have fallen hard for the rest of the Pitt and Pittsburgh experience.
It didn’t hurt that his father had grown up in Mt. Lebanon and Bleiberg had been here a few times for visits, so that Pittsburgh “feels kind of like home” already.
His research on what teaching policies do and don’t work “felt like a fantastic match for what the department was trying to add,” Bleiberg says.
“It’s really amazing how it feels like it has all the bells and whistles of a big city but it is more compact and livable,” he says of Pittsburgh. “You really feel like neighborhoods have their own character.” The campus fits well into Oakland, he adds: “It’s a really well-designed campus … that is integrated well into a city.”
Bleiberg arrived at the start of September with a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt in educational policy. Why education? “I’ve always been an inquisitive person in general,” he says, but “when I was a student in grade school I struggled quite a bit, especially with standardized tests. I was a very nervous test taker. Why do we need to take these tests?”
His research focuses on state and federal policies about school turnaround (the variety of approaches school districts use to improve overall) and the common core (a curriculum theory that focuses on what knowledge and skills students need to gain by certain grades), as well as issues of equity for students. It has also delved into the state of teaching during the pandemic (from the early concern about the possibility of an exodus of teachers to current troubles hiring).
There have actually been teacher shortages at some level for the past 20 years, Bleiberg points out, and the pandemic did not seem to affect this overall. But in certain types of communities (very rural or urban communities and those predominantly non-white), the pandemic has seen extra labor difficulties. It did not help that, right when the pandemic started, there happened to be a lot of teachers eligible for retirement.
“Often it feels like trying to find things that didn’t work” and making recommendations to make them work better next time, he explains. Last semester, Bleiberg taught “Causal Inference” and “Introduction to Research Methods,” and this semester is adding an “Education Politics” course, since there is “a lot of intersection between general politics today and what is going on in the classroom,” he notes — and public school boards are part of the elected government, after all.
Too bad sports team ownership is not an elective office. This year’s World Series, with its loss by the Phillies, was “a heart breaker,” Bleiberg says. Maybe he could trade a broken heart for a hopeless one, by becoming a Pirates fan? “I am still and will continue to be a fan of my Philadelphia teams,” Bleiberg had no hesitation in saying.
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-758-4859.
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