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Professor Takes Teacher Research from Tennessee to Mason

August 28, 2018

Seth Hunter joins the College of Education and Human Development

For the past four years, Seth Hunter has been researching teacher evaluations and teacher observations in Tennessee. Before coming to Mason just a few months ago, Hunter worked in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Education while he was a doctoral candidate at Vanderbilt University.

It was his extensive work with Tennessee education standards that brought him back to the state in July, when Hunter was invited to a Tennessee Education Research Alliance (TERA) summit to discuss his research findings.

“These summits were an opportunity for researchers to share some of their findings and the implications for practice, but also for the [Department of Education] to say, ‘we have a short list of some policy changes and practices that we’re thinking of adopting over the short term,’” Hunter says.

In other words, it was a way for some of the foremost researchers in the field to meet with the state Department of Education and compare notes. Hunter, a professor and researcher in the Education Leadership program in the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD), went to the summit as a representative of Mason—the other researchers came from universities such as Vanderbilt, Harvard, and Brown. The summit brought together “some of the leading researchers who are on the cutting edge of research concerning the effects of modern teacher evaluation” on teacher outcomes and student outcomes, Hunter says.

While working for the Tennessee Department of Education, Hunter focused on a statewide survey that the department sent to teachers and principals, the responses of which were used to make policy decisions.

“Part of my research was to validate that survey,” Hunter says. “Is it measuring what we think it’s measuring?”

His findings snowballed into additional projects, such as work on the effects of more frequent classroom observations. There, Hunter didn’t find any evidence that teachers receiving more frequent observations were improving any more than those receiving fewer observations. The results impacted how the state Department of Education approached policy.

Hunter left the TERA summit with ideas for future research—and a sense that Tennessee is working closely with researchers like him to make evidence-based, research-informed policy decisions for the betterment of students in the state.

Now settling in at Mason, Hunter will be teaching courses on evaluation, supervision, and using data to make decisions for rising school administrators in Virginia (and beyond). And, of course, he will be continuing his research.

“I wanted to come to a place where I was encouraged and had the resources to continue my work, that also had a close connection with surrounding school districts—and was also a nice place to live,” Hunter says. “Mason fit the bill.”