Dr. Steve Lee is a quantitative analyst who studies college readiness, teacher evaluation, and career and technical education programs. He is currently a lead researcher assessing the validity of the Maryland State Department of Education’s teacher and principal evaluation system. In this interview, he shares the surprising findings from his many evaluations of various programs to help underprepared students.
Q: What made you want to become a researcher?
A: I suspect my motivations for becoming a researcher are fairly common. People driven to scientific fields enjoy the process of discovering something new about our world that changes our perception of it. Sort of like the fish who are unaware of the presence of water in David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon College commencement speech, the things around us may not seem as obvious and simple as we perceive. I think each of us in the scientific community hope to find something unexpected however large or small, and I’m no different.
Q: Through your work, what is the most interesting/unexpected/important finding you have discovered?
A: I’ve been evaluating various types of programs to help underprepared students, and even the most detailed and thought-out programs to help students may only have a small beneficial academic effect. For example, I served as the principal investigator for a program evaluation in a past position that offered students frequent and customized in-person help to students, including phone and text-based support five days a week, but it still experienced troubles in helping students academically. In fact, on some measures, these students performed slightly worse academically than the control group. We suspected various reasons why the students in the treatment group did no better, if not worse, than the control group, but a full investigation into these reasons wasn’t feasible at the time.
Q: What is your least favorite part of research?
A: Research often involves tedious tasks to gain access and prepare data. I like baking the cake but I prefer outsourcing the collection of the ingredients.
Q: If you were not a researcher, what would you do for a living?
A: I just want to dance! I’ve always loved music and movies so I suspect I would be working in those fields in some capacity, probably not on the creative side though since I have no sense of rhythm.
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