Research News

New faculty: Gary T. Henry has a passion for education research

Gary T. Henry (Daniel Dubois/Vanderbilt)

It has been said that the next great wave of education reform is teacher preparation. If that assertion holds true, Gary T. Henry is prepared to bring evidence to the table.

Henry has spent his career looking at how students and teachers are evaluated and will continue this work in his role as Patricia and Rodes Hart Chair and professor of public policy and education in the Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations at Peabody College.

“[rquote]My research isn’t meant to sell a particular point of view,” he said. “It’s meant to move us past those arguments and show evidence we can use to figure out what’s really working for kids.[/rquote]

Henry plans to look at teachers’ persistence and leadership skills as a next phase of his research.

“We’ve always judged teacher candidates by their academic credentials, but there’s some evidence starting to emerge that soft skills such as ‘grit’ really make a difference,” he said, defining grit as “doing whatever it takes” to make students of all backgrounds successful.

Henry’s passion for education ignited at a young age, as the Winchester, Ky., native became a first-generation college graduate.

After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Kentucky and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, he began working for the Virginia General Assembly on evaluation studies and ultimately served as the state’s deputy secretary of education and deputy superintendent of education.

He then moved to Georgia after the state’s lottery bill passed and won the contract to evaluate the pre-kindergarten and HOPE scholarship programs. He also developed the state’s first school report cards.

He later served as the director of the Carolina Institute for Public Policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he conducted evaluation research on the state’s teachers and the most impoverished school districts. Through these projects, Henry was able to do something he had always wanted to do: link millions of students’ test scores to their teachers, and add student, teacher and school characteristics to the database to better understand what factors affect students’ academic performance and teachers’ development over time.

Henry has been published in many top journals, including Science, and says he hopes to find collaborators across disciplines at Vanderbilt who have interest in education reform.

“This is a place where you can foster relationships with great colleagues,” he said. “The students have the abilities to go forth and do great things, so it felt like a great fit for me to be at Vanderbilt.”

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