School of Education
January 1, 2013
Celebrates 40 Years of Conducting Research, Implementing Programs, and Mentoring Future Scholars
George Farkas, Professor of Education, has crafted a distinguished career as a researcher, scholar, mentor, and program implementer. His trajectory has taken him from the East Coast to Texas, back to the East Coast, and then to Irvine. His more visible contributions include intervention programs in use at local, state, and national levels; engagement in cross-discipline, inter-campus research; and publication of numerous books, reports, and peer-reviewed articles. Of equal importance has been his contribution in preparing future scholars; over the years he has maintained his dedication to teaching, advising, and mentoring students and junior faculty, all of whom he has encouraged to join him in his efforts to increase opportunities for youth.
Beginning His Career
George Farkas received his B.A. in mathematics from Columbia in 1967. Interested in advancing the cause of social justice and aid to the disadvantaged, he applied his math skills to sociology, receiving a Ph.D. in sociology from Cornell in 1973. Dr. Farkas had been hired a year earlier by the Yale University Sociology Department and the Institution for Social and Policy Studies (ISPS) as a tenure track assistant professor.
1972 was the year I first taught a two-term graduate statistics course in the sociology department, and I have been teaching statistics ever since.
At ISPS Dr. Farkas found himself among economists, whose research had a distinctively policy focus that he found very attractive. At the time his research interests encompassed income and gender inequality, as well as quantitative methods for examining them.
Pursuing Program Evaluation
In 1978 Dr. Farkas moved to Abt Associates, a social science research company in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
At Abt Associates, I joined a group of economists studying the effectiveness of the Youth Incentive Entitlement Pilot Projects (YIEPP), a federal demonstration project managed by Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, which offered a part-time job during the school year and a full-time job during the summer to low-income youths who did not drop out of school. Matched control sites enabled an estimate of program effects.
After four years of research, Dr. Farkas and his colleagues found that the program was “too little, too late” – approximately 50% of all eligible students did take the jobs, but they tended to be the ones who were not going to drop out of school anyway. The program was designed to be President Carter’s youth employment program, but when President Reagan was elected in 1980, interest in the program waned. At this time Dr. Farkas was also very interested in experimental and quasi-experimental methods to evaluate social programs, and joined with a colleague, the economist Ernie Stromsdorfer, to edit volume five (1980) of the Evaluation Studies Review Annual, focusing it on experimental and quasi-experimental methods.
A Move to Texas
In 1982, Dr. Farkas moved to Dallas as Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD), an interdisciplinary program, where economists, sociologists, and political scientists collaborated on research and teaching. At UTD Dr. Farkas continued his research on low income children, and joined with a colleague, Paula England, to conduct a number of studies of gender inequality. Their articles and book Households, Employment, and Gender: A Social, Economic, and Demographic View were widely read, and continue to be widely cited.
By 1985 I wanted to follow up on my YIEPP (Youth Incentive Entitlement Pilot Projects) research so I approached the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) officials who maintained student records. They were happy to have me join them in conducting research, and I began analyzing their student test score data. When I gave a public lecture on the findings, a staffer for the president of Texas Instruments came up and asked me to join the heads of various Dallas corporations who were seeking to implement school reform.
The corporation heads asked Dr. Farkas what intervention he would suggest. He looked at his findings and observed that 8th graders in the DISD had average reading scores at the 5th grade level, and that few to none could read at grade level. He suggested that they try to assist the schools to improve reading, and in 1989 he and the business group were given access to a low performing elementary school in order to help the principal and teachers increase reading scores.
When I became disappointed with the slow rate of progress in this endeavor, I decided to educate myself on reading instruction and interventions. As a result, in 1990 I founded a program, Reading One-to-One, which used college students and others to provide 1-1 reading tutoring to students in grades 1 – 5 who had fallen behind.
This paraprofessional tutoring program paid tutors a minimum wage, trained them to follow a detailed curriculum, and managed them carefully. By 1995 it had grown to the point that it was serving 2,400 students in 32 Dallas elementary schools, employing 400 paid tutors, each of whom tutored students during the school day. It was one of three exemplary reading tutoring programs described in the 1998 National Research Council’s volume, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children.
Eventually, Dr. Farkas and his staff implemented the program in a wide variety of school districts, including some in Alaska and Mexico. A paper about the program written by Dr. Farkas and his colleagues was read by Gene Sperling, President Clinton’s domestic policy advisor, and led to Clinton’s initiative America Reads. For his contribution, Farkas was honored by President Clinton in the Oval Office. One legacy of this program is the use of college work study students as paid tutors throughout the U.S. Dr. Farkas wrote a number of articles and a book, Human Capital or Cultural Capital? Ethnicity and Poverty Groups in an Urban School District, about reading inequality and the tutoring program. Both the articles and the books were widely read and continue to be cited and to play a role in the formulation of educational policy.
Contributing on an Administrative Level
While at UTD, Dr. Farkas served for five years as Director of the Ph.D. program in Political Economy and was also the founding director of the Center for Education and Social Policy. He taught the graduate sequence in social statistics as well as other graduate and undergraduate courses, and chaired the doctoral dissertations of many students. He served on the editorial boards of a number of journals and from 1996–1999 as editor of the Rose Monograph Series of the American Sociological Association.
The Move to Penn State
In 2000 Dr. Farkas moved to the Department of Sociology and the Population Research Institute (PRI) at Penn State University. There he continued to do research in the sociology of education, and formed a partnership with Professor Paul Morgan, a professor of special education. Together they have won three research grants from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), U.S.Department of Education, as well as grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the American Education Research Association. These grants, which totaled approximately $2.5 million, investigated effective math instruction for disabled children, and the determinants and consequences of low birth rates, delayed speech, and ADHD. Together and with their colleagues they have published 14 papers on these topics in the past four years, with others in preparation. At Penn State Dr. Farkas served for four years as Director of the Ph.D. program in sociology and also as Director of the Statistics Core of the PRI. He continued to teach the graduate statistics sequence as well as other courses, and to serve as chair of many dissertation committees.
Arriving at Irvine
In 2008 Dr. Farkas moved to the Department (now School) of Education at UC Irvine, where he has continued to teach the graduate statistics sequence as well as other courses and chair a number of dissertation committees.
Upon arriving at Irvine I observed that I shared with other faculty – Peg Burchinal, Greg Duncan, and Deborah Vandell — an interest in interventions to improve early childhood education, and we wrote and won an $848,000 grant from IES to employ a number of databases to investigate how the effects of these programs vary across different child populations.
This research was followed by a project, also regarding effective early childhood interventions, that was one of four projects funded by NICHD as part of a five year, $3 million grant led by Dr. Greg Duncan, creating the Irvine Network on Interventions in Development.
Additional Honors and Continuing Service
In 2009 Dr. Farkas was elected a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association, and in 2010 he served as elected president of the Sociological Research Association (in which membership is by invitation only). He currently serves on the editorial boards of the Sociology of Education, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, and Social Science Research. He is serving a three year term on the Educational Systems and Broad Reform grant review panel of the IES.
Collaborating with Colleagues, Mentoring Future Scholars
Dr. Farkas very much enjoys collaborating with graduate students and other faculty members.
Since 2008 I have co-authored 23 peer reviewed articles with other faculty and students. Former students are professors at Cornell, Purdue, Penn State, Indiana, and other universities. I enjoy teaching statistics courses required of first year students, because that way I get to know them all right from the beginning of their careers.
Dr. Farkas’ door is always open, he chairs many doctoral dissertations, and he tells us that over the past six months he has given detailed statistical advice on their research to 29 of the School’s doctoral students. He has collaborated widely with other faculty in the School, and in the same past six months has participated in research projects with eleven of his colleagues. He is known as a professor who can be approached if a need arises: When Professor Michael Martinez passed away last spring, Dr. Farkas stepped in as the principal investigator of his large IES grant to evaluate the effectiveness of the ST Math program, which is being implemented in 52 Orange County schools.
At UC Irvine Dr. Farkas has served as a long-term member of the Ph.D. program steering committee, as well as acting Director of the Ph.D. Program and acting Vice Chair of the Department (before it became a School). He has chaired a number of faculty search and promotion committees, and serves as a member of the university-wide Council on Planning and Budget.
Recently Dr. Farkas has joined with a group of University of Chicago faculty that is designing a math tutoring program for 20 low-performing Chicago schools. This will be implemented as an experiment, with students assigned to tutoring only; another intervention, Becoming a Man, aimed to improve students’ ability to settle disputes without violence; both programs simultaneously; or neither. The experimental design will make it possible to reliably estimate the effects of each of these programs, as well as their possible synergy. If proven effective, the group hopes to implement these programs very widely within the Chicago schools and elsewhere.
I am particularly excited about this project because I am able to continue the work I did with Reading One-to-One: intervening directly to increase the schooling performance of disadvantaged youth.