The University Record, December 6, 1999

Karen Wixson recommended as education dean

By Jane R. Elgass

The appointment of Karen Wixson as dean of the School of Education will be recommended to the Regents at their Dec. 16–17 meeting, effective Jan. 1. Announcement of the recommendation was made Dec. 2 by Provost Nancy Cantor and President Lee C. Bollinger.

Wixson, who has served as interim dean of the School since July 1998, is the co-author of a widely used text on the assessment and instruction of reading and writing problems. She also is a long-time consultant on the development of the National Assessment of Educational Progress reading tests, and recently served on the National Research Council’s Committee on Embedding National Test Items in State Assessments.

She recently served as co-director of the federally funded Michigan English Language Arts Framework standards project, and continues her work on reading standards and assessments as a principal investigator for the U.S. Department of Education’s Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement.

“Dr. Wixson possesses the intellectual breadth and leadership qualities necessary to marshal the collective strengths of the School of Education and help it continue to build on its excellent reputation,” said Provost Nancy Cantor. “The School has made significant progress under her leadership while interim dean, and the president and I are confident that this progress will continue.”

Cantor is particularly enthused about several initiatives Wixson hopes to launch in collaboration with the School’s faculty, including a greater focus on outreach activities and addressing the University’s own emphasis on innovations in teaching and learning at research universities.

President Lee C. Bollinger noted that Wixson “is an outstanding teacher and scholar in the fields of literacy and language arts education, and is highly regarded by her colleagues in the School and the wider community.”

“I also appreciate and support her deep commitment to K–12 education through improved teacher training and the sharing of University research findings with classroom teachers, parents and community leaders,” Bollinger added.

Commenting on her recommendation, Wixson cited the School’s mission of striving for excellence in all areas—research, teaching and service, noting that, “This is a tall order and one that is only likely to be achieved if we rethink the relationships among research, teaching and service. We cannot excel in all of these areas if we treat them as independent entities,” she added, indicating she hopes the School will be able to draw on a model developed by a National Academy of Education panel to accomplish that mission.

The model calls for support of “federations of collaborative problem-solving research and development projects that are linked in a hub-and-spokes relationship,” she explained. “Each spoke in a federation would be an independent problem-solving R&D project, and the hub would be charged with enhancing the generalizability of the spoke research through theory development, tool-building, and creating clusters of people able to move across research and new implementation sites.”

The model, Wixson said, “provides the infrastructure for outreach to K–12 schools based on current research. It could also become the ‘laboratory’ for an alternative leadership degree or certificate program at the U-M, for doctoral students who are not seeking academic positions that deal directly with the interface among research, policy and practice.”

With recognized preeminence in research (the School was ranked eighth nationally by U.S. News and World Report in 1997, up from 22nd three years earlier), Wixson wants to see the School “step up to the plate and be recognized for its scholarship on teaching,” a focus that ties in to the University’s emphasis on teaching. “Similarly,” she added, “we must demonstrate how we can be of assistance to the K–12 community, through efforts such as those suggested by the hub-and-spokes model.”

Wixson hopes also to increase the School’s visibility on campus and increase awareness of its major research initiatives, which draw heavily on field-based work and collaborative efforts involving disciplinary specialists, teachers and administrators.

“We may be one of the best kept secrets on campus,” she said. “We have parts of five national research centers here, and have nationally recognized faculty focusing on critical educational issues, including early reading instruction, science and technology in urban schools, school reform, and teaching and learning in mathematics.”

Community-building within the School also is high on Wixson’s list of priorities, which, she noted, “arises from collaboration around shared efforts. While I believe that you cannot legislate community, I also believe that it is the Dean’s responsibility to help provide opportunities for community-building.”

Wixson noted that moving to the hub-and-spokes model “has obvious implications for the future of educational research and teacher education. Both are likely to become increasingly collaborative, inter- and multidisciplinary, and focused on the needs of the disproportionate numbers of low-income students who are not achieving as we know they can.

“We cannot succeed in integrating research, teaching and service without attention to multiculturalism and diversity,” she emphasized. “I have long been concerned that our approach to these issues is often limited to efforts to increase the numbers of minority faculty, staff and students. We need to move beyond the consideration of ‘who’ to issues of how the nature of our work and the ways in which we carry it out are influenced by the diverse perspectives around us.”

Part of Wixson’s vision for the School is “faculty working together to determine our future course. We’ve amassed an extraordinary faculty with a common mission, and we need to build the infrastructure that allows us to enact our shared vision and take our rightful place as a leader among leaders.”

A member of the faculty since 1980, Wixson was associate dean for graduate studies in the School of Education in 1996–98.

She has published widely in the areas of literacy curriculum, instruction and assessment, including articles and chapters in the Handbook of Reading Research, Language Arts, Reading Research Quarterly, the American Education Research Journal and the Journal of Educational Psychology.

Wixson holds a B.S. in behavioral disabilities from the University of Wisconsin, an M.S. Ed. in learning disorders from the State University of New York-Binghamton and an M.S. and Ph.D. in reading education from Syracuse University.

Prior to receiving her doctorate, she was both a remedial reading and learning disabilities teacher.

Wixson’s honors include recognition as a distinguished alumna of SUNY-Binghamton and receipt of the University of Michigan Class of ’23 Teaching Award and the Professional Service Award from the American Educational Research Association, which recognized her work in translating reading research into goals and assessments for the state of Michigan.

Her U-M service activities currently include serving on the Faculty Council of the Edward Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning, and on the Steering Committee of the America Reads Tutoring Program. She was a member of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies Executive Board in 1991–94, and the Executive Committee of the Joint Program in English and Education, and the Combined Program in Psychology and Education.

Wixson is a member of a number of national organizations, including the International Reading Association, American Educational Research Association and Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development, and is a fellow of the National Conference on Language and Literacy.

She also is a member of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English and the Michigan Reading Association.