Centers team up to publish leading journal on children's policy
By Jennifer Greenstein Altmann
Princeton NJ -- In 1996, when professor Sara McLanahan founded the Bendheim-Thoman Center for Research on Child Wellbeing at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, she wanted the school to become a leader in research on children's policy issues.
Students were clamoring to write theses on family issues. "I had lots of students wanting to study child care, foster care and other topics related to children," McLanahan said. "I could see there really was the demand on the students' part." She also noticed that most centers devoted to the study of children's issues lacked an affiliation to a policy school, which she felt was a crucial component. That connection would mean that important findings had a better chance of getting attention from policymakers.
So McLanahan started the center, which conducts research on children's health, education, income and family structure. Eight years later, there are two more centers at the Wilson School that address children's policy issues: the Center for Health and Wellbeing, which fosters research and teaching on health and wellbeing in both developed and developing countries; and the Education Research Section, which promotes the use of research in education decision-making.
"No other policy school has such a major focus on children," McLanahan said.
And now those three centers have joined together to win a competition to assume editorial control of a leading journal on children's policy.
The biannual journal, called The Future of Children, will be published jointly by the Wilson School and the Brookings Institution, which teamed up to submit a proposal to take over the journal. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, which founded the journal in 1991 and has run it since then, held a competitive bidding process to select a new editorial team.
"I see this journal as a big step forward in solidifying and institutionalizing our goal for the Wilson School to become the major place in the country for students who want to study child and family policies," McLanahan said.
Three Princeton faculty members will work together to run the journal. McLanahan, who is a professor of sociology and public affairs as well as the director of the Bendheim-Thoman Center, will become editor-in-chief. She will be assisted by two senior editors: Christina Paxson, a professor of economics and public affairs and the director of the school's Center for Health and Wellbeing; and Cecilia Rouse, a professor of economics and public affairs and the director of the school's Education Research Section. Two members of the Brookings Institution will serve as the journal's permanent editorial staff. A consortium of foundations will provide funding for the journal.
"This is a superb demonstration of the high quality of scholarship and research generated by our three centers under the direction of Sara, Christina and Cecilia," said Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School. "The ongoing collaboration between the Wilson School and Brookings in the area of children's policy will allow us to combine our strengths to produce the best scholarship with the maximum impact on policymakers and practitioners in children's policy."
The journal's main objective is to provide timely and well-researched information on children's issues to policymakers, service providers and the media with the goal of influencing policy decisions. The primary audience is policymakers, not academics. The editors will commission papers from top academics, to be written in a style that will be accessible to practitioners.
"When people write for their discipline, there's a lot of jargon and technical language that makes it hard for policymakers who may not be experts in that field," said Rouse. "The journal gives us a chance to translate a lot of the research that we know to be good and we know to be relevant for policymakers."
Tilghman makes connection
A fortuitous conversation during a tennis match was responsible for the professors learning of the competition for the journal. President Tilghman learned that The Future of Children was in need of a new home from Rebecca Maynard, her weekly tennis partner. Maynard, who is on the editorial advisory board of the journal, is the University Trustee Professor of Education and Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. She has spent a period of leave at Princeton's Office of Population Research and has taught policy task forces at the Wilson School. Tilghman informed Slaughter of the competition, who passed the word along to McLanahan.
"I'm thrilled that this journal will now be housed at the Wilson School, since this will ensure the academic quality of a publication that is very important to people doing research in the field of children's policy," Tilghman said. "It also spurs me on to continue playing tennis with Becca."
With the three professors collaborating -- each will take a turn overseeing an issue -- the journal offers an opportunity to formally bring together the three Wilson School centers that focus on children. Each issue will be devoted to a single topic. The first, which will be published in winter 2005, will be about racial and ethnic gaps in school readiness; the second will be about marriage policy.
The Brookings Institution will take the lead in conducting briefings in Washington, D.C., for Congress and the press on the topics raised in each issue.
"It's a great opportunity to bridge academia and policy, which the Wilson School always tries to do," Paxson said.
Students also will get involved with the journal. Plans are under way to teach six-week seminars for graduate students in conjunction with each issue. The class will study the topic of an upcoming issue and attend a conference where the authors of the papers commissioned for it will present their findings. Elisabeth Donahue, a lecturer at the Wilson School and the journal's associate editor, will teach the seminars.
"The students will be prepared to give feedback to the authors at the first-draft conference," McLanahan said. "And the students will figure out who the audience is for that issue and how to reach them."