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Diamond named Kellner Family Distinguished Chair in Urban Education

January 09, 2019

John Diamond, a sociologist of education, was recently named the Kellner Family Distinguished Chair in Urban Education with UW-Madison’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.

Diamond, who also is a faculty affiliate with the Departments of Afro-American Studies and Educational Policy Studies, researches the relationship between social inequality and educational opportunity. In particular, he examines how educational leadership, policies and practices shape students' educational opportunities and outcomes.

“Professor John Diamond is an excellent and innovative researcher, a highly regarded teacher, and an important contributor to equity projects in many school districts,” says School of Education Dean Diana Hess. “I am so pleased that he will hold the Kellner Family Distinguished Chair in Urban Education.”

John Diamond and Mary Kellner pose for a photo
John Diamond poses for a photo with Mary Kellner.
“I am truly thankful to the Kellner Family for making this Distinguished Chair possible,” says Diamond. “It is an amazing honor and the highest achievement of my career at UW-Madison. It feels wonderful to know that the UW-Madison School of Education sees value in my work and contributions.”

Diamond brought much of this work to life in his 2015 award-winning book, “Despite the Best Intentions: How Racial Inequality Thrives in Good Schools.” Co-authored with Amanda Lewis, this publication is based on five years’ worth of data gathering and interviews with more than 170 people, both in school and around the community. Through these efforts, Diamond and Lewis were able to produce an illuminating book that helps explain how racism and opportunity hoarding bedevils American schools.

Much research on this topic had previously centered on the role of poverty, family stability, and other external influences in explaining poor performance at school, especially in urban contexts. But Diamond and Lewis — a professor of African American studies and sociology, and director of the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago — not only closely examined a suburban school, but also studied how racism is embedded in organizational practices in ways that create educational advantages for white students.

In addition, they disputed common explanations of the gap by exploring what race actually means in this situation, and how it matters.

Today, Diamond is focusing many of his efforts on building research/practice partnerships to address equity issues.

In May of 2017, he was awarded a Spencer Foundation Midcareer Grant, a prestigious award that will allow him to further examine how educational leadership, policies and practices shape students’ opportunities and outcomes. This grant made it possible for Diamond to embed with leaders in racially diverse districts to gain a deeper understanding of how they work to create more equity in their schools.

Most recently, Diamond led a team of scholars in assembling a proposal that received a Transform Grant from the School of Education’s Grand Challenges initiative. The project, “Mobilizing Youth Voices for Racial Justice,” is intended to amplify the powerful work youth of color in Madison are doing to advance racial justice in their respective community organizations.

Diamond also continues to build collaborative relationships between UW-Madison and the Madison Metropolitan School District in his role as the faculty lead of the Forward Madison Initiative and as a committee member of the Madison Education Partnership.

Diamond arrived on the UW-Madison campus in 2013 after spending nearly a decade as a faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In addition to UW-Madison and Harvard, Diamond has also held faculty positions at Northwestern University, and UW-Milwaukee.

“I have always believed that the work of the university, and my work as a professor, is most powerful when it is connected to the world outside of the institution and focused on important social challenges,” says Diamond. “In fact, I came to UW in part because of the Wisconsin Idea – the belief that the research carried out at the university should enhance the quality of life for people beyond its boundaries.”

Adds Diamond: “The chair will help me deepen my connection to educational practice, enhance my scholarship and continue my work to prepare educators for work in the field. It is very significant to me that the Chair foregrounds work in urban schools and classrooms and signals the School of Education’s strong commitment to such work. It is especially gratifying to be following Gloria Ladson-Billings in this role. Her groundbreaking work and leadership of the field is both legendary and inspiring.” 

The Kellner Family Distinguished Chair in Urban Education was previously held by Ladson-Billings, who retired from the university after more than 26 years on campus earlier this year.

“Being the Kellner Family Distinguished Chair in Urban Education was a crowning achievement in my career at UW-Madison,” said Ladson-Billings. “It signaled the importance the School of Education was willing to place on the urgent needs of students, teachers and families in urban schools and classrooms. Having Professor John Diamond succeed me in this role signals an ongoing commitment to recognizing dedicated and high profile scholars in urban education. I am ecstatic about this choice.”

Ladson-Billings’ scholarship on culturally relevant pedagogy and critical race theory in education has never been more important or relevant, and her role as a leader in the realm of education research remains prominent. In November 2017, Ladson-Billings began serving a four-year term as president of the National Academy of Education, which supports research for the advancement of education policy and practice in the United States.

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