Students who want a firsthand glimpse of the policymaking process in the Texas Capitol don’t have to look any further than the classroom of Scott Hochberg ’75, a former state representative who has returned to Rice University this semester to teach a course on education public policy.
Education Policy: From Legislatures to Classrooms has been offered for several years through Rice’s teacher education programs, now part of the Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies; however, this is Hochberg’s first semester teaching the course. Glasscock School Dean Mary McIntire ’75 approached him last October about the possibility of teaching a course on education policy.
“She asked me to teach what I know,” Hochberg said.
He draws on years of political experience while teaching the class, which looks at the history of education policy in the state of Texas and the U.S. He retired in January after 20 years in the Texas House of Representatives, where he served as vice chair on the House Committee on Public Education and served three terms as chair of the education subcommittee of the House Committee on Appropriations. Before that time, Hochberg worked for two years as a legislative aide.
During his legislative tenure, he gained a reputation as an expert on education policy and school funding.
“It’s a great time to be offering the course now that the legislature is back in session in Austin,” Hochberg said. “It really allows students to get a firsthand look at how policies are developed.”
Throughout the semester, students are required to follow current events related to public policy and education and Texas. The final class project requires each student to write a paper on a topic related to current education legislation and make an argument for or against the policy, based on their research throughout the semester.
Hochberg aims to balance scholarly materials with current events and hopes that students will walk away from the course with a true understanding of how policy becomes law in Texas and the U.S.
“I think it’s important to teach them to look at things from a serious academic side, but also to look at things practically,” he said. “I’ve had a number of students work with me in the legislature as interns over the years, and what they’re amazed by is that it doesn’t resemble what they learned in school about how policy is made. What I’m trying to convey to them is more of the practical aspects about how policy is actually made. We talk about the different personalities and the pressure groups and at the same time do some in-depth study of the policies that will significantly impact what is happening inside the classroom.”
Hochberg said that teaching the class is “great fun, but challenging.”
“The students ask only good questions,” he said. “And it’s nice because everyone is really enthusiastic about the class. It’s an elective course, so they’ve chosen it for a reason.”
One of the things Hochberg most appreciates about the students is their openness. “They don’t come into the class with huge political agendas, unlike individuals who have been lobbying for a specific cause for many years,” he said.
This openness, along with an appreciation for the personal nature of the political process, will take them a long way, Hochberg said.
“So much of what you do depends on personal relationships,” he said. “Even in times of heavy partisan divide, much depends on personal persuasion, how well you sell your ‘product,’ and most importantly, being able to make your idea stand out from the crowd amidst everything else going on. As a lawmaker, I anticipated a much more structured (lawmaking) process going into (the legislature), and in reality it’s not structured at all. I can clearly recall times where having a relationship with another member helped me.”
Kiara Skokan, a Hanszen College senior who is planning a career in education, said that it is Hochberg’s insider perspective that makes the course especially interesting and valuable.
“Rep. Hochberg’s experience in the Texas legislature has allowed him to give our class a very rich and insightful look into the complexities and debates that go into making educational policies,” she said. “More than just a class of facts or history, he takes us into the ‘backroom’ of the policy process to give us a full understanding of all that occurs in the process of creating legislation.”
Henry Deng, a McMurtry College senior interested in educational achievement and inequality issues in Texas and the U.S., agreed with his classmate.
“I thought having a former state legislator with 20 years of experience would be an extremely unique learning opportunity, and so far it has been,” he said. “His firsthand experiences in the legislature really enhance this class. He provides us with perspective on what goes on in Austin and how it impacts students in our state’s classrooms.”
Deng said that as a Rice alum, Hochberg really connects with the students. One of his favorite parts of the class is seeing the passion that Hochberg has for education policy.
“It’s evident that when he was a legislator, he worked hard to understand Texas’ education issues and to make policy to address the problems,” he said.
Hochberg’s goal for his students is to help them learn to strike a balance between rigorous academic research and practicality to get their message across.
“To be successful in politics, they must learn how to cut through the noise and make their messages carry the day,” Hochberg said.
For more information on this course or the Teacher Education’s Teacher Certification and Master of Arts in Teaching programs, visit http://education.rice.edu/.