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Education Policy & the Public Interest: Celebrating the Scholarship of Helen “Sunny” Ladd

March 1, 2017

Colleagues and former students of Helen “Sunny” Ladd, the Susan B. King Professor of Public Policy Studies and professor of economics at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, will discuss Ladd’s impact on the fields of education finance and policy and education and the public interest.

The festschrift, Education Policy & the Public Interest: Celebrating the Scholarship of Helen “Sunny” Ladd, will take place on Friday, May 19, 2017 from 11:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in Sanford 04.  The event is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is required. Register here.

The keynote speaker is Richard Rothstein, a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and a fellow at the Thurgood Marshall Institute of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. His recent book, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How our Government Segregated America, documents the history of state-sponsored residential segregation and makes the case that our residential patterns are not “de facto” but a constitutional violation. The book explores new aspects of the relationship of schools to society.

Other colleagues planning to speak at the Festschrift include:

  • Edward B. Fiske, founder and editor of the Fiske Guide to Colleges and former education editor for the New York Times; also Ladd’s husband.
  • Steven Hemelt, Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Policy at UNC-CH.
  • Henry Levin, the William H. Kilpatrick Professor of Economics & Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.
  • Susanna Loeb, Barnett Family Professor of Education at Stanford University.
  • Lucy Sorensen, Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Policy at University at Albany, SUNY and a Visiting Fellow at the Rockefeller Institute of Government.
  • John Yinger, Trustee Professor of Public Administration and Economics at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University.

Sanford School Professor Kenneth Dodge, Director of the Center for Child and Family Policy, will provide the welcome. Sanford School Professors Charles Clotfelter and William “Sandy” Darity will moderate.

Ladd’s education research focuses on school finance and accountability, teacher labor markets, school choice, and early childhood programs.  With colleagues at Duke University and UNC, she has used rich longitudinal administrative data from North Caroline to study school segregation, teacher labor markets, teacher quality, charter schools, and early childhood programs. With her husband, Edward Fiske, she has written books and articles on education reform efforts in New Zealand, South Africa, the Netherlands, and England.

She is the co-author or co-editor of 12 books. These include Holding Schools Accountable: Performance-Based Reform in Education (Brookings Institution, 1996); The Handbook of Research in Education Finance and Policy (2008 and second edition 2015), books on school reform in New Zealand and South Africa, and a forthcoming book entitled, Educational Goods, Values, Evidence and Decision Making.  From 1996-99 she co-chaired a National Academy of Sciences Committee on Education Finance. In that capacity she is the co-editor of two books: a set of background papers, Equity and Adequacy in Education Finance and the final report, Making Money Matter: Financing America’s Schools. She is currently a member of a National Academy study of financing early care and education for a highly qualified workforce. 

Prior to 1986, Ladd taught at Dartmouth College, Wellesley College, and at Harvard University, first in the City and Regional Planning Program and then in the Kennedy School of Government.  She graduated with a BA from Wellesley College in 1967, received a master's degree from the London School of Economics in 1968, and earned her PhD in economics from Harvard University in 1974.

She was president of the Association for Public Policy and Management in 2011 and, since its founding in 2008, has been co-chair of the national campaign for a Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (  Before she shifted to education policy, her research focused on state and local public finance, and she was active in the National Tax Association, which she served as president in 1993-94.  She has also been a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, a senior research fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. With the support of two Fulbright grants, she spent the spring term of 1998 in New Zealand studying that country’s education system and the spring term of 2002 doing similar research in South Africa.  More recently, she spent a term as a visiting researcher at the University of Amsterdam, examining the Netherlands’ long experience with parental choice and weighted student funding, and two months in London at the Institute for Fiscal Studies researching school improvement and English academies.  

The festschrift is presented by the Sanford School of Public Policy and Duke’s Center for Child and Family Policy. If you would like to send a note or a letter to be included in a volume of letters to Sunny that results from this festschrift, please email it to Mary Lindsley prior to the event.