Skip to main content

Rich Milner

Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair of Education, Department of Teaching and Learning
Professor of Education, Department of Teaching and Learning
Professor of Leadership, Policy and Organizations (Secondary), Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations
Professor of Sociology (Secondary)

H. Richard Milner IV is Cornelius Vanderbilt Chair of Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development. He has secondary appointments in Peabody’s Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations and the Department of Sociology in Vanderbilt’s College of Arts and Science. Milner is President of the American Educational Research Association, the largest research organization in the world. He is also an elected member of the National Academy of Education.

Milner is a researcher, scholar and leader of urban education and teacher education. Centering on equity and diversity, he has spent hundreds of hours observing teachers’ practices and interviewing educators and students in urban schools about micro-level policies that shape students’ opportunities to learn. He examines the social context of classrooms and schools and looks at ways in which teachers talk (particularly about race) influences student learning, identity and development. 

His research in urban schools and his book, “’These Kids are out of Control:’ Why We Must Reimagine Classroom Management,” (Corwin Press, 2018) has influenced designs and practices of teacher education courses and programs. To improve relational, curricular, assessment and instructional practices, school districts across the United States and beyond draw on his recommendations to support students of color, those who live below the poverty line, and those whose first language is not English.

To date, Milner has contributed significantly to the field of education in four interconnected ways:

1. Milner has advanced conceptual and empirical understandings of what he calls “opportunity gaps.” The term stands in contrast to the more generally used “achievement gap” as a means of explaining and disrupting disparities between students.

  • Specifically, he has introduced an Opportunity Gap Framework as a tool to describe the ways in which Black students continue to experience individual, structural and systemic inequity in classrooms and schools across the United States. Researchers have adopted the Opportunity Gap Framework as an analytic frame to explain aspects of their research. In addition, practitioners have drawn from the framework to develop and/or revise teacher education programs, courses and professional development in schools and districts.
  • The framework has been developed from empirical case studies he has conducted over the past 18 years.
  • The Opportunity Gap Framework is described and explained in his award-winning book, “Start Where You are, But Don’t Stay There” (Harvard Education Press, 2010). The book represents years of research and development efforts and is widely read in teacher education programs and school districts across the United States.

2. Milner has constructed a Researcher Positionality Framework to challenge and support researchers in designing and enacting studies and programs of research that recognize, name and work through what he describes as dangers “seen, unseen, and unforeseen” in studying race and culture in education science. Published in the journal, Educational Researcher (2007), the framework has been adapted across disciplines including nursing and health sciences as an essential element to conducting research.

3. Milner (with colleagues Lori Delale O’Connor, Adam Alvarez and Ira Murray) has developed a survey, the Teachers Race Talk Survey, one of the first survey instruments focused on teachers’ reported beliefs about race and discourse. The survey attempts to capture teachers’ reported beliefs about the role and importance of race in classroom talk and learning.

  • Researchers interested in capturing the relationship between race and classroom talk, particularly focused on race, have found the survey useful as it is being adapted and adopted for studies across the field of education.
  • Because the survey is designed for open- as well as closed-ended responses, researchers are able to triangulate, nuance and disrupt participants’, pre- and in-serve teachers’ responses.
  • Implications from his research about race and poverty in schools and classrooms are outlined in his book, “Rac(e)ing to Class: Confronting Poverty and Race in Schools and Classrooms” (Harvard Education Press, 2015).

4. In an effort to build synergy between and among empirical studies and conceptual arguments in and related to urban education, Milner has called for and advanced stronger conceptual and definitional work of urban education. He described and conceptualized three sites of urban education that other researchers use to make sense of and describe urban contexts:

  • urban characteristic,
  • urban emergent, and
  • urban intensive.

Bringing together leading scholars of urban education in the edited volume, “Handbook of Urban Education” (2014), Milner and co-editor Kofi Lomotey have attempted to describe and discuss what urban education is, what we know about it (empirically and theoretically), how we know what we know about urban education, and what other knowledge, as a field, is important for us to study in order to advance policy, research, theory and practice in urban education. 

Career experience

  • Milner began his career at Vanderbilt where in 2008, he became the first Black faculty member at Peabody College to earn promotion and tenure from assistant to associate professor. He also was appointed Lois Autrey Betts Assistant (later Associate) Professor of Education.
  • In addition to his service in the Department of Teaching and Learning, where he founded the graduate program in learning, diversity and urban studies, he held a courtesy appointment in the Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations.
  • Milner left Vanderbilt to spend five years at University of Pittsburgh as Helen Faison Endowed Professor of Urban Education, professor of education, and by courtesy, professor of sociology, professor of social work, and professor of Africana studies. While there, he directed the university’s Center for Urban Education.
  • He rejoined Vanderbilt faculty in 2018.

Representative Publications

Milner’s work has appeared in numerous journals, and he is author of seven books. Milner’s most recent authored books are: 

  • Editor-in-chief of Urban Education (2012 - present)
  • Founding series editor of the Harvard Education Press Series on Race and Education (2017).
  • Appointed inaugural contributor of the equity column for the journal, Educational Leadership, one of the most widely read outlets for practitioners in the world (2017)
  • The dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education assigned his book, Rac(e)ing to Class, to all incoming graduate students and invited alumni across the world to read the book. He was then invited to deliver a prestigious Askwith Lecture at Harvard, where he discussed research and findings from his book (2015). 

Education Scholarship (Awards & Accomplishments)

  • Elected Member, National Academy of Education (2021)
  • Voted President-Elect, American Educational Research Association (2021)
  • Delivered the prestigious annual Brown Lecture in Education Research of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the world’s largest educational research association.
  • Named AERA Fellow (2016).
  • Awarded AERA John Dewey Society Outstanding Achievement Award (2016).
  • Awarded AERA Outstanding Reviewer awards for his work on the Editorial Board of Educational Researcher, and the Division K -Teaching and Teacher Education (2017 and 2015).
  • Awarded AERA Award for Innovations in Research on Diversity in Teacher Education (2015).
  • Selected for AERA’s Early Career Award (2006).
  • Received The Ohio State University College of Education and Human Ecology Distinguished Alumnus Award (2012).

Media resource and influencer

  • Milner is consistently ranked among Education Week’s top 200 annual Public Presence Rankings.
  • The media frequently turn to Milner as a resource. His work has been cited or featured in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Atlantic, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Tennessean, Huffington Post, National Public Radio (NPR), National Education Association Today, Educational Leadership, and Education Week.   

Visiting Professor

Professor Milner has:

  • Taught a course on Race and Poverty in the Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington (2016).
  • Served as a visiting professor at the University of Texas-Austin (2010, 2011 and 2013).
  • Served as visiting scholar in the Graduate School of Education’s Scholars of Color Symposium Series at the University of Pennsylvania (2012).
  • Served as visiting professor at York University in Toronto, Canada (2010). 
  • Most importantly, Milner has been married for 16 years, and he is the proud father of eleven-year old twin daughters, Anna Grace and Elise Faith.

He can be reached at, or on Twitter: @MilnerHRich.

Selected videos: