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Executive Director: Erin O’Hara

Erin O'Hara

Erin O’Hara has spent more than 15 years working in state education policy including nearly a decade working for the state of Tennessee in various education related roles.  As Executive Director, Erin sets strategic direction for the research partnership and guides the work of creating  useful, timely, and high-quality practice focused research to inform Tennessee’s school improvement efforts.  Most recently, she served as a strategy and policy consultant for state leaders, school districts, and nonprofit organizations. Prior to that, O'Hara created and led the division of Data and Research as an Assistant Commissioner at the Tennessee Department of Education and managed the department’s work in accountability, assessment, data quality, and research. She also served as a policy advisor to then-Governor Phil Bredesen, working as a lead on the state’s Race to the Top application and later at the department of education managing initial Race to the Top implementation. O'Hara spent four years at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission working on college access and financial aid policy. Erin has a Master of Public Policy from Peabody College and completed a Bachelor of Government and African/African American Studies at the University of Virginia.



Faculty Director: Dale Ballou

Erin O'Hara

As Faculty Director, Professor Dale Ballou oversees the research agenda, data access and approval process, and the Tennessee Education Research Alliance database. Prior to receiving his doctoral degree in economics from Yale University in 1989, Professor Ballou spent several years teaching in a variety of settings, including a middle school in Indiana, an adult education center in New Haven, Conn., and a private boarding school in Massachusetts. From 1989 to 1992 he taught in the Department of Economics at the University of Massachusetts. As an economist, his research has focused on policies affecting education reform—in particular, the role of incentives and regulation in the training, recruitment, and retention of teachers. His work has appeared in professional economics journals as well as publications for a broader audience like The Public Interest and Education Week. Professor Ballou has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives on education issues and has advised the Massachusetts legislature and the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education on policies related to school financing, teacher licensure, and teacher compensation. His most recent research has dealt with personnel policies in charter schools, teacher testing, and the role of unions in education reform.

  Research Associate: J. Edward Guthrie

JEG J. Edward Guthrie conducts and coordinates practice-based research as a research associate for the Tennessee Education Research Alliance. His current work focuses on professional learning, school turnaround, and measures of teacher effectiveness including student surveys. Prior to joining TERA, Guthrie supported research on school improvement and leadership for several IES grants at Peabody and earned his doctorate from Vanderbilt in 2016. Guthrie is a former educator with work experience in Metro Nashville Public Schools and Scottsboro (AL) City Schools.


Graduate Research Assistant: Sy Doan

Sy Doan

Sy Doan is a doctoral student in the Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. His research interests are in teacher labor markets, value-added measurement, and quantitative methods in education research. Recent projects include studies on within-school teacher mobility and the technical properties of multiple measure teacher evaluation systems. He works primarily with Dale Ballou and Matt Springer. Prior to starting at Vanderbilt, he worked as a research assistant at Basis Policy Research where he wrote on issues in school choice for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Brookings Institution. He holds a B.A. in English and political science from the University of Notre Dame.


Graduate Research Assistant: Olivia Murray

Olivia G. Murray is a doctoral student at the Department of Leadership, Policy & Organizations at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. She holds a B.A. in Educational Studies and Economics from Emory University. Her research interests include how educational theories differ in international contexts and the diffusion of educational policies and practices across borders. In her time at Peabody, she has served as a research assistant to Dr. Carolyn Heinrich and Dr. Carol Nixon. She has also produced several pieces of work on international education assessments for the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office.

 Graduate Assistant: Alyssa Blanchard

Alyssa BlanchardAlyssa Blanchard is a second-year MPP candidate in Education Policy at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. A native of New Orleans, Alyssa grew interested in education policy during the post-Katrina shifts in schooling that reshaped the city’s educational landscape. Her research interests include school improvement, teacher training and support, interactions between schools and communities, and partnerships between researchers and practitioners. At the Tennessee Education Research Alliance, she manages communications and provides support for research projects, particularly on work related to school turnaround. She holds a B.A. in Public Policy from Vanderbilt University.  

 Graduate Assistant: Taylor Seale

Taylor SealeTaylor Seale is a second-year MPP candidate in Education Policy at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. Prior to starting at Vanderbilt, Taylor taught 4th and 5th grade English Language Arts in South Carolina, and has previous experience at the Tennessee Department of Education and Bellwether Education Partners. Her policy interests include teacher training and evaluation, school discipline policy, rural education, and school funding. At the Tennessee Education Research Alliance, she provides support for research projects and grant proposals, with a focus in school turnaround and early literacy. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of South Carolina Honors College.


Steering Committee

The Tennessee Education Research Alliance is guided by a joint committee representing Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College and the Tennessee Department of Education. The steering committee meets regularly to hone the research agenda, discuss methods and findings, and plan dissemination.
The steering committee members are:
Tennessee Department of Education
  • Laura Booker, Executive Director of Research
  • Meghan Curran, Executive Director of District Support
  • Laura Encalade, Chief of Staff to the Commissioner 
  • Nate Schwartz, Chief Research and Strategy Officer
  • Nakia Towns, Assistant Commissioner of Data and Research
Peabody College

Advisory Council

The Tennessee Education Research Alliance periodically consults with a broad array of Tennessee education stakeholders to get their input and feedback on ongoing research, emerging findings, and dissemination plans.
Advisory Council members represent the following organizations:
  • State Board of Education
  • State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE)
  • Tennessee Education Association
  • Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition
  • Tennessee Higher Education Commission
  • Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents
  • Tennessee School Boards Association
  • Governor's Office