Educator and researcher David Garcia a believer in impacting education policy  

February 28, 2024

By Jessica Vaile

Fellows Spotlight

David Garcia

(Phoenix, 2011)
Associate Professor
Arizona State University

“I’ve always felt like studying education policy involves getting engaged in that process. That’s what brought me to Flinn years and years ago, this idea that Flinn was not only a place that was working to have people get into politics, policy and political process, but to get them informed with a common base of knowledge and information. That’s something I believe in.”—David Garcia

David Garcia is an associate professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College in the educational leadership and innovation sector. He also holds the position of director of the Arizona Education Policy Initiative at ASU. Prior to professorship, Garcia worked with the Arizona Department of Education and as a research analyst for ThinkAZ. He continues to utilize his expertise in research through writing and his teachings. 

Garcia believes that research stands for a greater good than it is often given credit for. In 2022, he published his book, “Teach Truth to Power; How to Engage in Education Policy,” which serves to better the public’s understanding on how to utilize research and academics to influence legislators’ decisions. It can be difficult for community members who care about education, but don’t have a background in it, to convey what’s truly important to them and why. 

“We are really trying to teach people how to present what they know, in a way that they can take action and influence, and maybe show legislators what’s important,” Garcia says. 

Garcia believes that studying education policy also involves being engaged in education policy. He says researchers write beautiful academic journals and include a snippet at the end that instructs policymakers to listen to what they have to say, but even if they listen, they may not know what to do with that information.

“At some point, I realized, if we’re going to impact policy, we need to go through politics,” he says. “So rather than sitting back and looking, pointing to somebody else to do that, in 2014, I ran for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.”

Garcia’s 2014 run was followed by another run in 2018, this one as the Democratic nominee in Arizona’s gubernatorial election. While Garcia was the runner-up in both elections, he gathered experiences that continue to help him in his current positions. He points out that academics often provide a “surplus
of information,” not by any ill intention, but because it is their nature. He learned that when it comes down to it, you have to find a personal point of interest before any methods can be presented. 

“You might be an expert on a topic, but it’s really hard to take that expertise and counter somebody’s personal experiences in the area,” Garcia said. “We can come back and say that all the research says X happens in the classroom, but if your only experience as a person, as a child, or a student in the classroom is opposite of that…you don’t really care.”

All of that being said, Garcia is a strong believer in academia and the power that research holds. He says while it may be important to tell legislators the real-world problem before anything else, you need data and proof to promptly follow. 

The Flinn-Brown Fellow loves his profession and enjoys the growth and excitement he gets to witness as an educator. “They’re creating themselves; they’re forming themselves, they’re ready to go do something, they’re excited about it,” he says. “And to be part of that over and over again, as an educator, it’s really rewarding. It’s fun.”

Book Recommendation

by Hernan Diaz

David is an avid reader. Every year for his birthday he compiles a collection of books from the recent award lists and reads his new stack for the rest of the year. After he’s done reading them all, he goes through and ranks them. So, a book recommendation from David Garcia is no joke. His current suggestion is Trust by Hernan Diaz.

“Out of the four I’ve read [this year] is a book called Trust, by the renowned Diaz. It’s a fantastic book about finance and about the acquisition of finance and gender roles.”