Silverman seeks to use her Harris MPP to foster education policy changes at the systemic level.
Headshot of Rebecca Silverman
Rebecca Silverman

During her freshman year as an undergraduate at University of Wisconsin-Madison, incoming MPP student Rebecca Silverman took a class about systemic inequity based on race and socioeconomic status. “I grew up in a privileged community and was unaware of the extent and severity of disparities and inequalities among different populations. The class I took was nothing new or revolutionary, but I truly had never heard about it before, and it opened my eyes.”

That class prompted Silverman to major in Social Welfare and Human Development/Family Studies and explore volunteer opportunities to assess where she could make the most valuable impact.

“I interned and volunteered at hospitals, homeless shelters, and spent a summer working at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. After studying and seeing disparities in these institutions, I kept going back to the idea of educational inequity. It seemed education was the key factor in reducing those disparities, and education, if more equitable, could have the greatest impact.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree, Silverman joined Teach For America (TFA) and taught for three years at an elementary school on the South Side of Chicago.

Prior to a teachers' strike during her second year of teaching, Silverman asked her students to imagine what would be in their perfect school. “The students would list things already in the classroom, like pencils and whiteboards,” she said. “When I shared that when I was in elementary school, we had a gym, playground, and library, [the students I was teaching] couldn't even imagine that a school would have things like that. I realized they don't even know what they’re missing and what they deserve.”

While teaching, Silverman became close with a fellow teacher, Iesha Malone, based on their shared passion for equitable access to literacy. Last year the two opened a bookstore café,  Rose Café, in the Roseland neighborhood where Malone grew up. “We wanted to curb the book desert, provide literacy opportunities to the community, and support reading and community engagement.”

Silverman’s passion for education has led her from teaching to pursuing a dual master’s degree program. Her current master’s program, at The UChicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice (CFS), is focused on educational inequities. At CFS, Silverman said she’s “studying histories and systems that are the root causes of the policies that have been enacted today.”

Silverman said when she joins her Master of Public Policy program at Harris this fall, she looks forward to learning concrete analytic skills to do policy-level work. “Educational inequity is a complex issue, and I need the tools to try to address it on an institutional level.  The analytic skills I gain from my Harris MPP, combined with my teaching background and understanding of social justice work through CFS, will bring unique strengths to a policy-level position.

“As a teacher, I’ve seen the direct impact of policies on students, teachers, and schools, and I understand the barriers that each must overcome in order to be successful. That is a key motivator for me: making education policy changes at the systemic level, rather than the individual.” For this reason, Silverman said she especially looks forward to exploring the Urban Education Lab while at Harris.

Silverman said that one day, she would like to work for Chicago Public Schools—but is first looking forward to her studies at Harris and the opportunities that will follow. “Whatever role I'm in, I know I’m not going to change the education system overnight. But I'm chipping away at making education in Chicago more equitable.”