Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Marlin pursues quantitative training to use in education policy

Dan Marlin


After graduating in 2014, Dan Marlin became an assistant research at the Value-Added Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

After a few years as a paralegal, Dan Marlin wasn't sure of his next career move, but he knew he didn't want to be a lawyer.

"I didn't want to argue for a living," says the first-year public affairs student, "and I have always been intrigued by policy and politics, so I started looking into public affairs and public policy graduate programs."

Marlin quickly learned that graduate work in public affairs was exactly what he was looking for, and in particular, that the quantitative training such programs provided helped to fill a hole in his skill set.

"I hadn't realized how much of policy analysis actually requires analysis," Marlin says.

Marlin graduated from Northwestern University in 2008 with a bachelor's degree in political science and Slavic languages and literature. His service on his undergraduate dormitory's board, plus a desire to contribute to La Follette, prompted him to join the La Follette School Student Association board as vice president.

His decision to enroll in La Follette's Master of Public Affairs program has been a good one, Marlin says. The offer of a fellowship helped him select La Follette, as did the program's small size and accessible faculty. "I feel like I can come into the La Follette house and just knock on a professor's office door," Marlin says. "At other larger programs, I might not have been as comfortable doing that."

"The program is small, but not too small," Marlin adds. "I also like that people form study groups, that the environment is more collaborative than competitive."

Marlin plans to focus his studies on education policy and how school districts around the country are coping with shrinking budgets. How individual schools perform and how districts deal with failing schools and motivate teachers and principals to do better also intrigues him.

Marlin saw some of those issues play out during a monthlong internship with Chicago Public Schools' Portfolio Office, which is responsible for long-term strategy, access and enrollment, and authorization of new and turnaround schools. "The Portfolio Office combined several units and put a new emphasis on engaging stakeholders," Marlin says. "Among other things, I worked with access and enrollment to update a directory of the district's elementary schools so that parents and students could be better informed. And I even got to sit in on a budget meeting."

The experience has provided excellent context for Marlin's public management course taught by Donald Moynihan. "The Portfolio Office illustrates the challenge of the cultural change of an agency after a structural reorganization," Marlin says

After graduation, Marlin hopes to be a policy analyst with a large urban school district or education think tank where he can apply his skills to help districts improve school performance and handle budgetary constraints. "I have never been interested in business, but in public institutions, public affairs, policies — the theory and practice," he says. "I want to understand how stuff happens."