My research consists of multidisciplinary approaches in examining public policy issues—particularly public and higher education—with a central focus on issues of power, policy as a process, and collective agency and practices of political actors. Using ethnographic, survey, focus group, “elite” and key informant interviews, participant observation, and case study methods, my scholarly expertise expands our understanding of the the following public and higher education issues: state-level policymaking; political engagement; high-stakes testing; accountability and assessment; college access; parent and community engagement; English learners; and teacher preparation.

Below are selected works that highlight this expertise.


Among my most notable, and unique, contributions to the areas of education and public policy is my recent ethnographic study of the Texas State Legislature. As a Research Associate for the Texas Center for Education Policy during the 2009, 2011, and 2013 regular and special sessions of the Texas State legislature, I played a key role in educating legislators and diverse community groups as the state overhauled its public education structure and institutionalized the new State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR) system. My dissertation titled, The Process of Becoming: The Political Construction of Texas’ Lone STAAR System of Accountability and College Readiness (López, 2012) was a three-year ethnographic study (2008-2011) that focused on whose knowledge informed the construction of STAAR (and whose knowledge did not), the forms of agency exerted by various political actors, and how agency changed over time.

The dissertation study was extended to include a third legislative session, and a five-year longitudinal analysis (2008-2013). Among my findings, I reveal how political practices subvert the legislative process, and consequently educational equity in the wake of massive anti-testing outrage, unprecedented budget cuts, and a political climate riddled with anti-Latino/anti-immigrant sentiment. This insiders glimpse of power and the various aspects involved in state-level policymaking has also been used to educate and incite political engagement among numerous communities in the fight for education in Texas, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), who in part used my study to win a recent Edgewood Independent School District et al. v The Texas Education Agency school finance litigation following the 2011 legislative session. My research has informed numerous policy debates in the Texas State Legislature, State Board of Education, as well as local-level decision making processes.

On October 19, 2013, I was appointed by the Texas’Mexican American Legislative Caucus (MALC) and Senate Hispanic Caucus (SHC) to serve as the Primary Investigator and Co-Chair of the Latina/o Education Task Force. This Task Force was given the task to develop frameworks for state-level policy agendas in Public and Higher Education, and on July 9, 2014 released “A Latina/o K-12 and Higher Education Policy Agenda in Texas.” 

The Agenda reflects the contributions of 70 local, state, and national participant organizations and nearly 200 individuals—128 of which are proud Texas bilingual teachers. Over the course of six months, these organizations took part in a collective process focused on advancing a much-needed paradigm shift in state-level policy and political engagement.

Selected awards and recognitions:

Concha Delgado Gaitán Early Career Presidential Fellowship. The Council on Anthropology and Education.

Distinguished Dissertation Award. The American Educational Research Association’s (AERA) Critical Educators for Social Justice

Center for Mexican American Studies’ Dissertation Fellowship Award. The University of Texas at Austin.

Selected publications on legislative politics and policymaking:

López, P.D. (in progress). Stepping Down From the Balcony: An Engaging Policy Approach to Critical Policy Studies and Praxis.

López, P.D. (forthcoming). Latina Differential Consciousness and Race-Gendering in Texas’ Legislative Process. In S. Navarro, S. Hernandez & L. Navarro, Latina Politics. College Station, TX: A&M Univeristy Press.

López, P.D. (2014). “A Latina/o K-12 and Higher Education Policy Agenda in Texas.” Austin, TX: Senate Hispanic Caucus and Mexican American Legislative Caucus Latina/o Education Task Force.

López, P.D. & Valenzuela, A. (2014). Resisting Epistemological Exclusion and Inserting La Clase Mágica into State-level Policy Discourses. In B. Flores, O. Vasquez & E.R. Clark. Generating Transworld Pedagogy: Reimagining La Clase Mágica. Lexington Publishers, Rowman Littlefield Publishing Group.

López, P.D., Valenzuela, A. & García, E. (2011). The Critical Ethnography of Public Policy for Social Justice.  Companion to the Anthropology of Education.

López, P.D. (2013). “Texas Latinos and the Politics of Change”

López, P.D. (2011). Deconstructing the Interdisciplinary in Policy: Critical Education Policy Analysis, Social Justice, and the Politics of Urgency.  University of Texas at Austin: Unpublished Doctoral Specialization Paper.

Also see various invited expert briefings and written testimonies.


“College Readiness in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas”

In an effort to address the critical needs of the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, the Texas Valley Communities Foundation—an affiliate of the US-Mexico Border Philanthropy Group—developed the Engaging Communities for College Readiness (ENCORE) initiative. The initiative, generally, was informed by a common and unifying vision in the Rio Grande Valley that: “We want all our kids to go to college.” The focus of the ENCORE Initiative, specifically, was to lay the groundwork for future mobilization and community investment efforts centered on educating local communities about the importance of preparing all students for postsecondary education. I was part of a research team that conducted focus group interviews with high school and college students, teachers, counselors, public and higher education administrators, parents, and community leaders in order to identify barriers and develop strategies for ensuring that the goal of obtaining a college education can be realized for all students in the Valley.

Publications from this project:

Cabrera, N., López, P.D. & Sáenz, V.B. (2012). Ganas: From the Individual to the Community, and the Potential for Improving College Readiness in the ‘Land that Texas Forgot’Journal of Latinos and Education, 11: 232-246.

Sáenz, V.B., Yamamura, E., Cabrera, N., López, P.D., Martínez, M., Aguilar, A., Najera, T., Muñoz, I. & Richardson, C. (2008). Understanding the perception of college readiness in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Report for the Texas Valley Communities Foundation, Edinburg, TX.

“Teacher Advocacy in Education”

As part of a partnership with the National Education Association (NEA), I was a co-principal investigator in research project centered on advocacy efforts for emergent bilingual/English learner students. This project was guided by two overarching goals and was accomplished in two stages.

The first consisted of a three-and-a-half day summit that convened 40 members—36 of whom were teachers of emergent bilingual students—from across the country (14 states represented). The goal of the summit  was to gain an understanding on the following four over-arching topics: defining advocacy for English learners (ELs); responding to our dynamic environment; taking the pulse of the profession; advocating for student standards.

The second goal of the project was to draw from the experiences and needs of NEA participants as a means to produce an Advocacy Handbook that is focused on demystify policy processes and assist members in working towards social justice and change for emergent bilingual students. Among many things, this work provides an advocacy framework for how to acknowledge and advance the needs of English learners across diverse political arenas.

Publications from this project:

Valenzuela, A. & López, P.D. (2013). National Teacher Summit on Advocacy and English Learners. Washington, DC: National Education Association (NEA). Final Report to the NEA Office of Human and Civil Rights.

Valenzuela, A. & López, P.D. (2013). English learners and Advocacy. Washington, DC: National Education Association. Advocacy Handbook to the NEA Office of Human and Civil Rights.

“Teacher Preparation and the Latina/o Teacher Pipeline”

As the Associate Director of the National Latino/a Education Research and Policy Project (NLERAP) I am also been involved in research addressing the underrepresentation of politically conscious, Latina and Latino secondary teachers and curricular content for teacher preparation.

Select publications from this project:

Valenzuela, A. & López, P.D. (2014). Creating a Cadre of Critically Conscious Teachers and “Taking this Country to a Totally new Place.” In P. Portes & S. Salas. U.S. Latinos in K-12 education: Seminal research-based policy directions for change we can believe in. Routledge.

Valenzuela, A. & López, P.D. (forthcoming). The National Latino/a Education Research and Policy Project: Origins. In M. Lavadenz & A.C. Muniz, Anthology on Civil Rights in Education. Paradigm Press.

Valenzuela, A., López, P.D. & Casanova, Ú. (Eds.). (2012). A Critical Pedagogy Curriculum Handbook for Teachers of Latino/a Youth in Schools: A National Latino/a Education Research and Policy Framework.  Austin, TX: National Latino/a Education Research and Policy Project (NLERAP). Final Report to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Valenzuela, A. & López, P.D. (2011). The National Latino/a Education Research and Policy Project (NLERAP) and the Teacher Education Institutes. Austin, TX: The National Latino/a Education Research and Policy Project (NLERAP).  Final Report to the Ford Foundation.

For more visit:

“High-stakes Testing and Immigrant English Learners” 

During the 2007-2008 academic year I took part in a qualitative and quantitative study examining the impact of state-level policies on high-school English learners and their families. This project was one of select studies funded by the Texas State Legislature and the newly developed, University of Texas Center for Collaborative Educational Research and Policy (UTCCERP).

Selected publications from this project:

López, P.D. (2009). “The Impact of Accountability and Assessment on High School English Language Learners and their Families: The South Texas Border Context.” Center for Health and Social Policy.

Also see various invited expert briefings and written testimonies.