Kara Finnigan

Kara Finnigan

Educational Leadership
PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison (educational policy studies)
MA, Stanford University (education administration and policy analysis)
BA, Dartmouth College (English)

Kara Finnigan joined the Warner School in 2003 and is director of the education policy program in the Warner School's Department of Educational Leadership. Her courses focus on contemporary issues in educational policy, state and federal policy, sociology of education, and research methods. 
Finnigan began her work in education as a substitute teacher in Anchorage, Alaska. She has conducted research and evaluations of K-12 educational policies and programs at the local, state, and federal levels for 20 years through her work at several prominent national research organizations, including the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, SRI International, RPP International, and the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
She has written extensively on the topics of low-performing schools and accountability policies; school choice, including charter schools and inter-district choice; social networks, trust, and school and district improvement; and principal leadership. Finnigan’s research blends perspectives in education, sociology, and political science; employs both qualitative and quantitative methods, including social network analysis; and focuses on schools serving low-income students and students of color in urban communities. She has published articles in the American Educational Research Journal, Journal of Educational Change, Educational Policy, Educational Administration Quarterly, Journal of School Leadership, Leadership and Policy in Schools, Journal of Educational Administration, Journal of School Choice, Urban Review, and Education Policy Analysis Archives. Her research also has been featured in practitioner-oriented publications, including School Business Affairs and District Administration magazines. Finnigan has published two edited books: Using Research Evidence in Education: From the Schoolhouse Door to Capitol Hill (Springer) and Thinking and Acting Systemically: Improving School Districts Under Pressure (American Educational Research Association). 
Finnigan’s research focuses on low-performing schools and districts and organizational learning; school improvement under sanction; access, opportunity, and outcomes for students of color participating in inter-district choice; parents’ responses to and involvement in the governance of choice policies; district reform; accountability policies; and the role of districts and states in school improvement. Her current studies include:
  • Understanding Social Network Structure in Schools Under Corrective Action: A Longitudinal Comparative Analysis of Research Use and Diffusion in Urban Districts (Funded by the William T. Grant Foundation)
  • The Role of Social Networks in Organizational Learning in the Chicago Public Schools: Examining the Quantity and Quality of Educational Leaders’ Social Ties (Funded by the Spencer Foundation)
  • Investigating the Potential of Regional Collaboratives to Address Inequality and Isolation in Education (Funded by the Ford Foundation).
Finnigan directed the doctoral and master's programs in educational policy at the Warner School from 2005-13. She serves on the advisory board for the American Journal of Education and recently served as associate editor of the Social and Institutional Analysis section of the American Educational Research Journal. In summer 2021, Finnigan participated in the kick-off panel at an inaugural institute for graduate students around racial justice and equity, called Just Education Policy. The institute aims to inspire and engage the next generation of racial justice-focused education policy scholars.

Publications Available on the Web
Reports Created for Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI)

Profile 1: Individuals At or Below the Poverty Level

Profile 2: Low Income (200% of Poverty Level)
Profile 3: Non-Working Poor (Below 100% of Poverty Level)

YouTube Videos

AERA Ed-Talk: Failing Systems, Complex Fix
New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Day 2 (Kara Finnigan's testimony begins at 1:03:33)
 - READ: Finnigan Written Testimony

In the News

ED541 Program Evaluation Dissertation Seminar I
ED542 Program Evaluation Dissertation Seminar II
ED540 Program Evaluation Dissertation Proposal Seminar
EDU413 Contemporary Issues in Education Policy
ED461 The Politics of Education
ED464 State and Federal Education Policy
ED523 Mixed Research Methods
ED524 Survey Design (1 credit)
ED525 Interview and Focus Group Techniques (1 credit)
ED531 Case Study Design and Analysis (1 credit)
ED412 Sociology of Education
EDE528 Advanced Applications of Qualitative Research Methods for Social Science Research
ED537 Introduction to Social Network Theory, Methods, and Research Applications