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Grant will support study on improving the use of research evidence in educational systems

Kara FInnigan photoA new William T. Grant Foundation Research Award will expand the research base around use of research evidence by examining how school districts leverage social networks among administrators and teachers to improve their use of research evidence in ways that benefit youth.
The study, funded through an 18-month, $339,983 research grant, will support an ongoing research collaboration between Kara Finnigan, associate professor at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education, and Alan J. Daly, professor at the University of California, San Diego, who will both serve as co-principal investigators on the project, titled “Diffusing Research Evidence in Educational Systems.”
“We are proud to be supporting Finnigan and Daly’s work again, particularly as this study will be using the dataset developed in their prior Foundation funded work,” says Adam Gamoran, president of the Foundation. “Understanding how an individual’s social network is related to the use of research evidence will ultimately advance our understanding of how to improve its use.”
Their previous work, focusing on how low-performing schools use research evidence to improve outcomes for youth, was funded through two William T. Foundation grants, totaling $902,300. In the earlier stages of their research, Finnigan and Daly mapped districts’ leadership networks and school staff relationships; developed initial measures of how practitioners define, interpret, and use research evidence; and examined changes in school and district leadership networks and any associated changes in their definition, acquisition, and use of research evidence over several years.
The new award will allow Finnigan and Daly, experts in the field of educational policy and leadership, to conduct additional analyses of their longitudinal quantitative and social network, along with their qualitative interview data, to better understand how and when “connections” around research happen. In an attempt to identify conditions that enable individuals to diffuse research across schools and school systems, the researchers will look at overall and subgroup network patterns; how these patterns relate to the level of research use; and the various stages of research use.
Their findings, in turn, could inform the construction of future interventions to bolster the use of research evidence in K-12 educational systems under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The provisions of ESSA call for state and local educational systems to undertake significant improvement efforts that prioritize evidence-based programs and practices.  This study will generate new knowledge around how evidence moves throughout a school system as educators alter their instructional approaches or adopt new classroom or school-wide strategies to improve outcomes for youth.
The William T. Grant Foundation is a private philanthropy that invests in high-quality research with the potential to advance theory, policy, and practice related to children and youth in the United States. Currently, the Foundation is interested in understanding how to reduce inequality among young people and how to improve the use of research evidence and practice. Research grants target early- to mid-career researchers for high-quality empirical projects that fit one of the Foundation’s two focus areas. The Foundation awarded two research grants in December for projects that will address the use of research evidence in decisions that affect young people.
About the Warner School of Education
Founded in 1958, the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education offers graduate programs in teacher preparation, K-12 school leadership, higher education, education policy, counseling, human development, online teaching and learning, program evaluation, applied behavior analysis, and health professions education. The Warner School of Education offers PhD programs and an accelerated EdD option that allows eligible students to earn a doctorate in education in as few as three years part time while holding a professional job in the same field. The Warner School of Education is recognized both regionally and nationally for its tradition of preparing practitioners and researchers to become leaders and agents of change in schools, universities, and community agencies; generating and disseminating research; and actively participating in education reform. 

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Tags: educational leadership, educational policy, Kara Finnigan, research, research evidence, social network analysis