New Academic Partnership Builds Understanding of Interdistrict Collaboratives

A new research collaboration between the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester, the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Minnesota Law School`s Institute on Race and Poverty, and funded by the Ford Foundation, will bring attention to the potential that regional educational policy has on reducing racial segregation and promoting equity for low-income students and students of color.

Scholars at these three institutions are closely examining policies that allow students to cross school district boundaries to better understand the extent to which these interdistrict collaboratives address inequality and isolation in education. Only nine of these collaboratives exist across the country and these remain an under-examined policy tool to reduce metropolitan segregation. The study focuses on regional collaboratives in Rochester, N.Y., Omaha, Neb., and Minneapolis, Minn.
Kara Finnigan
Kara Finnigan, associate professor of educational policy at the Warner School, is a co-principal investigator on the study. In addition, she oversees the Rochester component which involves the Urban-Suburban Interdistrict Transfer Program [USITP], the oldest of these programs which began after the Rochester race riots of 1964. This new joint project will be a subcomponent of her current study of USITP. Jennifer Jellison Holme, an assistant professor of educational policy and planning at the University of Texas at Austin, serves as the project's principal investigator and directs the Omaha component, while Myron Orfield, a professor of law at the University of Minnesota and executive director of the Institute on Race and Poverty, serves as a co-principal investigator and oversees the Minneapolis component.

Phase one of the project, which has been funded by a $200,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, will investigate the issues relating to the implementation of these three regional collaboratives, as well as create local and national venues for stakeholders to network and dialogue around these complex issues. Phase two would allow a longitudinal examination of these programs as well as a more in-depth focus on the structures of access and opportunity, and resulting outcomes, for low-income students and students of color across each of the metros.

"We have the opportunity as a community to better understand this long-standing program and the ways in which it has reduced isolation, improved opportunities for low-income students and students of color, and enhanced the awareness and sensitivity of all students involved," says Finnigan. "The fact that only a few of these collaboratives exist across the country means that we are in the unique position through this joint project to inform ongoing national policy debates relating to segregation."

Currently, the Rochester City School District, Brighton Central School District, Brockport Central School District, Fairport Central School District, Penfield Central School District, Pittsford Central School District, West Irondequoit Central School District, and Wheatland-Chili Central School District participate in USITP, which is administered by Monroe #1 Board of Cooperative Educational Services [BOCES].

Finnigan has conducted research and evaluations of K-12 educational policies and programs at the local, state, and federal levels for more than 17 years through her work at several prominent research organizations, including SRI International, RPP International, the George Lucas Educational Foundation, and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. She has written extensively on the topics of charter schools and interdistrict choice, low-performing schools, and high-stakes accountability. Her work has garnered grants from other prominent organizations supporting educational research, including the William T. Grant Foundation and the Spencer Foundation.

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Tags: educational policy, Kara Finnigan