Improving Urban School Reform: Warner Professor Receives Second Award from William T. Grant Foundation

Kara FinniganEducational policy expert Kara Finnigan, an associate professor at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education, has received a $560,000 grant to co-lead a study, with her colleague Alan Daly, associate professor at the University of California, San Diego, of how low-performing schools use research evidence to improve outcomes for youth. The William T. Grant Foundation awarded the funds in the second of a phase-two project. The Foundation also supported the first phase with an earlier grant of $342,300.   The five-year study examines schools designated as needing improvement under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the extent to which they acquire and use different types of evidence as part of their improvement processes. The study takes place in the San Diego Unified School District, the second largest district in California and the eighth largest district in the United States, and the Rochester City School District, one of the largest school districts in New York State. The supplemental award involves expanding the study to an additional district and adding two more years of data collection for a total of four years of longitudinal data within these schools and their broader districts.   “We are so grateful to the William T. Grant Foundation for their continued support of our research,” says Finnigan. “The Foundation has allowed us to focus this cutting edge research on the challenges schools face under NCLB to understand the ways in which they undergo improvement under sanction and the extent to which they share ideas and practices within these schools and between the schools and central office.”
According to Finnigan, the Foundation has been instrumental in expanding their knowledge base by joining together grantees in a learning community. “Through collaborative meetings a couple of times a year, the Foundation also has strengthened our own research and the broader body of research relating to the use of evidence at all levels of the educational system,” she adds.
Preliminary findings from phase one indicate that low-performing schools are isolated from central office and higher performing schools; teachers value personal experience over research and data; principals are the primary source of research but are not always central players in the networks; a pervasive lack of trust limits the exchange of innovative ideas and practices district wide; and low-performing schools do not undergo the types of organizational learning that is necessary for complex reform. Phase two is critical to the study, Finnigan explains, as it allows them to continue examining the evolving nature of research evidence, organizational learning, and social networks in these low performing schools and districts.
Finnigan, who directs the educational policy programs at Warner, has conducted research and evaluations of K-12 educational policies and programs at the local, state, and federal levels for more than 18 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 low-performing schools, high-stakes accountability, and school choice, including charter schools and interdistrict choice. Her work has garnered grants from prominent organizations, in addition to the William T. Grant Foundation, supporting educational research, including the Ford Foundation and the Spencer Foundation.
About the Warner School of Education
Founded in 1958, the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education offers master’s and doctoral degree programs in teaching and curriculum, school leadership, higher education, educational policy, counseling, human development, and health professions education. The Warner School of Education offers a new accelerated option for its EdD programs 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: education policy, educational leadership, Kara Finnigan, research, school reform