University of Rochester

Educational Policy Expert Receives Urban School Improvement Research Grant

November 16, 2009

Educational policy expert Kara Finnigan, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at the University of Rochester's Warner School of Education, has been awarded a grant from the William T. Grant Foundation with her colleague Alan Daly, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Diego, for a study of how low-performing schools use research evidence in an effort to improve outcomes for youth.

Finnigan and Daly will use the funding—$342,246—to research how urban systems and high schools in need of improvement diagnose problems; identify strategies; and define, acquire, use, and diffuse research evidence to improve under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This study will be the first attempt to provide an in-depth longitudinal examination of schools under sanctions in two regions of the U.S. representing two distinct types of urban districts. The study will employ mixed methodologies and will take place in secondary schools in San Diego, Calif. and Rochester, N.Y.

Specifically, Finnigan and Daly will examine schools designated as needing improvement under NCLB and the extent to which they acquire and use different types of research as part of their improvement processes. In addition, they will examine how social networks support or constrain these school improvement efforts. By examining these schools, they will seek to affect change in practice and policy that will ultimately have a direct impact on traditionally underserved youth who are disproportionately represented in low-performing schools.

The study is timely as high schools nationwide face the ongoing challenge of improving under NCLB. In 2007-08 alone, 30,000 schools across the country failed to make adequate yearly progress. Finnigan says, "Our study will not only impact school improvement efforts in Rochester and San Diego, but it also has the potential to inform other urban districts across the nation as the number of schools in need of improvement continues to multiply."

Finnigan has conducted research and evaluations of K-12 educational policies and programs at the local, state, and federal levels for more than 15 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 high-stakes accountability.

Established in 1936, the William T. Grant Foundation has remained dedicated to the original goal of understanding human behavior through research. As a private grantmaking institution, the Foundation currently funds high-quality empirical research, with the ultimate aim of improving the lives of youth, ages 8 to 25, in the United States. In 2008, the Foundation awarded grants totaling more than $11 million to researchers, policymakers, and practitioners invested in the future of youth.

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, counseling, human development, and educational policy. 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.