Fall 2011 New Grants Awarded

December 6th, 2011

The William T. Grant Foundation recently awarded six grants to support our research interests. Three of the grants are focused on our interest in understanding and improving the environments in which youth spend time, including schools, peer groups, and households. One, developed with staff, supports the second phase of a study on the use of research evidence. The Distinguished Fellows award will allow a researcher to spend time learning from practitioners and clients in teen pregnancy prevention programs. The final award supports advocacy activities related to high-quality after-school programs. Descriptions of all awards follow.

Social Setting Research

Observing the Setting-Level Impact of a High School Behavioral Change Intervention: A 60-School Randomized Trial
Catherine Bradshaw, Ph.D.
C. Debra Furr-Holden, Ph.D.
Philip J. Leaf, Ph.D.
Johns Hopkins University

High rates of disruptive behavior and disciplinary problems negatively affect school climate and distract students and staff from academic activities and goals. Traditionally, schools have responded to disruptive behaviors with punishment-based interventions or “zero-tolerance” policies, though there is limited evidence that such policies are effective. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)—a school intervention widely implemented throughout the United States—aims to promote a healthy school climate and prevent disruptive student behavior by establishing clear behavioral expectations and positive reinforcement. This grant provides a supplement to a U.S. Department of Education-funded group-randomized trial of PBIS in high schools. The federal study focuses on whether the intervention improves student outcomes, as indicated by administrative data and survey reports by students, parents, and school staff at 60 high schools in Maryland. Funds provided by the Foundation will allow researchers to expand the federal study and take an in-depth look at how changes in schools and classrooms drive student outcomes, why the intervention is effective in some places and not others, and the degree of variation in the implementation of the intervention across the different schools. Specifically, the researchers will collect observational data for a number of randomly selected classrooms and non-classroom settings within each school to more richly assess variables related to school safety; student engagement; interactions between teachers, staff, and students; and features of the school grounds, such as cleanliness, lighting, and surveillance equipment. The results will inform policies and programs related to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act and advance empirical research on setting-level changes resulting from innovative high school reform models.

Activity Space, Social Network, and Community Influences on Adolescent Risk
Christopher R. Browning, Ph.D.
Mei-Po Kwan, Ph.D.
Elizabeth Cooksey, Ph.D.
Catherine Calder, Ph.D.
Ohio State University

How do youth’s families, schools, neighborhoods, recreational spaces, and peers impact their engagement in risky behavior and their health? Can new technologies help us measure what matters for young people in those settings? Prior research has demonstrated that adolescent risk behaviors including substance use and delinquency are influenced by social settings, such as households, neighborhoods, schools, and peer groups. This project focuses on the influence of multiple settings on youth development, including less-often studied “activity spaces”—for example, churches, recreation centers, businesses, and other “hang out” locations—where youth engage in structured and unstructured social activities. The researchers will identify where youth spend their time, collect information on those settings, determine peer networks that cross multiple activity settings, and examine their unique and combined effects on youth. The study includes 1,000 youth and their caregivers from a contiguous cluster of 10 U.S. Census tracts encompassing a low-income, predominantly African-American area, with some representation from a middle-income, predominantly white area. The investigators plan to use global positioning systems (GPS), smartphones, surveys, interviews, and observations to collect data on youth’s behaviors, moods, health, peer presence, adult supervision, activities, and locations over one week. There will be two waves of data collection, approximately one year apart. The Foundation is supporting half the total cost of the project.

Understanding Processes of Crime and Desistance Among Gang-Associated Delinquent Youths
Victor M. Rios, Ph.D.
University of California, Santa Barbara

Under what conditions do youth associated with gangs commit crimes, and under what conditions do they desist or decline in criminal activity? Increases in both real and perceived gang activity have spurred policing strategies that impact the communities in which gangs operate. Recent research, including Dr. Rios' own work, suggests that as law enforcement efforts to suppress gang activity have increased, some collective youth behaviors have been confused with or “misrecognized” as gang-related crime. While the available literature has identified key factors influencing gang involvement among youth (including conflict with authority figures and detachment from parents and teachers), prior studies have not typically examined gang activity across multiple social settings, or distinguished between gang-related crime and other collective youth behaviors. Dr. Rios will investigate how the quality of interactions between gang-associated youth and authority figures in multiple settings—including streets, community centers, and schools—relate to youth’s descriptions of identity and shifts in behavior toward or away from crime. The study includes 75 predominately black and Latino gang-associated youth ages 14–21 in Riviera, California, as well as their parents and 30 school personnel, police, and probation officers. Dr. Rios plans to conduct in-depth ethnographic observations by “shadowing” 20 of the 75 youth. In addition, he will conduct and code interviews with participants centered on key themes and hold weekly focus group meetings with 8 to 10 participants at a local community center. Thirty adults in authority positions will also be interviewed about their perceptions of youth and strategies for engaging or disciplining gang-associated groups of youth.

Use of Research Evidence
Understanding Social Network Structure in Schools Under Corrective Action: A Longitudinal Comparative Analysis of Research Use and Diffusion in Urban Districts (Phase 2)
Alan Daly, Ph.D.
University of California, San Diego
Kara Finnigan, Ph.D.
University of Rochester
$559,916 (supplement)

How do district and school staff acquire, interpret, and use research evidence to improve schools that have been designated as in “corrective action” under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act? This supplemental award supports the second phase of an ongoing Foundation-supported study, which takes place in the San Diego Unified School District (CA) and Rochester City School District (NY), two urban districts with a large number of schools placed under corrective action. In phase 1, the investigators collected social network data from school staff and administrators and conducted intensive case studies in a subset of schools. They then used the data to map the districts’ leadership networks and school staff relationships and developed initial measures of how practitioners define, interpret, and use research evidence. Phase 2 work will add to the longitudinal component of the study begun in phase 1, allowing the investigators to examine changes in school and district leadership networks and any associated changes in their definition, acquisition, and use of research evidence over a much longer period of time. The team plans to refine and test measures of research use in a larger sample of schools. Phase 2 will also include social network analyses of relationships between school and central office staff and interviews with key leadership team members in a higher performing urban district. All districts and schools involved in the study serve a disproportionate number of youth of color from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Distinguished Fellow
The Role of Research in Enhancing Family Planning and Teen Pregnancy Prevention for Teens
Jennifer Barber, Ph.D.
University of Michigan

Jennifer Barber is a successful, mid-career academic in the field of adolescent reproductive health and pregnancy prevention. She wants her research to have greater influence on programs and services for young women. To that end, Dr. Barber designed a Fellowship experience that will help her gain a strong understanding of the challenges faced by clinicians, clinic administrators, and prevention services administrators who provide services to teens and young adults. She plans to spend approximately 28 percent time over two years at two sites, Planned Parenthood (PP) Mid and South Michigan and Teen H.Y.P.E., a community-based organization in Detroit that focuses on teen pregnancy prevention. Under the direction of her PP mentor, Melissa Steuber, Dr. Barber will participate in the daily activities of both administrators and clinicians. At Teen H.Y.P.E., Barber will work directly with administrators and with the teens themselves as they use theater to encourage youth to avoid teen pregnancy.

Program Development, Communications, and Advocacy
Improving After-School Program Quality
Jennifer Peck
Partnership for Children and Youth

This grant will enable the Partnership for Children and Youth to inform and influence federal legislation as it relates to the development of quality systems of out-of-school time programming. In addition, Peck and colleagues at the Partnership will continue their efforts to improve access to and the quality of after-school programs for high school students in California. They plan to continue providing research- and practice-informed recommendations on high-quality out-of-school programming to key legislative leaders and administrators at California’s Department of Education (DOE). The Partnership will also lead the Collaborative to Build After-School Systems (CBASS) in developing and advocating for a set of national recommendations that inform federal debates and legislation regarding quality after-school programming. In collaboration with CBASS, the Partnership will (1) comment on legislation related to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC), the primary source for out-of-school programming for low-income schools; (2) develop, refine, and disseminate legislative language that can be used by Congressional committee staff drafting ESEA; (3) disseminate policy recommendations for model programming through presentations and written materials; and (4) educate legislative staff and key administrators by facilitating face-to-face meetings with Congressional and Department of Education (DOE) staff in Washington, D.C. In addition, Peck and colleagues will continue their work with California’s DOE to strengthen its statewide system of training and technical assistance supporting after-school programming for high school students. The Partnership will participate in California’s DOE strategic planning process to decide how to administer more than $700 million in after-school program funds and will translate field experiences and practices from high school providers around the country.

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