William T. Grant Foundation Announces New Grant Awards

August 1st, 2010

The William T. Grant Foundation recently awarded nine grants to researchers whose work reflects our dual current research interests. Five grants reflect the Foundation’s interest in understanding the acquisition, interpretation, and use of research evidence in policy and practice. These researchers are studying how and why school districts and state agencies incorporate research into policy and practice and what conditions and intermediaries help or hinder that process. The other four of these research teams are focused on understanding and improving youth settings, including after-school programs, secondary and post-secondary classrooms, and the family.

“The five projects examining the use of research evidence in policy and practice are important additions to a research field we hope to build,” said Foundation President Robert C. Granger. “The other new awards reflect our continuing interest in improving the daily settings of vulnerable youth.”

Information about each of these grants follows. Those seeking further information are invited to contact the principal investigators.

Use of Research

State Education Agency Use of Research Evidence to Improve Schooling for Youth
Margaret Goertz, Ph.D.
Elliot Weinbaum, Ph.D.
University of Pennsylvania
Carol Barnes, Ph.D.
Diane Massell, Ph.D.
University of Michigan

Numerous federal initiatives are increasing the incentives and pressures for state and local education agencies to adopt policies and practices that are grounded in research, yet little is known about how these agencies access, evaluate, or use research findings. This study puts particular emphasis on understanding how relationships within agencies, and between agencies and external intermediaries, affect research acquisition, interpretation, and use. The research team will study three state education agencies working to improve low-performing schools. These agencies will have varying access to strong intermediaries who can assist them with research use, and varying histories of collaboration between internal divisions. The researchers will interview agency staff and intermediaries and collect data on social networks and agency operations, such as: media reports, applications for federal funding, agency budgets and staff lists, organizational charts, policy statements, program regulations and planning guides, and meeting minutes.

Research Use as Learning: The Case of School District Central Offices
Meredith Honig
University of Washington

Prior research generally reveals the myriad reasons why policymakers fail to use research that fundamentally challenges their current policies and practices. However, researchers have shined little light on instances in which policymakers do use research to ground substantial shifts in how they work, what prompts that use, how that use occurs, and the conditions that support it. This study attempts to address this knowledge gap by studying seven school district central offices in Washington State currently trying to use research to transform how their central offices operate to support teaching and learning improvements. All districts are partnering with intermediary organizations helping with the process who view research use as a learning process. The sample includes one mid-sized district working with an external intermediary, one medium-sized district working with a university-based research center, and a consortium of five small districts working with a state-funded regional support organization. Honig is observing administrative meetings, shadowing and interviewing administrators, and conducting document reviews. She is also administering performance assessment tasks with administrators to gauge whether or not they understand the research being used.

Exploring Knowledge Diffusion Among District Administrators
Julie Kochanek, Ph.D.
Matthew Clifford, Ph.D.
Learning Point Associates

School district administrators are responsible for making important decisions about instructional policy, such as the evaluation of teacher performance, designing professional development for teachers, and adoption and use of student assessments. However, it is unclear whether district administrators have access to relevant research, and how they acquire and use it when it is available. The researchers will examine eight school districts in Kentucky to address a number of related research questions, including: What types of research are accessed and used by educational leaders, and how do the leaders change what they use over time? What social and organizational conditions support and hinder research use in decision-making? How do organizational capacity and social networks change over time, and how do these changes relate to research use? The team will make three week-long site visits per district, collecting data using meeting observations, semi-structured interviews, and social network analysis.

Policy Ideas, Entrepreneurs, and Education Research
Lorraine McDonnell
M. Stephen Weatherford
University of California, Santa Barbara
Stephanie Dean
The Hunt Institute

The common standards movement, which seeks to establish similar academic standards across multiple states, is rapidly gaining traction—the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers have developed a set of core standards and the U.S. Department of Education has made common state standards a reform priority. This study examines the common standards movement to understand how education research is used in developing and promoting policy ideas, with a specific focus on the role of state and national policy entrepreneurs (policymakers, advocates, foundations, and researchers) in how research is interpreted, framed, and applied in policy. Three states will be selected for study based on their history of implementing education reforms, the nature of their standards and curricular adoption processes, and the degree of state policymakers'
participation in external networks. Data is being collected from interviews with public officials, researchers, advocates, foundation staff, and interest group representatives, as well as from observations of interactions among participants and document content analyses.

Using Evidence to Improve Medicaid Mental Health Services for Massachusetts Children and Youth
Joanne Nicholson
University of Massachusetts Medical School

Although research on effective child and adolescent mental health interventions has grown significantly over the past two decades, public mental health care systems have been slow to draw on this research. In Massachusetts, the Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative was created in response to a court-order to identify and provide high-quality services to Medicaid-eligible children with serious emotional disorders. Nicholson and colleagues will take advantage of this push for reform by studying the Initiative’s use of research. They hope to gain insight into how the policy and sociopolitical context of mental health reform in Massachusetts is shaping research use; how provider agencies are acquiring, interpreting and using research findings; and how agencies’ varying resources and social processes are influencing research use. The study includes the Massachusetts state agencies responsible for child and adolescent mental health services and six provider agencies. Nicholson and colleagues will also be examining research use in the context of day-to-day clinical decision-making.

Social Setting Research

School Disciplinary Climate and Educational Outcomes for African American Students: Phase II, School-Level Analyses
Russell Skiba, Ph.D.
Indiana University
Robin Hughes, Ph.D.
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

The over-representation of African-American youth among those disciplined with out-of-school suspension and expulsion is a major issue in educational equity. Research has found that individual student characteristics and behavior alone do not account for racial disparities in suspension and expulsion, and that school disciplinary practices, as well as demographic and performance indicators, play a substantial role. The researchers will study four urban and suburban Indiana middle schools—the educational level at which exclusionary discipline peaks—to understand how school disciplinary climates differ between schools and how those differences are related to educational and juvenile justice outcomes. The research team will visit each school at least bi-monthly over two years to conduct ethnographic and classroom observations. Students, parents, teachers, and administrators will be interviewed, and disciplinary records and student achievement scores from the school and state will be analyzed. The researchers hope to issue a set of practical recommendations for addressing school disciplinary practices, and the minority student disproportionality in school discipline.

The Role of Settings on Relational & Academic Engagement for Latino Community College Students
Carola Suárez-Orozco, Ph.D.
Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Ph.D.
Robert Teranishi, Ph.D.
New York University

Latinos are the largest and fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S., but they are significantly underrepresented in higher education. Community Colleges (CCs) provide access to higher education, but very small percentages of Latino students finish or transfer to 4-year institutions. The researchers will examine three NYC-area CCs with varying densities of Latino students, looking at both in-class and out-of-class settings, to better understand why and how institutions providing access to higher education for this population fail to realize their potential for this group of students. Social exchanges, inside and outside of the classroom, will also be examined in relation to gender and immigrant generation status. Participants will include a sample of 120 Latino students (ages 18–25), evenly distributed across campus, gender, and immigration status. Ethnographic observations of the campus will be conducted for each school, and classroom observations will be made for each participant. 36 in-depth student case studies will be completed, and faculty and staff will also be interviewed.

APT Validation Study Phase 1: Identifying and Minimizing Measurement Error
Allison J. Tracy, Ph.D.
Wendy B. Surr, M.A.
Wellesley College

Developed by the National Institute on Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College, the Afterschool Program Practices Tool (APT) is an instrument designed to examine particular aspects of after-school program quality that research suggests contribute to desired youth outcomes. Based on extensive field testing, it has also been revised into a self-assessment tool and so far has received positive feedback from practitioners. Further development and improvement of this tool may provide after-school programs with the capacity to readily conduct ongoing self-evaluations. The researchers will use this grant to test the APT’s stability and accuracy as a measure of after-school program quality. The PIs will also examine how observer ratings compare with youth reports of their program experiences, as well as the relationships between observer ratings and youth outcomes. Testing will occur in 25 after-school programs serving grades K–8 in Massachusetts. At least 40 youth from each of the 25 sites will be surveyed about their program experiences. Results will be used to make improvements to the instrument.

Marital-Conflict Focused Parent Education for Families with Adolescents

E. Mark Cummings, Ph.D.
Jennifer S. Cummings, Ph.D.
Julie N. Schatz, Ph.D.
Notre Dame University

The Foundation began funding this research team in 2008 to test an intervention meant to teach families and adolescents constructive conflict resolution strategies. The original sample consisted of 150 families. As of January 2010, results based on 101 were very promising. Given their success, the team believes that the study presents an opportunity to address important questions such as: are the success rates of the intervention program affected by demographic characteristics or family risk factors? Is the intervention successful because it impacts the adolescents’ emotional security? Are the effects of the intervention reciprocal between family members? Are the effects of the intervention durable? This supplemental award will allow the team to increase their sample size to 225, giving them sufficient power to detect these effects.

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