New Distinguished Fellowship and Research Grants

The William T. Grant Foundation is pleased to announce six new grants that will further our understanding of everyday youth settings and the use of research evidence in the policies and practices that affect youth. Of the six projects, four address youth settings and one tackles the use of research evidence in the court system. Another will support a Fellow who will explore how community organizations use research to reduce children’s exposure to violence.

“Understanding the environments to which young people are exposed on a daily basis is essential for identifying ways to improve their lives.” It is clear from the grants we are announcing today how the focus on youth settings has laid the groundwork for our new initiative on reducing inequality,” said President Adam Gamoran. “I am also pleased to see important work on the use of research evidence emerging in what are, for us, new domains: violence prevention and the court system.”

Applications for research grants and Distinguished Fellows are accepted three times per year.

Research Grants: Understanding and Improving Everyday Youth Settings

Improving Chronically Underperforming School Settings? Regression-Discontinuity Evidence from NCLB Waivers

Thomas Dee, Stanford University; Brian Jacob, University of Michigan; and Steven Hemelt, University of North Carolina
July 2014–June 2016

Turning around low-performing schools has become a national priority and features prominently in state accountability systems and requests for No Child Left Behind waivers. Despite these demands for change, research on strategies to accomplish school turnaround is limited. Dee and his colleagues will leverage data from other research projects to examine Michigan’s experience when it was granted a waiver. Of particular interest is whether schools that are designated as Priority (low-performing) and Focus (room for improvement) schools under state No Child Left Behind waivers yield improved trajectories of student achievement and attainment compared to non-identified schools. The researchers will also explore what conditions within schools and classrooms are associated with steeper gains in these outcomes. Also of interest are strategies to improve teacher capacity and efforts to create conditions that support high-quality instruction and learning

The investigators will utilize student, teacher, and school data from Michigan’s state longitudinal data system (SLDS) that followed public school K-12 students from 2002/03 to the present. The investigators will also leverage data from a survey of charter and non-charter public schools about key practices that may affect student outcomes, and will conduct in-depth interviews to better understand how schools responded to their waiver status.

How Beginning Elementary Teachers’ Social Networks Affect Ambitious Math Instruction in the Current Evaluation Climate

Kenneth Frank and Kristen Bieda, Michigan State University;
Peter Youngs, University of Virginia; and Serena Salloum, Ball State University
July 2014–June 2017

Frank, Bieda, Youngs, and Salloum will examine how colleagues influence the lesson planning and math instruction of novice teachers. The researchers suggest that new teachers may turn to colleagues to discuss content, interpret expectations about lesson planning, and/or understand how the demands of the evaluation system translate to practice. Thus, knowledge of math and norms regarding instruction in a new teacher’s network may impact the quality of the novice’s practice.

This study will collect both qualitative and quantitative data at multiple time points to document the role of in-school networks as new teachers adapt to their first few years of teaching. Eight raters will conduct observations of all novice teachers twice a year for two years. Investigators will also collect teachers’ lesson plans, one significant math task used during the lesson, and student work samples related to the math task as a supplement to the observations. Teachers, administrators, math coaches, and mentors will be surveyed.

Influences of Classroom-level Social Settings on Language and Content Learning in Linguistically Diverse Classrooms

Amanda Kibler, Nancy Deutsch, Valerie Futch, and Lauren Molloy, University of Virginia
August 2014–July 2017

Kibler, Deutsch, Futch, and Molloy will examine how instruction, organizational factors, and student interactions fit together to support the language and academic development of English Language Learners (ELLs) within middle school classrooms. The investigators hypothesize that gains in learning will be greatest when teachers are measurably engaged and actively facilitate development of integrated, linguistically diverse peer networks. The sample will include 35 classrooms in two middle schools (grades 6-8) in one district that integrates ELLs with students classified as monolingual or fluent English speakers in content-area classes such as English and Mathematics.

This is an exploratory mixed-methods study that will generate rich data on interactions, instructional practices, and peer networks within classrooms serving ELL and non-ELL students. Three times per year, students will complete peer network surveys, and investigators will utilize the CLASS-S observational tool, teacher surveys, and classroom seating charts to measure classroom practices and organization. Classrooms will also be rated for instructional approaches, activities, and materials that validate students’ linguistic backgrounds and provide planned and in-the-moment skill building and individualized instruction.

The investigators will also conduct in-depth observations and interviews with a subset of teachers, students, and administrators. This qualitative data will be paired with comprehensive longitudinal social network data from each classroom in order to understand how changing peer networks work in tandem with instructor characteristics as well as students’ language development, academic learning, and adolescent development. Outcome measures will be derived from semester grades, teacher reports of student functioning, annual state content assessments, and English language proficiency exams.

A Meta-Analytic Exploration of Variability in the Effects of Youth Programs

Mark Lipsey and Sandra Jo Wilson, Vanderbilt University
July 2014–June 2015

Lipsey and Wilson will code and analyze information on effect size estimates, study designs, and descriptive variables from seven meta-analyses that Lipsey and colleagues have assembled, consolidated, and cleaned. The resulting dataset includes 1,223 unique studies on a range of youth programs and outcomes. Outcomes include the social and cognitive development of youth, their school performance, family and peer relations, antisocial behavior, and substance use.

This supplement will support a more comprehensive set of codes about the organizational features of programs and the communities in which they are implemented as well as services received by the comparison group. Once coding is complete, Lipsey and colleagues will estimate how much variability is due to differences in the methods used to gather information and the distribution of data. With the variation that is still unexplained, they will estimate the extent to which characteristics of the program, its implementation, setting, and participants explain differences in youth outcomes and help identify conditions under which an intervention works best.

Research Grants: Understanding the Use of Research Evidence

Amici and the Courts: A Case Study of the Research Use Process of Intermediary Actors

Patricia Marin, Michigan State University; Catherine Horn, University of Houston; Liliana Garces, Pennsylvania State University; and Karen Miksch, University of Minnesota
July 2014–June 2016

Amici—friends of the court—serve as important intermediaries in the court system and frequently use research when developing briefs. Marin, Horn, Garces, and Miksch will examine the various ways in which research is used by amici in the Fisher v. University of Texas affirmative action case. Fisher was initially filed in federal district court, ultimately appealed to the Supreme Court, and remanded back to the Fifth Circuit for further consideration. A range of organizations filed briefs, including government entities, colleges and universities, businesses, and individuals. Marin and colleagues will examine how these various parties engaged with research when preparing their briefs. The research team will also analyze, using social network analysis complemented with latent class analysis, how the connections between researchers and the organizations generating the briefs influence the acquisition of research as well as how it was interpreted and used.

The project will adopt a mixed-methods approach to better understand the degree to which research evidence and connections with researchers influenced the decisions of amici and the courts. The investigators will review court documents, including court opinions and transcripts of oral arguments; survey researchers; and conduct interviews with counsels of record and other key decision makers to understand how research was used throughout the legal process.

Distinguished Fellows

Addressing the Needs of Children Exposed to Violence by Integrating Practice, Policy, and Research

Megan Bair-Merritt, Boston Medical Center, Boston University School of Medicine
April 2014–March 2016

Megan Bair-Merritt is an associate professor of pediatrics at Boston Medical Center where she serves as the medical director for the Child Witness to Violence Program and the director of a research-focused training program for physicians. Her research to-date has focused on the assessment and impact of intimate partner violence on families. Although nationally recognized and widely cited for her expertise, Bair-Merritt has little direct experience with the community-based organizations that implement programs to prevent exposure to violence. In her Fellowship, Bair-Merritt will immerse herself in the daily activities of Futures without Violence, a national nonprofit violence advocacy organization, to better understand how community organizations use research to inform decisions about programs and practices designed to reduce children’s exposure to violence. Futures develops and implements community-based violence prevention programs and provides technical assistance to eight sites awarded grants from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to develop strategic plans for comprehensive community-based prevention efforts.

The primary goal of Bair-Merritt’s Distinguished Fellowship is to better understand how community organizations use research to inform decisions about programs and practices designed to reduce children’s exposure to violence. She will use this knowledge to develop more meaningful research evidence on effective services.

Bair-Merritt will work closely with the Lonna Davis, Director of Children’s Programs to provide technical assistance to two of those eight communities awarded grants from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to develop strategic plans for comprehensive community-based prevention efforts. She will shadow practitioners involved in the initiative, attend national gatherings, facilitate across-site groups, summarize progress reports from communities that have formed networks of services, and review strategic planning efforts. On a less frequent basis, Bair-Merritt will assist the Kiersten Steward, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy in preparing policy proposals to prevent and respond to violence, and will assemble coalitions in support of this work. Both mentors will assist Bair-Merritt in processing issues that arise when policymakers and community-based practitioners make decisions about programs for youth. Bair-Merritt will use what she learns to develop more meaningful research evidence on effective services.

Bair-Merritt completed her pediatrics residency at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and received a Master’s of Science in Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics. Her research has focused on the assessment and impact of intimate partner violence on families and the evaluation of interventions that may reduce exposure to intimate partner violence.

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