IES Grant (Ben Pogodzinski and Sarah Lenhoff)

The Improvement Partnership of Detroit Public Schools Community District and Wayne State University's College of Education

Project Summary: More than 57% of the 54,000 children in Detroit Public Schools were chronically absent in 2013-14, missing 15 or more days of school and greatly increasing their risk of academic failure and dropout, according the the most recent federal data. Detroit students also performed lower than students from any other large urban school district in the country on the 2015 NAEP reading and math assessments. As Detroit and its school system emerge out of near financial collapse, there is a critical opportunity to study how absenteeism is related to student achievement in Detroit and the school-based structural factors that may be contributing to this problem. Without this knowledge, any efforts to improve teaching and learning in Detroit may be in vain, as the disruption of chronic absenteeism would likely undermine such efforts.

The long-term goal of this partnership is to combine the resources of Wayne State University's College of Education with those of the Detroit Public Schools Community District to generate improvement-focused research, the results of which will drive district planning. Our objective in this application to IES under the topic of Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research is to develop a districtwide plan for reducing student absenteeism that incorporates research, local best practices, and community engagement. Our organizing theory is that solving the problem of student absenteeism in Detroit will require both empirical investigation and local district support. The rationale here is that the public education system in Detroit has unique structural factors that are likely contributing to its high rates of student absenteeism; identifying and rectifying those factors are key to addressing this problem. We are well prepared to undertake this project, given the strength of our preliminary findings, our agreements to collect and analyze student-level data, and our commitment to partnership.

Specifically, the Detroit Public Schools Community District and Wayne State University's College of Education have agreed to establish the Improvement Partnership to conduct empirical, localized research to inform solutions for urgent problems undermining the achievement of Detroit students. To build the partnership, the College of Education will support the districtwide improvement process through research briefs, training, and collaborative planning. Our initial exploratory research study will address the following two specific aims, with the Detroit school district as our setting and the students of the district as our population.

  1. Identify key structural factors associated with student absenteeism. We will use multi-level regression models, interviews, and focus groups to analyze how factors such as transportation, leadership, and school climate are related to student absenteeism.
  2. Identify the relationship between student absenteeism and achievement. We will analyze the predictive value of student absenteeism on achievement in reading and math using multi-level regression models, while controlling for student, classroom, and school factors.

Findings from this research will inform the development of an intervention for reducing student absenteeism that is sensitive to the unique Detroit education context, while informing policy and practice to reduce absenteeism nationally. Our collaborative efforts in this initial stage will lay a strong foundation for the Improvement Partnership. We will continue to grow the capacities of the Detroit Public Schools Community District for research-based improvement, and we will strengthen the ability of Wayne State researchers to conduct practical, improvement-oriented research that will positively impact our community schools.

Skillman Grant for the Improvement Partnership

AERA Conference Grant (Carolyn Shields)

Abstract: Transformative leadership is a way of thinking about leadership that explicitly responds to the need for organizational and societal practices that are inclusive, equitable, and socially just. The focus of transformative leadership is social change, human emancipation and empowerment—outcomes that frequently can only occur when existing mindsets, beliefs, and assumptions have been challenged and transformative policies and practices implemented.

We propose to hold a small, international, and interdisciplinary conference that will have three primary goals:

  1. The enhancement of global understanding of transformative leadership;
  2. Increased awareness about the practice of transformative leadership in various contexts;
  3. The identification and promotion of innovative and appropriate methods for conducting empirical research into transformative leadership in various contexts.

To date, and to our knowledge, no conferences have been held that focus specifically and explicitly on leadership that addresses inequitable policies and practices and in so doing transforms organizations so that all can experience more equitable outcomes. The conference venue, Detroit, MI is particularly appropriate for a focus on socially just leadership and the sponsor, the College of Education at Wayne State University, is equally well-placed to focus on issues of equity and inclusion.

Our conference will bring together scholars from higher education institutions from at least six countries, educational leaders from the United States, and senior executives from at least four governmental and/or non-profit policy agencies to discuss their unique perspectives on transformative leadership and to consolidate understandings and findings. Publications emerging from this conference will disseminate conceptual knowledge of transformative leadership as well as help to promote scholarship about transformative leadership including badly needed empirical studies.