Because our nation's future derives from our capacity to effectively educate students, academic achievement increasingly is important for learners from all economic environments. Innovative approaches to education, from elementary school through college and beyond, chart a course for students to succeed, not only academically, but in business and in life.
Since its inception, the Kauffman Foundation has taken myriad leadership roles to help ensure quality educational opportunities for young people. More recently, the Foundation has embarked on educational research projects aimed at addressing issues specific to the Kansas City metropolitan area, our home town.
It is clear that, in our region, we need to know more and ask better questions about the conditions of our schools, the populations we are serving, and whether our students have access to learning from the most qualified people. We also need to develop reliable data to undergird educational decision-making.
Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium
This initiative, now finishing its first year of organization, involves four area universities—Kansas State University, University of Kansas, University of Missouri-Kansas City, and University of Missouri-Columbia—collaborating to build a research enterprise that will improve student achievement across the region. While consortia in other cities have studied a single school district, this Consortium will study twenty-four school districts and charter schools across two states, making its data a distinct national resource for educational improvement.
The Consortium's objective is to improve education for all students from pre-school through higher education in the Kansas City metropolitan area by building a deep body of knowledge around regional education issues, and to provide area school districts, charter schools, and policymakers with tools for data-driven educational policy research, evaluation, and implementation.
This group already has made significant progress in negotiating the schools' and states' widely varied tests and regulations to build clean, consistently formatted datasets. A survey of fifty-nine Kansas and Missouri school superintendents identified the relative importance of potential topics, and research has begun in the Consortium's four pilot studies on algebra, Kansas City's teacher labor market, transition to higher education, and a value-added teacher evaluation system.
Over time, the Consortium will deliver an ever-growing body of rich data that will help educators and community members understand deeply the complexities of the region's educational system, the policy changes that need to be made, the levers that can facilitate better education, where funding will have the greatest impact, and what personnel emphases will solve our educational challenges.
Research Projects Focused on Improving Quality
The Kauffman Foundation also has supported several other key research studies designed to focus on particular education issues in the Kansas City region.
IFF's Putting Performance on the Map Study. In a study based on data from the 2008–2009 school year, 88 percent of students in Kansas City, Missouri, School District (KCMSD) schools and the charter public schools within the district's boundaries did not attend a school that meets Missouri state standards for academic performance. This 2010 IFF report, Putting Performance on the Map: Locating Quality Schools in the Kansas City, Missouri, School District, presents data on enrollment, capacity, location, and performance in KCMSD and charter schools. It speaks to the issue of creating more seats in quality schools to better serve students who attend both district and charter schools, and offers powerful data for school leaders and community members to plan how to create better-quality schools.
Teacher Quality Study. As an expanding body of research demonstrates, high-quality teaching is imperative in raising students' academic performance levels. This study, focusing on the Kansas City, Missouri, School District, refines what we know about teacher quality by focusing on the laws, practices, and dynamics that surround how we select and compensate teachers, the nature of the workplace environment, and the dynamics that effect retention of the most-capable teachers. In part, researchers from the National Council on Teacher Quality will compare the local teachers' contracts with contracts in other urban districts and examine state policies.
In addition to the Kauffman Foundation's support, this project engages numerous community partners who have a vested interest in the quality of local education. The research will inform a report that defines the conditions required for the best teachers to be placed in front of students, and identifies the policies and practices that ensure those teachers' support and retention.
Policy environment plays a dramatic role in determining whether chartering can succeed at scale.
Missouri Charter Schools Study. Policy environment plays a dramatic role in determining whether chartering can succeed at scale. The study on Missouri charter schools will review existing data to identify growth patterns and factors that have affected poor-performing schools. Researchers from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools will interview policymakers, school leaders, and other educators and researchers to better understand the policies and related practices that affect Missouri charter schools' efficacy. Study results will provide recommendations for improving Missouri's charter-school policy climate, with the aim of expanding the number and quality of the state's charter schools and maximizing their positive impact on education reform statewide.
In both the National Council on Teacher Quality and National Alliance for Public Charter Schools projects, researchers will use practices in other states as benchmarks, drawing from successful models across the United States to compare how "best-in-class" states organize their policy environments, and to identify practices that should be implemented in Missouri.
Other Education Research
The Kauffman Foundation also will conduct rigorous evaluations of our own charter school, which launches in 2011. And, because we recognize the importance of having well-prepared researchers to probe the challenges facing education, we are developing a program to support dissertations on topics such as charter school research, school turnaround models, teacher effectiveness, and school governance.
As we seek to understand the factors that affect education in our region, we will support other studies that inform and identify good policy that derives from good research and leads to good practice. Through diligent research and strategic partnerships, we hope to continue to aggressively influence the quality of education in our region and beyond.