MEP both supports and engages in research—each topically directed by the Steering Committee members.
The topical focus of MEP-directed research is guided by the Steering Committee and is designed and carried out by MEP Directors and staff. This structure allows for MEP-directed research to be focused on problems of practice that are pressing for the District and of current interest in the academic community. Research focus areas must be mutually beneficial for the MEP team to engage.
Current Research (2016–2017)
The current focus of MEP-directed work is four-year-old Kindergarten (4K). MEP approaches this research with an equity lens given the widely demonstrated potential for educational interventions prior to Kindergarten to enhance academic success of children who have historically been at greater risk of experiencing academic challenges.
Research questions for 2016-2017 are:
Who participates in MMSD’s 4K program?
Although MMSD provides universal access to a part-day 4K-program, opting-in to enroll is not universal. An important first question is how does participation in 4K differ among different groups of children? Are students’ background and family characteristics associated with patterns of attendance? For example, are children of color or low-income children more or less likely to attend 4K than other children? Does home language predict attendance? Finally, do program elements (such as time of day or type of school) influence enrollment?
How, if at all, is participation in 4K associated with school readiness and does this association vary by child and family attributes or across 4K sites?
What is the association between 4K participation and the academic and social and behavioral competencies of children entering Kindergarten? How if at all does this association vary by race/ethnicity, parental education or free and reduced-price lunch eligibility? How if at all does this association vary across 4K sites?
MEP supports independent UW researchers to engage in research in MMSD through research grants, assistance with access to district data and schools, and technical assistance as they carry out their research. Researchers obtain MEP support through a competitive grant process. Applications are reviewed by the MEP Directors and Steering Committee. Funds for MEP research grants are available through the generous support of WCER.
Two cycles of the grant competition cycle have taken place to date—the first in Fall of 2016 and the second cycle in Spring 2017. Three research awards were made in the first cycle and two more in the Spring cycle. In Fall of 2016 Dr. Alejandra Ros Pilarz (School of Social Work), Dr. Travis Wright (Early Childhood Education and Counseling Psychology), and Drs. Kristin Shutts (Psychology) and Chuck Kalish (Educational Psychology) were selected for funding. In Spring Dr. Beth Graue (Curriculum and Instruction), Dr. Maribeth Gettinger (Educational Psychology) and Kaitlyn Ostranter (graduate student in Educational Psychology) were selected for awards based on alignment with MEP research directives and research design. Grant awards are up to $50,00 and researchers are further supported through MEP with expedited access to MMSD data and schools. A third grant cycle is expected to take place in the Spring semester of 2018.
Fall 2016 Awarded Researchers
Dr. Pilarz will document 4K family engagement strategies and parents’ perceptions of those strategies, through the administration of surveys to 4K principals/directors and teachers, and focus groups with parents. She will explore the relationship between engagement strategies and 4K students’ attendance and school readiness. The goal of her research is to identify the most promising strategies to increase family engagement in 4K and improve student readiness for the transition to Kindergarten.
Dr. Wright will conduct classroom observations, interviews, and focus groups with 4K staff and families in order to expand our understanding of the experiences of homeless families in 4K. Through his research he aims to identify the best strategies to improve support for students experiencing homelessness during the first critical years of school.
Drs. Shutts and Kalish will conduct interviews with 4K administrators and teachers to identify priorities and interests for assessing students' interpersonal skills. They will also be pilot testing assessments with students in 4K programs. Utilizing the experiences and expertise of 4K staff, their goal is to develop high-quality measurement instruments which will help teachers effectively assess students' interpersonal skills.
Spring 2017 Awarded Researchers
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Dr. Graue will analyze MMSD administrative data, survey and interview kindergarten families, in an effort to understand how families make decisions about their child’s 4K experience. Across these retrospective data sources Graue will explore factors that shape decision making with a focus on program structures, family needs and resources, cultural norms, and personal preference.
Dr. Gettinger and Kaitlyn Ostrander will use a mixed methods approach to: 1) assess the overall quality of instruction in MMSD 4K classrooms and 2) descriptively summarize the beliefs and perspectives of 4K teachers regarding 4K programming. They will also explore any variance between sites, teacher characteristics, and student demographics.