Doctoral student earns $20,000 dissertation grant

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Education Policy Studies doctoral student Kendra Taylor has earned a dissertation grant from the American Educational Research Association (AERA) for her study aimed at providing a new lens for developing school-district integration strategies guided by insights on the geographic scale of racial and income segregation.

The student from Warriors Mark, Pennsylvania, was awarded $20,000 by the AERA. She earned a bachelor’s degree in international politics and a master’s in applied youth, family and community education, both from Penn State. Her dissertation topic is “New Directions for Integration Policy: Exploring the Geographic Scale of Racial and Income Segregation in Large U.S. School Districts.’’

Taylor said a master’s-level qualitative methods course that was part of the educational leadership program sparked her interest to pursue a doctorate in that field. “For my master’s I had to conduct original research, and I think it was really in large part being exposed to research by faculty members and through going into the field myself during my master’s that I knew I wanted to continue doing my own research,’’ Taylor said.

Taylor is hopeful that findings from her dissertation will be useful for school districts and policymakers already working on — or interested in starting to work on — school racial and income integration strategies. “There are a number of school districts across the country that are undertaking integration voluntarily, in addition to districts that are under court order to integrate,’’ Taylor said.

“I believe that understanding demographic patterns within the school district, in particular the geographic scale of racial and income segregation, can be very useful when districts are planning methods of integration.’’

Her integration policy topic decision was a culmination of bringing together training she received at Penn State and various professors’ work that she admired, she said.

“The methods I use in this study build off of a course I took at Penn State on spatial demography, and the work of a number of professors at Penn State and other institutions,’’ Taylor said. “But ultimately, beyond describing patterns of segregation within school districts, it was really important to me to be able to connect these patterns to historical and policy contexts of the school districts I’m studying.’’

Taylor’s adviser, Erica Frankenberg, associate professor of education and demography, said one of the strengths of Taylor’s study is illuminating the role of boundaries in shaping students’ access to opportunity.

“Too often, boundaries are invisible or seen as sacrosanct, but they are used in every medium-to-large district to assign students to school,’’ Frankenberg said. “This also assigns students to varying levels of opportunity through schools’ student demographics and other educational resources. Thus, there are wide-reaching implications to Kendra’s work."

Taylor will include in her analysis how school districts are considering segregation within their district at different scales when designing integration plans and to consider policy implications for districts given segregation at different scales.

“I also hope that my findings can contribute to the growing body of research on the connections between school and residential segregation, which I think is important in moving toward addressing segregation from many different policy perspectives,’’ she said.

Frankenberg agreed. “I appreciate her application of demographic techniques used in the study of residential segregation to studying the segregation of public school students, as I think it will result in important advances in what we know about school segregation,’’ she said.

Taylor will attend the AERA spring conference in San Antonio as well as its upcoming fall conference for professional development purposes and to network with other graduate students and scholars who work with large-scale datasets in the field of education.

“You are paired with a faculty member who also works with large-scale datasets and can be another source of support beyond those at your home institution to help you with your dissertation,’’ Taylor said. “I am also participating in the AERA annual conference as a Clark Scholar where there are additional opportunities for development of your dissertation research.’’

Grant money can be used for cost-of-living expenses as well as a pursuit of other external funding to work with large-scale datasets, she said. “After receiving the grant, I considered how I could put more time into my dissertation and strengthen it,’’ Taylor said. “I decided to add two additional decades into my research to study changes in the geographic scale of racial and income segregation over time.’’

Taylor, whose first two years of doctoral studies were funded by the Dean’s Graduate Assistantships program, said that receiving the grant meant that people other than her and those she works most closely with at Penn State believed that the study was worthwhile.

“Being connected to a broader group of people through your dissertation work seems really important, and I think that receiving this grant will give me an opportunity to be connected and engaged with a larger group of colleagues,’’ she said.

Last Updated February 27, 2017