KU News Release

Sept. 14, 2010
Contact: Kevin Boatright, Office of Research and Graduate Studies, (785) 864-7240

Research group works with Kansas City schools to improve K-12 education

Leigh Anne Taylor Knight

LAWRENCE — Four universities in Kansas and Missouri have banded together to deploy their research strengths for the benefit of 32 school districts in the greater Kansas City area. They cemented the bi-state relationship recently with the appointment of a prominent local educator as executive director of the initiative.

Leigh Anne Taylor Knight, a University of Kansas graduate and former assistant superintendent for 21st century learning with North Kansas City Schools, will oversee the ongoing work of the Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium. The group is composed of researchers at KU, the University of Missouri-Columbia, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Kansas State University.

KC-AERC received approximately $850,000 from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in 2009 to build infrastructure and cover startup costs. The program is modeled after a similar consortium in Chicago, except it involves more than one university and incorporates multiple school districts. These include public, parochial, charter and private schools in urban and suburban areas on both sides of the state line. The diversity and broad scope are viewed as strengths of the new initiative.

“Kansas City is a hotbed for innovation,” said Knight. “This area of the country has become well-known nationally for our sophisticated research on educational issues. By joining forces, KC-AERC institutions and their researchers can have an impact on education policy at the local, state and federal levels.”

The state departments of education in Kansas and Missouri are working in collaboration with KC-AERC.

“Learners have changed, and learning has changed,” said Knight. “We need to know more about what our students are learning so we can affect classroom practice and improve achievement. Ultimately, schools are preparing students for jobs that may not exist yet, so we hope to enhance the economic competitiveness of this area in the process.”

Research projects under way at the participating universities are providing data that responds to important research questions identified by the school districts (located in Cass, Platte and Jackson counties in Missouri and Wyandotte and Johnson counties in Kansas). The consortium may eventually expand to include another nine counties and another 30 to 40 districts.

Knight says the goal of KC-AERC is to leverage the combined research expertise of the universities to have a positive impact on the future of education in the Kansas City metro area. The initiative began last fall with a conference in Kansas City. A governance structure involving schools and businesses is being established now, along with a business plan to ensure long-term sustainability.

Knight received a doctorate in education last spring at KU and holds other degrees from MU and UMKC. She joined North Kansas City Schools in 2000, following 10 years with Columbia (Mo.) Public Schools and the Park Hill School District in Kansas City.

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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