Katharine Strunk is a professor of education policy and, by courtesy, Economics, and the Clifford E. Erickson Distinguished Chair in Education. She is also co-director of the Michigan State University Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC) and an associate editor of the journal Education Finance and Policy. Strunk’s research is focused on three areas under the broad umbrella of K-12 education governance: teachers’ unions and the collective bargaining agreements they negotiate with school districts, teacher evaluation and compensation, and accountability policies. Rooted in the fields of economics and public policy, Strunk’s work centers on structures that are central to district operations and policy and the ways these structures affect policymakers’ decisions and outcomes. Her recent work includes studying teacher labor market responses to policy reforms in Michigan, teacher and school accountability and support policies in the Los Angeles Unified School District and throughout Michigan, and portfolio management reforms in LA, Denver and New Orleans.
Industry Expertise (4)
Writing and Editing
Areas of Expertise (5)
Teacher unions and collective bargaining agreements
Teacher Labor Markets
Compensation and Accountability
Stanford University: Ph.D., Educational Administration and Policy Analysis
Stanford University: M.A., Economics
Princeton University: B.A., Public Policy
Several Detroit schools move to virtual learning after COVID cases
In the past two weeks, four Detroit Public Schools Community District schools have temporarily shut down due to student and staff COVID cases — the first full-school closures of the school year. While most Detroit and Michigan schools have managed to remain continuously open, the closures, coupled with quarantines of individual students and classrooms, are the latest example of how the pandemic is disrupting a year envisioned as a chance for students to recover and reconnect. A few other Michigan districts are shifting to remote learning for short periods to deal with COVID-related challenges. “There is no available data on how much in-person learning time is being lost this year,” said Katharine Strunk, a professor of education at Michigan State University
More Michigan 3rd-graders struggled to read amid COVID, remote learning
An analysis of state reading scores by Education Policy Innovation Collaborative at Michigan State University found that a topsy-turvy pandemic school year caused more Michigan third-graders to struggle to read at grade level. Whether or not there is an increase in students retained in grade this year, the scores on which those recommendations are based make it clear that more children struggled to master reading during a school year that saw many students lurch between sometimes ineffective online learning and socially-distanced classrooms, said EPIC Director Katharine Strunk. “We really need to be paying attention to early literacy coming out of the pandemic,” Strunk said. “It's clear that a good proportion of third graders … are struggling.”
How did ed. leaders decide whether to reopen schools in person last fall?
Education Week online
This article was co-written by Katharine O. Strunk, the Clifford E. Erickson Distinguished Professor of Education Policy and, by courtesy, Economics, and the director of the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative at Michigan State University. Schools and their leaders had a decision to make last summer. Should schools open fully remote, fully in person or somewhere in between? Different leaders made different decisions. The question is, why? We wish that this question was merely academic, interesting from a “what happened last summer?” perspective. But unfortunately, with the rise of the Delta variant and recent spikes in coronavirus cases, we’ll be debating the same questions as the beginning of next school year draws near.
Educators struggle to gauge learning growth — or loss — during pandemic
The Detroit News online
National studies predict learning loss for students during the pandemic and drops in academic achievement. Katharine Strunk, director of the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative at Michigan State University, said understanding student learning loss, or reduced learning gains as Strunk prefers to call it, is important because it provides a way for educators to target instruction to individual students and for districts to provide the necessary resources for teachers. “If we don’t understand that, we can’t address it,” she said. “Kids are still learning, and they have learned since March 2020, but they haven’t learned at the same rate.” Strunk said what is alarming is that learning and achievement gaps for some student groups, such as Black and brown students as well as English language learners, are widening even further during the pandemic.
School closures create inequity, often don't match virus rates, face political influence (Subscription Required)
The Detroit News online
Michigan's longest school closures have happened more often in economically disadvantaged districts than wealthy districts and reflect local political leanings more closely than COVID-19 infection rates, according to a Detroit News analysis. About 16% of the state's 833 districts primarily offered virtual instruction only this school year through January, according to plans filed each month with the Michigan Department of Education. The remote-learning districts average significantly higher rates of minority students and economically disadvantaged students than the state. "It’s really disheartening from an equity perspective," said Katharine Strunk, faculty director of the Michigan State University Education Policy Innovation Collaborative, which has been monitoring schools' reopening plans.
New study cautiously suggests schools don’t increase spread of coronavirus
U.S. News and World Report online
A 60-page study links county-level COVID-19 infections in Michigan and Washington state to information on how school districts were offering instruction – in-person, hybrid or remote – in order to assess the relationship between in-person instruction and the spread of COVID-19. Their conclusion: As long as infection rates are under control, in-person school, whether it's through a hybrid model or fully in-person, does not contribute to community spread. "What I think we show is that in Michigan and Washington we just don't find evidence that districts that offer in-person school contribute to community COVID spread if there are low to moderate levels of preexisting COVID infections in the surrounding areas," says Katharine Strunk, an education policy and economics professor at Michigan State University, as well as the director of the school's Education Policy Innovation Collaborative.
Why British kids went back to school, and American kids did not
The Atlantic online
Katharine Strunk, an education-policy professor at Michigan State University, said unions were willing to “support their teachers in strike authorization if teachers felt that they were being forced back into unsafe conditions. That sometimes meant proper social distancing, but it sometimes meant a universally available vaccine.” Unions were able to influence decision making in part because, as Strunk said, “when there is no good, trusted advice, it's hard for parents or school boards to argue against [the unions], because what [the unions were] saying was: ‘Isn't one teacher or one student death too much of a cost when they can learn fine remotely?'”
What the Botched School Reopenings Taught Us, and How to Do It Better
Katharine Strunk, professor of education policy and economics at Michigan State University, says one of her biggest concerns is disruption ahead caused by likely fits and starts, which she says should also be planned for in advance. “There is a strong chance that students will come back and then be asked to go home again for a week or two or more, and then the cycle begins again,” she says. “There is a lot of research that suggests that students do well with clear schedules and expectations. Educators should create plans that help students move back and forth between in-class and remote learning “as seamlessly as possible.”
Research Grants (5)
Competency-Based Education in Michigan: Shifting Instructional Practice to Promote Learning and Engagement.
The Hewlett Foundation $1,499,827
2019-2021 Co-Principal Investigator with Josh Cowen (Michigan State University)
The National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH Center)
U.S. Department of Education, Institute for Education Sciences $10,000,000 (MSU Share: 1,962,613)
2018-2023 Co-Principal Investigator with Doug Harris (PI, Tulane University), Josh Cowen (Michigan State University), Julie Marsh (University of Southern California) and Amy Ellen Schwartz (Syracuse University)
Survey of Partnership Districts
Michigan Department of Education $449,097
2018-2021 Co-Principal Investigator with Josh Cowen (Michigan State University) and Chris Torres (Michigan State University)
Can Michigan Show the Nation How to Turn Around Failing Schools? A Research-Policy Partnership Approach in Michigan
Smith Richardson Foundation $400,000
2018-2020 Co-Principal Investigator with Josh Cowen (Michigan State University) and Venessa Keesler (Michigan Department of Education)
The New “One Best System?”: Urban Governance and Educational Practice in the Portfolio Management Model
The Spencer Foundation $1,000,000
2016-2018 Co-Principal Investigator with Dr. Julie Marsh (University of Southern California), Dr. Katy Bulkley (Montclair State University) and Dr. Doug Harris (Tulane University)
Journal Articles (1)
The bad end of the bargain?: Revisiting the relationship between collective bargaining agreements and student achievementEconomics of Education Review
Bradley D Marianno, Katharine Strunk
2018 This paper revisits the relationship between teacher collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) and student achievement. Using a district-level dataset of California teacher CBAs that includes measures of overall and subarea contract strength linked to district-level panel data, we build on prior work by controlling for unobserved fixed and time-varying confounders. This study demonstrates that naïve pooled OLS estimates of student achievement on overall CBA strength are larger and more negative than lagged achievement and within-district estimates, signifying a negative bias in the naïve levels models. When controlling for time invariant and time-varying unobservables, the relationship between CBA strength and student achievement is persistently negative and small, or null, but never significantly positive. This relationship extends to specific CBA subareas and to subgroups of students. These findings have important implications for new reforms designed to weaken teacher collective bargaining rights.