Katie Drucker: Blending educational research and a passion for education

Katie Drucker first came to Boston College in 2000 as an undergraduate from Florida.

“I came to B.C. thinking I wanted to be a teacher,” she recalls, but she soon realized classroom work wasn’t a good fit. Instead, she discovered educational research.

Now she’s the new Senior Evaluation Researcher at the Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children, the home of City Connects.

“Not every little kid wants to be an educational researcher,” Drucker says, joking about how she came to the field. What made the difference for her was a class she took as a sophomore with Larry Ludlow, a retired professor and the former chair of the Department of Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics, and Assessment (MESA) at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development.

While she was a graduate student, Drucker was also a B.C. employee who worked for PIRLS (the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study).

“We did very high-quality, rigorous research,” Drucker explains. “Each study cycle took five years. Then we would write a giant report that was hundreds of pages. We put it out into the world, hoping policymakers would use the information to make kids’ lives better. And a lot of people did, but it took a long time.”

Excited by the goal of having a more immediate impact, Drucker worked for two New York City nonprofits that had a clear, positive effect on schools and students. It was compelling, fast-paced work, but Drucker found that she missed the analytical work of conducting academic research.

“I wanted to find the sweet spot between doing something rigorous that’s good for children in a valid, reliable way and also ensuring that the information generated by this work is used to improve education.”

So last November, she returned to Boston College and joined the Center for Thriving Children where she researches the impact of City Connects.

“A lot of the work that I do is to gather information about City Connects and share it with the people who are implementing the model so they can make the work better,” Drucker says. She points to the “Lego Data Story,” a graphic commonly shared online, that explains that data can be sorted, arranged, presented visually, explained with a story, and made actionable.

Practically, this means giving schools a highly visual, two-page summary of their data highlights summarized on an easily read chart as well as a quote to supplement a more lengthy, detailed report. 

“If you’re a principal, you want data to be short and sweet. You want it to be clear. And you want it to be relevant to your school,” Drucker says.

Clearly distilled data is also essential for research.

“The beauty of the research/practice partnership at City Connects is that we learn from what’s happening on the ground,” Drucker adds, “and then we use that to inform bigger questions that we want to investigate.”

One example is Drucker’s work with the feedback surveys that teachers fill out every year. She has been revising the surveys to ensure that they align with City Connects’ goals and produce useful, actionable information.

“I want to facilitate a conversation about the data, about what’s surprising, what people are proud of, what makes them think differently, and what they might like to change. If I’m doing my job well, I’m providing time and space for people to reflect.”

This reflection can identify questions about the model.

“We have to tell schools the story, so they understand all the ways that the effort of implementing City Connects pays off. We also want to understand things like what implementation looks like for a first-year City Connects school versus a school that has been using the model for several years.”

Success will also mean that schools use actionable data from surveys and from MyConnects, City Connects’ data system, to develop new insights and strategies.

“Educators don’t always have the time to read complex statistical tables. I want to give them something that’s easy to understand, because ultimately the goal is to better serve and support students.”

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