Personal tools
You are here: Home News CRP Bulletin/Noticiero Volume 2, Issue 1 Alumni Spotlight on James Kim

Alumni Spotlight on James Kim

CRP Bulletin/Noticiero's Lizeth Hernandez interviews James Kim, associate professor at Harvard, Graduate School of Education


[Note from Gary Orfield: James is a deeply dedicated scholar doing sophisticated research to lower the gap in literacy and reading for most disadvantaged students. He focuses on a truly important question and does not let go until he has a deep understanding and a compelling answer.]

CRP:  How did you get involved with the Civil Rights Project?

KIM:  In collaboration with Gail Sunderman, I had the opportunity to conduct a national implementation study of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) from 2003 to 2005,“NCLB Meets School Realities: Lessons From the Field.” I got involved with CRP as a research associate (I took the role after earning my EdD from HGSE) to understand whether Title I of the 2001 (NCLB) Act could improve test-based accountability policies in service of reducing achievement disparities.  I was fortunate to have Gary Orfield as my primary advisor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) and he invited me to help co-lead this national study in 6 states and 11 districts. We looked at the implementation of the NCLB test-based accountability policies, choice provisions, and supplemental educational services requirements in 6 states and 11 districts.  This work resulted in multiple papers in leading academic journals (Educational Researcher, Teachers College Record) and a Corwin book, NCLB Meets School Realities, published in 2005. Our findings began to raise questions about the feasibility of many of the NCLB accountability requirements and their unintended consequences on racial achievement gaps.  Three of the chief findings were that the NCLB transfer option was not widely used; the NCLB transfer provisions failed to provide economically disadvantaged students, n the districts we studied, with opportunities to move to schools with high achievement levels and low poverty rates, and urban districts have a disproportionately large number of schools required to offer transfers, but the federal regulations governing choice made it difficult for these districts to create workable and effective transfer policies.  


CRP:  What are some memorable experiences you recall while working at the Civil Rights Project?

KIM:  I loved working with a diverse team of scholars and policymakers.  I had the opportunity to work with Gary Orfield, Gail Sunderman, and Andrew Grant Thomas, all of whom are stellar political scientists and policy analysts.  I also had the opportunity to work with Michal Kurlaender, Cathy Horn, and John Yun – they are all tenured professors in leading US research universities.  And I also learned from lawyers and legal scholars like Dan Losen and Chris Edley.  I learned how to think and write more clearly from my colleagues.  I love the mission of CRP – to renew the civil rights movement by bridging the word of ideas and action.  It is rare to see university-based research projects impact policy in the courts, the school systems, and in federal, state, and local government.  I was drawn to the mission of using research to improve the lives of our nation’s most vulnerable youth.


CRP:  What did you enjoy most about the work?

KIM:  Gail and I did a lot of field work.  We interviewed state and local policymakers, school leaders, and teachers.  We got a really good on-the-ground perspective on how federal policy could help and hurt local efforts to advance educational opportunities for all students.  It was great to learn from practitioners how they were interpreting NCLB and how they were implementing federal policy.  Working at The Civil Rights Project made me realize how much I enjoyed academic research that had clear policy implications.  I also left CRP realizing that educators were hungry for solutions and for ideas on how to address achievement gaps.  That led me to continue my experimental work evaluating literacy reforms in high poverty schools.


CRP:  Tell us about your current research. Why choose to target literacy?  

KIM:  I realized that educators wanted evidence-based, home-grown programs that could improve literacy opportunities for children in high poverty schools. I’m currently leading an i3 grant in which we are testing the READS program, a teacher–scaffolded summer reading program.  We’re running a large experiment in 59 North Carolina schools.  My goal in doing READS is to generate new knowledge about effective literacy programs in high poverty schools.  My hope is that the results will lead to a larger statewide expansion of READS.  The model study I have in mind is the Tennessee STAR study (student teacher achievement ratio).  Those results showed that small class sizes in the early elementary grades could reduce achievement gaps.  The results were then used to implement Project Challenge, which targeted class size reductions in the highest poverty districts through TN.  I’d like NC policymakers to use our results to target READS in the most disadvantaged schools and districts. READS is mainly designed to reduce SES gaps in reading comprehension during the summer.  Because a large part of the grade 9 SES gap in reading is due to SES–related gaps that form in the summers following grades 1 to 5, we try to prevent this gap from growing by targeting interventions in the elementary grades.


CRP: What advice would you give to a student or beginning professional interested in civil rights research and/or policy?

KIM:  You need knowledge, passion, and feasibility to pursue a research career. Ask yourself:  What discipline or method do I know well? What do I really care about? Do I have access to data to pursue a researchable question?  If you have knowledge, passion, and a feasible project, you can undertake a focused program of research that impacts science and policy.  I learned this lesson in a class I took with Pat Graham, the former dean of the Harvard GSE.


Alumni Spotlight: James Kim

James Kim is associate professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and was previously an assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine.  He was a 2008 National Academy of Education, Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow, and a graduate of the University of Virginia (UVA), College of Arts and Sciences and Curry School of Education.  At UVA, he majored in history, focusing on race relations in the American South, and completed an oral history of school desegregation in Prince Edward County, Virginia. He also earned a masters degree in teaching there.  He began his career in education as an American history teacher and chair of the history and civics department in an ethnically diverse middle school.  Kim learned the importance of identifying effective instructional practices and literacy interventions that enabled his students to succeed in school.  His professional goal is to improve policy and practice by conducting randomized experiments of literacy interventions that have a solid grounding in research and theory.  He uses a range of tools to understand the mechanisms that promote literacy achievement including observations of teacher instruction in classrooms, home-based observations, interviews with parents, and surveys.  He is particularly interested in capitalizing on the strengths of multiple methods to understand how and why interventions work. 



Document Actions

Copyright © 2010 UC Regents