Katharine O. Strunk named Dean of Penn’s top-ranked Graduate School of Education

Strunk, an award-winning mixed methods scholar at Michigan State University, is an expert on teacher labor markets, school and district improvement and accountability policies, and efforts to boost student achievement. 

New GSE dean smiling against colorful backdrop
Katharine O. Strunk (Courtesy of Michigan State University)

Katharine O. Strunk has been named dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, effective July 1, 2023. The announcement was made today by Penn President Liz Magill.

Strunk, an award-winning mixed methods scholar, holds the Clifford E. Erickson Distinguished Chair in Education at Michigan State University, where she is a Professor of Education Policy and, by courtesy, Economics. She is the inaugural director of Michigan State’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC), the strategic research partner to the Michigan Department of Education. She is an expert on teacher labor markets, school and district improvement and accountability policies, and efforts to boost student achievement. 

“Katharine Strunk’s career,” said Magill, “has been built around the concept of ‘research with consequence.’ She has a long and distinguished track record and an exciting vision for the role of educators and education schools in research universities and society. Her mission-driven leadership is an ideal match for Penn’s top-ranked Graduate School of Education. Penn, GSE, and Philadelphia are extremely fortunate to have her.”

Strunk is the past-president of the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP). Prior to joining Michigan State, she served from 2009 to 2017 on the faculty of the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education and Sol Price School of Public Policy. She began her career at the University of California at Davis School of Education, serving on the faculty from 2007 to 2009.

Strunk is nationally renowned for her partner-driven research and leadership, which has brought multi-method, collaborative scholarship to bear on pressing questions facing education and educators across the lifespan.

“I could not be more excited about this opportunity to work with the faculty, staff, students, and alumni of Penn’s Graduate School of Education,” said Strunk. “Penn GSE is known as a leader for its collaborative and evidence-based efforts to improve policy and practice. This approach and commitment to real-world impact has never been more important than today. I look forward to working together with our partners in Philadelphia, nationally, and around the world in service of GSE’s mission to expand educational access, especially for those underserved by society.”

Strunk has collaborated extensively with district and state policymakers, including working with the Los Angeles Unified School District and the California and Michigan Departments of Education, to help decision makers formulate, design, and revise policy. As part of her work with EPIC, Strunk served as the only researcher on Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Student Recovery Advisory Council, which informed COVID-19 recovery efforts in schools statewide. She has also advised on numerous major school funding and governance reforms.

Her work has been supported by state and federal contracts and grants as well as by philanthropic partners. She has raised more than $21 million in extramural funding over the course of her career. Her research has been published in leading peer-reviewed journals as well as through numerous policy reports written in service of improving policy and practice. She is a co-author of “Challenging the One Best System” (2020, Harvard Education Press), which offers a comparative analysis of the set of urban education governance reforms collectively known as the “portfolio management model.”

Strunk’s work pays particular attention to the ways that policies and programs impact the most traditionally underserved communities.

“Underlying all of Katharine’s work is a deeply and sincerely held commitment to equity,” said Provost-designate John L. Jackson, Jr., the Walter H. Annenberg Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication. “From her successful partnerships with L.A. Unified and the state of Michigan to her advocacy for evidence-based policies and practices at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Katharine has long been a champion of diversity, equity, and inclusion in all forms.”

Issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion are also the center of Strunk’s leadership and service. As President of AEFP, Strunk established the organization’s first standing Board of Directors committee dedicated to these values. She and her leadership team developed programming to support AEFP’s members of color as well as those who are first-generation college students and researchers, who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and who are from and conduct research in international contexts. She has a long and successful track record of enhancing diversity in faculty hiring and retention.

Strunk received her Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Policy Analysis and her M.A. in Economics from Stanford University, and her B.A. in Public Policy from Princeton University.

Strunk succeeds Pam Grossman, a distinguished scholar who has served as Dean of GSE since 2015. Grossman, a National Academy of Education member and a leading expert in teacher preparation and teacher quality, has significantly strengthened GSE’s partnership with Philadelphia schools, including school-specific collaborations with the neighboring Lea and Penn Alexander schools. Under Grossman’s leadership, Penn GSE launched Catalyst @ Penn, a center for global education innovation. The school has deepened its partnership with the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Family Foundation, including the creation of the new McGraw Center for Educational Leadership and the housing of the prestigious McGraw Prize in Education. It is also nearing completion on a dramatic building expansion.

“Pam has been a transformative dean of GSE,” said Interim Provost Beth A. Winkelstein. “We are deeply grateful for her distinguished leadership, and we look forward to working closely with Katharine as she and the Penn GSE community continue this exceptional momentum into the future.” 

In making the announcement of Strunk’s appointment, Magill also thanked Provost-designate Jackson, who chaired the Consultative Committee for the Penn GSE dean search, as well as the members of the committee: “I am grateful to Provost-designate Jackson and the Consultative Committee for their tireless work throughout the search process, and for their commitment to finding the right leader for Penn GSE.”

Strunk will be joined in Philadelphia by her husband, Ryan, and their 11-year-old twin boys.

“I am particularly drawn to Penn and GSE because of its mission to engage with and serve Penn’s local, national, and global communities,” said Strunk. “I am excited to build on the inspiring work of Dean Grossman and GSE’s incredible faculty, staff, students, and alumni in pursuit of ‘research with consequence’ and in the provision of programs that truly make an impact on the communities around us.”