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Molly Gordon

Pronouns: She/Her

Senior Research Scientist
Molly is a qualitative research expert focused on qualitative and mixed-methods studies in educational leadership, policy, and school improvement.

Molly is a senior research scientist at NORC at the University of Chicago. She has extensive experience with managing qualitative data collection and analysis, and her field work includes conducting interviews, focus groups, observations, and document analysis. She utilizes both inductive (using an emergent framework to group the data and then look for relationships) and deductive (testing theory) techniques for analysis. She also has experience creating survey items and measures, as well as analyzing survey results. Molly has over 18 years of experience conducing applied research that is relevant, meaningful, and timely for practitioners. She has presented her work to a variety of research, practice, and policy audiences. She is passionate about enhancing educational experiences and opportunities for children living in underserved communities.

As an applied researcher, part of Molly’s work has been to help educational organizations, departments, schools, and programs understand their successes, challenges, and impact, in order to help them improve. Her work as a program evaluator, for example, has included building logic models, creating theories of action, assessing program and department practices and behaviors, identifying gaps, and determining the fit between professional development needs and program or department initiatives. Molly believes that information and insights derived from research are not impactful unless they are translated into accessible formats for policymakers and community stakeholders. To do this, she writes accessible research briefs and reports, and presents research findings in clear and actionable ways. Molly also believes in building collaborative relationships with education partners, including district and school practitioners as well as city and state education leaders, policymakers, and leaders of nonprofit education organizations.

Her recent work has centered on leadership pipelines, how education policies are interpreted and enacted in practice, and how leaders influence school environments, build relationships and trust, and improve outcomes. She has disciplinary training in sociology, philosophy, and history of education, as well as in school organizational theory and development. Molly is an affiliated researcher with the UChicago Consortium on School Research.

Molly is currently the principal investigator (PI) on a three-year study, funded by the Institute of Educational Sciences (IES), investigating the principal pipeline process in Chicago and Tennessee with colleagues from Vanderbilt University, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, and the UChicago Consortium on School Research. The purpose of the study is to identify the characteristics of the school leadership pipeline processes that are related to leadership effectiveness and improved student outcomes, particularly in high-needs schools. She is also part of a large team of NORC colleagues studying the implementation and impact of a preschool expansion effort in Tempe, Arizona.

Prior to joining NORC, Molly worked at the UChicago Consortium on School Research where she served as co-PI on two studies investigating the long-term impacts of closing nearly 50 Chicago elementary schools in 2013 on families, school leaders, staff, and students. Molly led the qualitative portion of each study, which resulted in two policy- and practitioner-focused research reports as well as numerous presentations of the work. The studies were funded by the Spencer Foundation and the Chicago Community Trust.



University of Minnesota (Twin Cities)


University of Wisconsin (Madison)


University of Wisconsin (Madison)

Project Contributions

Surveys of Chicago Parents About Schooling in the Pandemic

Surveying Chicago parents about their child’s learning experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic


Kids First Chicago

Getting Effective Leaders into High-Needs Schools

Understanding how the preparation, recruitment, and hiring of principals impact student outcomes


Institute of Education Sciences

Evaluating the Tempe Preschool Resource Expansion

Assessing whether Tempe PRE improves kindergarten readiness and future achievement for low-income children


Helios Education Foundation

Head Start-to-Kindergarten Transitions Project

The first rigorous, system-level study of the factors that drive successful kindergarten transitions


Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families

Retaining Rural Science & Math Teachers

Cultivating a high-quality science and math teacher workforce in rural Illinois


National Science Foundation