What They Learned: Isaac Krier ’18

The political science major combined educational, legal, and urban policy into an analysis of the relationship between courts and school-finance reform.

For Isaac Krier ’18, writing a political science thesis was a chance to explore the intersections of his interests in educational, legal, and urban policy issues.

Krier’s thesis, “The Politics of Litigation-Based School Finance Reform,” probes the achievement gap between students from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds to define the role of the courts in school-finance reform at the state level.

Associate Professor of Political Science Steve McGovern served as his thesis advisor.

“[He] was an amazing resource for me as I began to craft my research question, given his experience and knowledge in the realm of urban politics and policy,” said Krier. “In particular, Professor McGovern helped me craft a research design that accurately tested the efficacy of both the courts, as well as different strategies of political mobilization outside the courts, in bringing about successful school finance reform and improving educational outcomes for low-income families and students.”

Writing the political science department’s notorious two-semester thesis and completing an oral defense of his topic taught Krier about the importance of each individual step of the research and writing process.

“I appreciated the opportunity to dive deeply into a single issue, employing both a legal and political lens, throughout an entire year,” he said. “I came to understand the importance of crafting a solid research question and design before beginning to collect and analyze empirical data. While continuously recrafting the original design of the thesis can be tedious, improvements at the onset of the thesis enabled me to more accurately and succinctly analyze the data I collected, and reach thorough conclusions.”

A four-year member and two-year captain of the men’s lacrosse team, Krier is headed to a job as a legal assistant in the litigation department of a New York City law firm. He plans to eventually attend law school, and hopes to pursue education policy issues through a career in law.

What inspired your thesis work?

Following my sophomore year at Haverford, I worked as a teaching intern for the Steppingstone Foundation in Boston, a nonprofit organization that provides summer programs and support services throughout the school year to students who are underserved by the Boston public school system. While I loved working with a classroom of seventh grade students motivated to graduate high school and attend college, I also began to develop an interest in education policy as I learned about the challenges that these students faced throughout their educational experience. As I was picking a thesis topic, I found that school-finance litigation combined my interest in education policy, as well as my interest in law.

What are the implications for your thesis research?

My thesis explored three substantial court cases in the state of Connecticut, spanning the course of over 40 years, and compared the outcomes of both the legal and corresponding political processes involved in each case. As a result of this comparison, I concluded that the courts do play a significant role in school-finance reform, and are essential in applying the necessary pressure on state legislators to implement reforms. This conclusion lends itself to the robust scholarly debate regarding the role that the courts can, and should, play in creating social reform, given the fact that writing policy is a responsibility delegated to the executive and legislative branches of government, not the judicial. However, the findings of my thesis regarding the continued efficacy of the courts in generating policy reform at the state level, in the realm of school finance and beyond, hold meaningful implications for how the “apolitical” judicial wing of state government can bring about meaningful change in the face of increasing political polarization and gridlock. The findings of my thesis not only contribute to the current scholarly debate, but also hold implications for a range of social policy issues and challenges in today’s increasingly partisan political climate.


“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.