Sean Patrick Kelly

Department of Educational Foundations, Organizations, and Policy

Sean Kelly (PhD, Sociology; University of Wisconsin-Madison) is Professor in the Department of Educational Foundations, Organizations, and Policy. He studies the social organization of schools, student engagement, and teacher effectiveness. In these areas he is known for applying an especially interdisciplinary approach to the scientific study of educational problems and solutions. Dr. Kelly’s current research includes development of an instructional observation system based on fine-grained, automated measures of classroom discourse—The Teacher Talk Tool (with Sidney D’Mello). This work is based on Kelly and colleagues’ seminal proof-of-concept research on automatically detecting authentic questions (Educational Researcher, 2018). In this work he is a leading proponent of agnostic approaches to instructional observation to promote teacher learning.

In addition, he is well known for transcript-based research on course taking in high schools, and for his studies of variation in high school tracking policies and instructional practices. In research on student engagement he has applied innovative observational methods to document the social distribution of student effort and the effects of classroom context and instruction. Dr. Kelly is co-editor of the American Educational Research Journal.

Interested in Mental Health? Check out: Understanding Anxiety: Our Invisible Handicap to Happiness and Success (Carol King with Sean Kelly, McFarland Press)

Instructional Interests

  • Educational policy
  • Sociology
  • Quantitative methods
  • School leadership

Scholarly Interests

  • Tracking and the social organization of schools
  • Student engagement
  • Teacher effectiveness
  • Fine-grained measures of instruction
  • English language arts
  • Teacher attrition
  • Social psychology of education

Selected Grants

  • EXP: Collaborative Research: Cyber-enabled Teacher Discourse Analytics to Empower Teacher Learning” (2017-2020, with Sidney D’Mello, Patrick Donnelly, & Amanda Godley; National Science Foundation, $499,394)

  • Analytic and Computational Approaches to Uncover Teacher Practices that Foster Positive Identity and Equity in Engagement and Learning for Middle School Math Students (2019-2021, with Sidney D’Mello and Stephanie Wormington; Mindset Scholars Network. $137,551)

  • Tailoring Teaching to Fit the Class: Teaching Practice and Classroom Composition under Random Assignment” (2017-2020, with Jane Fruewirth, Esteban Aucejo, & Ken Bollen; Institute for Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, $597,706)

  • Automating the Measurement and Assessment of Classroom Discourse (2013-2017, with Martin Nystrand, Arthur Graesser, Andrew Olney, & Sidney D’Mello; Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, $1,599,828)

Featured Publications

  • Kelly, Sean, Mozenter, Zachary, Aucejo, Esteban, & Jane Fruehwirth. (in press). School-to-school differences in instructional practice: New descriptive evidence on opportunity to learn. Teachers College Record.

  • Kelly, Sean, Bringe, Robert, Aucejo, Esteban, & Jane Fruehwirth. (2020). Using global observation protocols to inform research on teaching effectiveness and school improvement: Strengths and emerging limitations. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 28(62). [open access]

  • Northrop, Laura, Borsheim-Black, Carlin, & Sean Kelly. (2019). Matching students to books: The cultural content of eighth grade literature assignments. Elementary School Journal, 120, 243–271.

  • Northrop, Laura, & Sean Kelly. (2019). Who Gets to Read What? Tracking, Instructional Practices, and Text Complexity for Middle School Struggling Readers. Reading Research Quarterly, 54, 339–361.

  • Kelly, Sean, Olney, Andrew M., Donnelly, Patrick, Nystrand, Martin, & D’Mello, Sidney K. (2018). Automatically measuring question authenticity in real-world classrooms. Educational Researcher, 47, 451–464.

Awards and Honors

  • 2018 - Urban Education, Outstanding Service Award as an editorial board member

  • 2015 - Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis Outstanding Reviewer Award

  • 2014 - American Educational Research Association Division K Award for Exemplary Research in Teaching and Teacher Education.

  • 2013 - Sociology of Education Outstanding Reviewer Award

  • 2008 - Spencer Foundation Exemplary Dissertation Award (awarded at the AERA Annual Meeting, New York, NY).

Engagement, Partnerships, and Professional Service

Dr. Kelly is co-editor of the American Educational Research Journal and serves on the editorial boards of the journals Urban Education, Social Science Research, and Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. He is the former chair of AERA’s Sociology of Education special interest group, and has a secondary faculty appointment in Pitt’s Department of Sociology.

Since coming to Pitt in 2012, the Tri-State Area School Study Council, a professional development network of 100+ districts in Western Pennsylvania, has supported Kelly’s program of research.

Dr. Kelly serves on Pitt’s University Research Council

(see CV for further university, school, and department service)

Sean Patrick Kelly


University of Pittsburgh
5511 Wesley W. Posvar Hall
230 South Bouquet Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

View CV