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Prior to attending graduate school, James worked as a high school teacher and principal at an urban charter school, and her current scholarly interests were very much shaped by that experience. She is interested in how welfare, education, and social service policies are developed and implemented. Her current research focuses on explaining when and how state bureaucrats and elected officials recognize policy failure, and what conditions their response to the failure. In a separate strand of research, James studies conservative outreach to non-traditionally conservative groups.