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Education Opinion

How to Support Education Practitioner-Scholars

By Urban Education Contributor — October 16, 2017 4 min read
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This week we are hearing from the Multnomah County Partnership for Education Research (MCPER). This post is by Co-Directors of MCPER, Nicole Ralston, Assistant Professor at the University of Portland and Jacqueline Waggoner, Professor at the University of Portland.

MCPER previously blogged about working towards equitable Advanced Placement programming and supporting first-time Advanced Placement students.

Today’s post is written from the researcher perspective. Stay tuned: Thursday we will share the practitioner’s perspective.

The typical education doctoral student pursues a Ph.D. full-time, leaving the job they might have held before, and often serving as a Research Assistant on campus, obtaining copious amounts of research experience before joining the academic ranks as professor or a similar position. The Multnomah County Partnership for Education Research (MCPER) at the University of Portland, a research-practice partnership between Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), the School of Education at the University of Portland, and six public school districts, is working to actively engage a slightly different group of education doctoral students: Practitioner-scholars.

Practitioner-scholars typically continue their current educational profession as a teacher, administrator, or district office employee while choosing to pursue a doctor of education (Ed.D.) rather than a Ph.D. in education. This means that often, practitioner-scholars don’t have the same exposure to research experienced by typical Ph.D. candidates. Therefore, new and innovative pedagogies are necessary to provide similar experiences to Ed.D. candidates that they can then apply in their current positions — they need exposure to hands-on, real-world, relevant research problems and opportunities to tackle these problems themselves (see here and here, for example).

Research-practice partnerships (RPPs) are uniquely positioned to offer such opportunities to Ed.D. students due to the close, two-way relationships they seek to build between researchers (often at universities) and practitioners (often in school districts and/or at the state level). At MCPER, we have district-driven research opportunities for Ed.D. students built into our yearly operation. Each spring, MCPER meets with each partner school district to finalize the research projects the district has prioritized for that summer. Here is where the doctoral students come in. Every summer, the current cohort of Ed.D. students partakes in a specific RPP-devoted course: Research for Evaluation and Action. It is the culmination of their first year of courses and the capstone to completion of the research sequence. Dr. Jacqueline Waggoner, the professor of this course, provides instruction on program evaluation while also supporting pairs of students to complete specific district-driven projects during the intensive six-week course.

Students use this opportunity to refine their skills conducting literature reviews, analyzing authentic data, which often requires the cleaning and linking of multiple datasets not required of typical class exercises, and deciding what to do with the data through providing recommendations or designing evaluation plans. At the completion of the course, MCPER meets with the districts again to present the final product (see example of a project from our previous blog post about working towards equitable Advanced Placement programming) and discuss next steps for the district (see our previous blog post about how a district used the Advanced Placement data to make changes to support students).

Six projects were completed by 12 practitioner-scholars during 2017’s Research for Evaluation and Action course, one of which investigated the effects of conducting home visits with the families of kindergarten students. This particular practitioner-scholar pair was asked to conduct a literature review regarding the current research on visiting students’ homes to build relationships, then analyze the attendance and literacy achievement data for all kindergarten students in five elementary schools, about half of which received a home visit in August, September, or October of their kindergarten year from a pair of teachers. The study found that home visits appeared to make an impact: Students who received home visits had significantly higher literacy scores in the spring of their kindergarten year, even after taking into account their fall score, and also had significantly higher attendance rates at the completion of the year.

This project provided exciting findings and implications for the district and contributed to fulfilling our RPP’s mission to provide district-driven research to school districts. But what are the ramifications for the other stakeholder - these practitioner-scholars? What did these practitioner-scholars learn, or not learn, by participating in this process? What might they use or not use in their current roles in education? How might we better support them to learn to do research within an Ed.D. cohort model? Come back Thursday to hear from the two practitioner-scholars who completed this particular project and read about their experiences!

The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.