Research-Practice Partnerships Help Districts, W.T. Grant Foundation Finds

By Sarah D. Sparks — January 29, 2013 2 min read
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Researchers often argue for the necessity of translating study results to classroom practice, while lamenting how rarely it happens. A new report by the William T. Grant Foundation says that thinking purely in terms of how to get educators to use research presented to them creates a “one-way street” that’s less effective than developing true partnerships between districts and researchers.

In the newly released “Research-Practice Partnerships: A Strategy for Leveraging Research for Educational Improvement in School Districts,” which I previewed earlier this year, the foundation paints a picture of how more egalitarian partnerships develop and thrive.

Effective research-practice partnerships, the foundation found, should be:
• Long-term, rather than set up just for the duration of a study;
• Focused on problems of practice relevant to the school or district;
• Committed to mutually benefiting the district and the researcher;
• Intentionally working to build and sustain the partnership; and
• Producing original analyses.

This doesn’t mean all partnerships look alike. In one type of partnership, which the foundation calls a “research alliance,” local educators, parents and community groups pulled together and worked with researchers to address concerns in their local area in the development of partnerships like Redwood City, California’s decade of work with Stanford University’s John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities. Similarly, the San Diego Education Research Alliance built up to study the effects of new benchmark testing on mathematics learning.

Design research, by contrast, looks a bit like developing prototypes in the business realm; researchers pair with schools and districts to test and tweak interventions in the context of their classrooms, rather than simply attempting to implement a whole intervention that has been successful in the lab or elsewhere. Vanderbilt University’s Middle-School Mathematics in the
Institutional Setting of Teaching project, or MIST, worked in four different ways to improve math instruction in four different school districts, and the University of Washington is helping three different schools in the Bellevue school district develop “culturally relevant teaching strategies” for primary school science classes.

Finally, more individual organizations interested in finding solutions to similar problems are joining “networked improvement communities” to share data, successes and failures.

For more on the intricacies of active research-practice partnerships, check out my coverage od Washington state’s work with Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child and other researchers to support children who have experienced adversity.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.