School & District Management Opinion

New Roles for Education Doctoral Students: Internships in Early-Stage Partnerships

By Urban Education Contributor — September 18, 2017 4 min read
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This week we are hearing from the University of Louisville (@uofl)-Jefferson County Public Schools (@JCPSKY) partnership. This post is by Michèle Foster, the partnership’s Executive Director and Professor of Education at the University of Louisville.

The University of Louisville-Jefferson County Public Schools partnership previously blogged about Lessons Learned from starting a research-practice partnership and about after-school programs and their potential benefits on students’ social and emotional learning.

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

The work is solving problems

Many years ago, when I was a substitute and later a provisional teacher in Boston Public Schools, a much more experienced teacher asked me what I thought the job of a teacher was. While I don’t remember exactly what my answer was, what I do remember is what she told me: A teacher’s primary job is problem solving. Problem solving, she said, specifically finding solutions to ill-defined problems that don’t have a single solution, clear-cut goals, or specific courses of action, characterizes what a teacher does. Her words stuck with me and now, all these years later, I realize that these are the same skills involved in building a research-practice partnership (RPP).

What a difference a year makes

A lot of changes, mostly positive, have occurred in my research-practice partnership, now in its second year, since my last blog entry appeared in May. The Interim Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) Superintendent endorsed our research-practice partnership and suggested that it be housed under the District Research Office. Once the superintendent gave his imprimatur, my dean gave her approval as well. Inviting new people to participate in the RPP is fantastic but also creates new problems: Getting everyone on the same page about what RPPs are and how they differ from the many short-term partnerships for specific purposes school districts typically have with universities; deciding which of the many compelling topics are worth taking on as an initial project; and the continuing problem of securing funding to undertake studies.

In July, we had a number of folks attend the 2017 NNERPP Annual Forum in Nashville, Tennessee. In addition to me, three other people attended: Two from JCPS and one from an independent R&D organization. Two others, both from the JCPS Research Office, wanted to attend but couldn’t because of previous commitments. It was great to see the high level of interest. We went to Nashville hoping to learn and seek guidance from other partnerships similar to ours. During individual consultations with other partnerships we learned that more established RPPs are in fact also struggling with the same issues we are grappling with, specifically getting funds to support the work. Although we didn’t get all the answers we were looking for, we did get useful ideas and insight.

One possible course of action

Knowing that I do not have access to many funding sources I need to be inventive. I came up with a course of action that may help our RPP get the (much needed) work done: Creating a research-intensive cognitive apprenticeship model in which our EdD students — most of whom work for JCPS and participate in a cohort model — could be actively engaged in our RPP research agenda. They would be conducting research on education issues of vital relevance to JCPS and carry out that research in an urban context. Grounded in a cognitive apprenticeship intellectual framework, I envision an intensive, supervised research internship because of my belief that methodological and research skills are best acquired when doctoral students engage in situated learning, are immersed in communities of practice, and become a community of learners.

In contrast to doctoral programs where classroom-learning activities (in this case research training) involve abstract knowledge delivered and received out of context, our doctoral students would be actively engaged with a significant applied research topic, learning relevant theory, methods, and practices in the real-world setting of an urban school district. They would learn through collaborative, social interaction with their peers and under the guidance and supervision of a senior, experienced, motivated, interdisciplinary, and collaborative team of expert researchers. [1]

This thumbnail sketch is how I envision the cognitive apprenticeship model. I shared this idea with the Interim JCPS Superintendent and some of my conferees at the NNERPP Annual Forum and got positive feedback from both for the idea. Now I have to sell it to my colleagues at the University of Louisville and RPP partners. (And also work on getting some money). I can’t wait to see what the next year brings!

[1] Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32-42.

Lave, J. (1988). Cognition in Practice: Mind, mathematics, and culture in everyday life. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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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.