by Bill Penuel, PI of NCRPP, & Dan Gallagher, Seattle Public Schools.
Educators, researchers, and policy makers share a prevalent desire for evidence-based programs in education, and relatively long-standing policies—continuing with the Every Student Succeeds Act—have called for these research-based interventions. However, a big divide exists between almost all research and practice in education.
In hopes of bridging this divide, there is a lot of buzz these days about research-practice partnerships (RPPs). RPPs are long-term collaborations between researchers and educators that are focused on studying and addressing problems of practice. They are increasingly popular, because everyone recognizes that the complex problems facing education require an “all hands on deck” approach to addressing them. Researchers and educators working together can diagnose those problems effectively, and they can also design, test, and develop evidence for solutions to those problems together. Importantly, in a partnership, researchers stick around also to help educators address the new problems that arise from implementation of potential solutions.
Our book, Creating Research-Practice Partnerships in Education, offers guidance for both researchers and educators seeking to create RPPs. We wrote this book because we saw a need for something practical that RPPs could use to help organize their work. To us, one of the most important parts of the book are a set of tools and activities that partners can use to build and maintain healthy and productive RPPs. These include tools for helping identify potential partners, for structuring initial conversations, and for promoting equity in partnerships. There’s even a protocol for diagnosing the health of your partnership.
We also wanted something that faculty preparing future educational researchers and leaders could use in their courses that could give their students a sense of what RPPs are like and why they are catching on among so many people. The book includes stories from our own partnerships in urban and suburban environments, as well as from different types of partnerships across the country. The stories illustrate ways potential partners have gotten to know one another, develop a focus for their joint work, and address the challenges that arise within RPPs. These can also give funding agencies a sense of the potential of partnerships and what to look for in proposals as signs of a true, mutualistic partnership.
We see wide applicability of the guidelines we offer in our book for creating partnerships. For one, partnerships that co-design tools and resources to support implementation of ambitious new standards can produce professional development designs and curriculum materials that are both effective and usable. Second, partnerships can help districts and states adapt programs that have been tried and found to be effective elsewhere. For example, a partnership in Virginia between university researchers and educators in a local school district helped teachers in that district successfully adapt a brief intervention focused on helping students build a growth mindset. Third, partnerships can help districts implement policies. Research-practice partnerships may be especially valuable sources of help to districts and states implementing state plans related to the Every Student Succeeds Act.
We hope our book, alongside other resources related to partnership that can be found at the Research+Practice Collaboratory website, can help build even greater awareness of the potential of RPPs.