Yesterday we held an inaugural meeting of a Design Team to further shape our idea for an education research exchange within the School of Education here at UW-Madison. Here’s what we found.
I usually write about research when the number-crunching is done and findings are ready to share with the world. It’s rare for me to observe a project being rolled out at the beginning.
FAST was developed by Lynn McDonald more than two decades ago. It goal is to remove the barriers to student achievement by improving relationships within families, and between families and schools. FAST has received funding from many sources, has located its research home at WCER, and has been proven effective by a number of agencies. It now operates in 46 states and 13 countries.
The FAST program has been administered in Philadelphia for some time, under the leadership of a nonprofit organization called Turning Points for Children. Now it’s being scaled up in Philadelphia with support from a $15 million grant from the US Department of Education. The project will last five years, involve 60 schools, and improve the cultural capital of hundreds of families. Program effectiveness will be measured by staff from the American Institutes for Research.
Everyone I met was there to work together to improve student success. Each had unique skills and resources to contribute and each organization had a distinct mission but and shared overlapping interests
In two day-long meetings we were able to nail down agreement in three major areas: How to best implement the project among the dozens of schools, how to best evaluate the project’s effectiveness, and how to best disseminate the importance of the work.
During the second day of meetings we had to scurry several blocks over to city hall for a press conference to announce the collaboration and explain its goals of boosting student achievement. Held in a gigantic, palatial room, the press conference featured the superintendent of schools, a spokesperson from the mayor’s office, and representatives from our collaborating organizations. Journalists from print media and TV filled the aisle. Parents who participate in the FAST program created their own cheering section.
The two-day schedule was packed, so there was no time to take advantage of the city’s many museums, theaters, and concert halls. I did manage to visit one used-book store. Temperatures there were in the low 30s, a welcome break from Madison’s single digits.
I return home knowing people from several organizations. I hope to meet with them again.
Writing in Education Week Sarah D. Sparks hits the nail on the head. “Researchers often argue for the necessity of translating study results to classroom practice, while lamenting how rarely it happens.”
In the newly released “Research-Practice Partnerships: A Strategy for Leveraging Research for Educational Improvement in School Districts,” the foundation paints a picture of how more egalitarian partnerships develop and thrive.
You can down load the free report. “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.”
Wel’ll talk about this approach during the February 19 CESA meeting here at WCER.
Dropout prevention will be a major topic of discussion at the Feb.19 Engaged Research Conference here at UW-Madison. A study published in 2011 by The Campbell Collaboration finds that most school- and community-based programs are effective in decreasing school dropout (PDF, 62 p.). “Given the minimal variation in effects across program types, the main conclusion from this review is that dropout prevention and intervention programs, regardless of type, will likely be effective if they are implemented well and are appropriate for the local environment. We recommend that policy makers and practitioners choosing dropout prevention programs consider the cost-effectiveness of programs, and choose those that fit best with local needs as well as implementer abilities and resources.”
Staff from Wisconsin’s Cooperative Educational Service Agencies (CESAs) and others will convene February 19 for an annual meeting offered jointly by the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) and the Office of Education Outreach and Partnerships (EOP) within the UW-Madison School of Education.
(Update 22 Feb.: Here’s a review by Cliff White, WCER web content developer)
8:30 Registration and continental breakfast
9:00 Welcome from Dean Julie Underwood and WCER Director Adam Gamoran
9:15 Short skit: Finding a Match
9:30 Topic 1 Games, Learning, and Assessment
Naomi Chesler, David Williamson Shaffer, Constance Steinkuehler, Kurt Squire
10:45 Topic 2 Dropout Prevention and an Early Warning System
1:15 Topic 3 Formative Assessment of Leadership for High Stakes Accountability Richard Halverson and colleagues
2:30 Topic 4 English Language Learners: Standards, Instruction, Assessment & PD
Timothy Boals (WIDA) and colleagues
3:30 Wrap-up and ideas for next year.
Education researchers and practitioners face several challenges when engaging in and applying evidenced-based research. Practitioners can serve as a rich source of information that can inform future research questions and grant proposals. At the same time, practitioners frequently seek research that will guide and inform their improvement efforts. Researchers often seek assistance in recruiting schools and districts to participate in research projects.
We envision that reciprocal and mutually beneficial research connections can be made more intentionally and more systematically. A Research Exchange in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education would offer four primary services to better serve research faculty, staff, students, and practitioners:
1) a researcher-practitioner ‘matchmaking service’;
2) a searchable repository of the SOE’s completed and ongoing research;
3) a ‘best practices’ guide to addressing districts’ and schools’ research needs; and
4) support for stakeholders and organizations to connect with each other and form mutually beneficial partnerships related to broad impact and application of research findings.
We propose that the first step in bringing this idea to reality would be to appoint a Design Team composed of representatives from the SoE and community. As its initial charge a Design Team would first respond to: Funding and sustainability; Physical location; Administration and governance, Staffing, and How the Exchange would coordinate with other SoE units (WCER’s evaluation resources group [ERG], WCEPS, and the SOE Office of Education Outreach and Partnerships).
We offer this concept at an opportune time. At the Federal and state level, great importance is being placed on research, with growing attention being given to research that has value and application to the pervasive and complex challenges facing our schools, the community, and beyond.