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The Affordances and Constraints of Research-Practice Partnerships at the State Level

Fri, April 28, 10:35am to 12:05pm, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Floor: Meeting Room Level, Room 221 C


Objectives: The growing body of literature about research-practice partnerships (RPPs) has primarily focused on partnerships between researchers and practitioners in school districts (e.g., Coburn & Penuel, 2016; Snow, 2015). However, a number of RPPs at other levels of the U.S. education system have developed in recent years, including RPPs involving state agencies. We draw on our experiences in a state-level RPP to analyze the types of research questions that state-level RPPs are uniquely positioned to explore.

Theoretical Framework: Prior work analyzing the role of state education agencies (SEAs) documents how they mediate between federal education policy and practice within schools and districts (e.g., Aspen Institute, 2015; Brown, Hess, Lautzenheiser, & Owen, 2011; Elmore & Fuhrman, 1995; Kirst & Wirt, 2009; Weiss & McGuinn, 2016). In addition, researchers describe the increasing demands that changes in federal education policy have placed on state agencies, with the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015) granting unprecedented authority to states in designing accountability systems (Weiss & McGuinn, 2016).

Methods: Building on this scholarship about state agencies’ unique and expanding role in the education landscape, we describe the affordances and constraints of RPPs at the state level. Our partnership focuses on analyzing outcomes for English learners (ELs) in Oregon, and we map the types of research questions our RPP has explored – including descriptive and quasi-experimental analyses – onto the responsibilities of SEAs (Aspen Institute, 2015) and compare these to the types of research questions explored by district-level RPPs.

Data: To examine the research questions explored by our partnership, we use a variety of documents created as part of our RPP, including notes from monthly partnership meetings, feedback from annual partnership reviews, and slides for 10 presentations created to disseminate our findings. To examine the research questions explored by other RPPs, particularly district-level RPPs, we draw from research published by RPPs, including special issues of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (Dynarski & Berends, 2015) and the Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (Yakimowski, 2015) devoted to findings of RPPs, as well as abstracts of all RPPs funded by the Institute of Education Sciences and the Spencer Foundation. In addition, when describing our partnership’s findings, we use a longitudinal database with eight years of statewide administrative data for all students enrolled in Oregon’s public K-12 schools.

Results: Given the increasing range of federal policies that SEAs are required to establish and implement, we find that state-level RPPs are uniquely positioned to investigate questions related to these policies, including questions about accountability systems. On the other hand, state-level RPPs are less well-positioned than district-level RPPs to investigate questions centered around classroom practice.

Significance: Because SEAs have limited capacity and also have an increasingly important role in establishing and implementing education policy, particularly under the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015), RPPs have an important role to play in supporting SEAs to analyze policy implementation and policy effects. Understanding the types of research questions that state-level RPPs are best-positioned to answer may support the development of future partnerships of this type.