Investigating How Research-Practice Partnerships Build the “Absorptive Capacity” of Districts to Use Research Knowledge

How do research–practice partnerships promote the use of research evidence in school districts?

The current policy environment encourages evidence-based decision making as a key strategy for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of schools. Research–practice partnerships—long-term structured collaborations—are a promising strategy for improving the use of research evidence in school districts. These partnerships vary in how they define and tackle problems, how they formalize knowledge and develop tools, and how they work with districts to use what is learned. This revised proposal will consider two partnership types: a research alliance and a design-research partnership. In research alliances, school district officials collaborate with university researchers to define an agenda focused on studying local problems of policy and practice. In design-research partnerships, researchers and school leaders develop tools and processes to support educational improvement. The proposed study will examine these models of partnering to learn how differences in their design and strategy shape school districts’ capacity to interpret and use research. The first case study will focus on a design-research partnership among the Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP), the University of Pennsylvania, and the Baltimore City Schools. The second partnership involves the Research Alliance for New York City Schools at New York University and the New York City Department of Education. Glazer and Robinson will use a longitudinal, qualitative case study design to explore how variation in the two partnerships bears on the development of each district’s capacity to interpret and use research. They will observe dialogue and social exchanges during meetings among partners and with district staff during 12–14 visits over 2.5 years of data collection.

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