The latest iteration of the nation's regional educational laboratories, launched this spring, has started to reach out to states, districts and other groups to tackle issues like college and career readiness.
Researchers of the labs for the West, Pacific and Northeast and Islands regions told American Educational Research Association conference attendees on Saturday that working with community members and educators is essential to define what it means to be college- and career-ready—and definitions may vary considerably from one region to the next.
In the Northeast, Julie Riordan of the Education Development Center said the lab joined the existing New England Secondary Schools Consortium of Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, which was already delving into the longitudinal data for high school graduation, college and even labor. Riordan said the lab has expanded the existing alliance's scope to include Massachusetts and New York, and pulled in districts from each state to develop a longitudinal study of students' college and career trajectories, with the goal to develop a new readiness assessment.
By contrast, Akiemi Glenn of McREL's Pacific lab said researchers often have to convince schools and community leaders that college is a good thing to begin with. In American Samoa, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and others in the region, Glenn said, students often only attend school for a few hours each day and many teachers themselves have only a high school degree.
Moreover, there are few jobs for children who do become educated: "Often in preparing students for college and career, we are preparing students to leave their home communities, and that has severe implications," Glenn said. "For many students there's pressure to participate in the extended family life; students are discouraged from attending college or getting careers outside of the family."
The lab is working to explore potential career paths that can add to the communities, such as environmental sustainability technology, through a research alliance with governments and schools in the territories of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa, both of which have only community colleges but no four-year universities.
"The different cultural perspectives and diverse leadership bring excitement and enthusiasm" to research problems, said John Easton, director of the Institute of Education Sciences, which oversees the labs. He hopes the alliances will lead to "much more not just communication but more listening on the part of the researchers."