The Benefits of Research-Practice Partnership Work
This week we are hearing from the Madison Education Partnership (MEP). Today's post is the practitioner perspective on the partnership work introduced in Monday's post: Can Kindergarten for 4-Year-Olds Help Close Equity Gaps?
This post is by Jaymes Pyne, Graduate Researcher, and Beth Vaade, Co-Director for the Madison Education Partnership, who talked with Andrew Statz, Executive Director of Research, Accountability & Data Use for the Madison Metropolitan School District.
A perennial challenge for most research-practice partnerships is maintaining the mutually beneficial part of the equation. For the Madison Education Partnership (MEP) - a research-practice partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) and the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) - this challenge inspires the core functions of the organization.
Academic research can be abstract and the process lengthy, leaving practitioners in school districts wondering when if ever they will see research findings relevant to their work. MEP confronts this challenge by first ensuring that researchers and leaders on both sides of the partnership see value in the work performed and supported by the partnership. The partnership performs three functions:
1) Broadening the types of research available
2) Keeping district leaders informed of the most promising evidence-based practices
3) Creating new findings that contribute to policy decisions and the literature base
The first function is that MEP broadens the type of research available by addressing goals that are difficult to pursue given the district's constraints. Some work needs years of development and implementation to occur, and that kind of work can get crowded out by more immediately pressing requests.
According to Andrew Statz, Executive Director of Research, Accountability & Data Use for the district and a member of MEP's steering committee, the school district's work is "built around providing good information to make effective decisions, but it's usually responsive and evaluative in nature. That means quick response times and constant distractions from long-term goals." MEP allows an avenue for taking on longer-term research agendas that do not have to conform to immediate needs.
MEP also draws on active and engaged researchers to share with district leaders the most promising evidence-based practices in schools. "[Researchers at the district] don't always know what promising practices are coming up in other districts or from the academic world," says Statz. "There's always a desire to be on the leading edge, but only if it's seen as a 'sure thing' and worth the district's time and effort. But sometimes you have to try things that have strong clinical but not practical evidence too." MEP helps fill these gaps.
Finally, the work of MEP must be mutually beneficial to both partners and contribute to policy and program decisions as well as the literature base. To ensure this, MEP sets the topics with both goals in mind, and structures research and dissemination to make those goals possible. Says Statz: "MEP forms a bridge between research methods, emerging district priorities, and new promising practices. It has the advantage of bringing two cultures together...to learn about ourselves and find out what is working for families and students."
By bringing together the cultures of a diverse urban school district and a public university, MEP strives to fulfill the promise of these three functions of the partnership. This "helps the district programs perform better," as Statz says, with the ultimate goal of bettering the education and lives of Wisconsin's children.