Addressing Postsecondary Issues by First Getting the Problems Right
Today's post is the practitioner perspective on Monday's post: How Can We Identify the Most Pressing Problems in Postsecondary Readiness and Success?
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is making a big push to ensure all our students complete requirements to become eligible to go to — and then actually attend — a four-year university in California.
So when our postsecondary-focused research-practice partnership (RPP) — the Los Angeles Education Research Institute — combed through data and discovered a population of our students were eligible to go to college but were not attending, we saw it as a problem worth examining closely.
This issue was top of mind for me when I attended a convening on July 11, 2018, in Portland, Oregon, co-hosted by the National Network of Education Research-Practice Partnerships (NNERPP) and Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest.
The event brought together practitioners and researchers from six urban RPPs focused on postsecondary education, as well as representatives from nine RELs and other stakeholders (see Monday's blog post for more details).
Here are three main takeaways from the convening:
1. It's important to clearly articulate problems before trying to find solutions
At the convening, we created and presented practitioner-oriented problem (POP) statements that relate to issues we are experiencing in our home districts or states. This deliberate focus on the problems — rather than jumping ahead to finding solutions — was key to the meeting and a big takeaway for me.
With what we are facing in LAUSD, for example, — eligible students in the district not attending college — it makes a lot of sense to first spend time exploring the problem more deeply to then be able to identify more targeted solutions.
For example, we need to ask more questions about why some of our kids might not be pursuing college. How many are going into the military? How many are taking up careers in the trades? How many delay college? Why might they choose these alternatives over going to college?
Once we know more about the reasons why some eligible students are not going to college, and thus get to the heart of the real problem, we'll have a better sense of how to help our students while they are still in high school.
2. It's important to connect with researchers
Part of what makes RPPs unique is that researchers and practitioners work closely together and connect regularly, so this is nothing new for me. But what the NNERPP-REL Northwest convening allowed me to do was to come together with researchers from across the country, not just my own RPP, to dig deeper into problems like this.
We see RPPs as formative systems that create methods to use information to really improve what we are doing. Learning what the research says in other cities can help illuminate our own problems and solutions for improvement.
3. It's important to connect with other practitioners
I also appreciated having the opportunity at the convening to talk to other practitioners about how research is being used in their school districts.
For example, it was useful to discuss how we can actually implement the strategies we are gathering from research, as well as how we can push out information on research-based practices to the educators involved in the day-to-day implementation of practices and get them engaged. It was extremely valuable to have the chance to compare strategies, discuss common problems, and learn more about what works (or doesn't work) in other districts across the country.
As we move forward, we'll have a follow-up conversation with our RPP to unpack our data and dig deeper into our questions pertaining to why eligible LAUSD students are not going to college, based on the POP statements we developed at the convening.
In addition, our RPP is working on a school exit survey, and the results are coming back from the class of 2018, which will help us get a better understanding of what the trends may be. We look forward to then share what we learn with our colleagues from the RELs and RPPs also working on issues related to postsecondary education to continue to develop our collective knowledge base.