May 16 2018

Higher Education and K–12 Form Partnerships to Help Educators and Learners

Researchers, instructors and teachers share expertise to boost student achievement.

When K–12 schools need help, they often find it with higher education experts. And just as often, colleges benefit as much as the schools.

That’s what Megan Tolin found when several schools approached her department for help with successful practices for blended learning. She’s the director of technology, innovation and pedagogy at the Indiana University School of Education, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis.

“It’s a way to help grow professionals in our area,” Tolin said in an interview with EdTech at CoSN2018. “It also helps us as a school of education. It allows us to put pre-service teachers in classrooms where teachers are doing good work.”

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K–12 and College Educators Use Data in Evolving Partnerships

In the past, partnerships between colleges and K–12 schools often centered around high-school-to-college transitions or programs that enable students to earn advanced college credit. Today’s collaborations focus more on social responsibility. That can take the form of formal research studies, professional development, or joint technology and curriculum initiatives.

For example, Education Dive reports that researchers at the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute partnered with Chicago Public Schools on a data-driven initiative to keep students on track to graduate. Every six weeks, the Institute gives school principals a “freshmen-on-track” metric for each student, and individual schools and teachers then use that information to determine the best academic intervention. So far, this successful program has been reproduced in 20 university-district partnerships.

The Houston Independent School District (HISD) and Rice University formed another successful partnership. HERC, or the Houston Education Research Consortium, aims to create evidence-based programs to close socioeconomic gaps.

Although it took nearly a year for the university and HISD to create a longitudinal database, the results have been well worth the effort. To date, HERC has analyzed the quality of K–12 initiatives and policy changes to build better programs for both students and teachers. HERC now serves seven districts in addition to HISD.

Researchers Gain Access to Granular Student Data

Creating partnerships between researchers and practitioners has become more urgent than ever. In a journal article for Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, authors Ruth N. Lopez Turley and Carla Stevens note that districts facing budget cuts benefit greatly, as research institutions can provide valuable support in gathering and analyzing data and in serving as an external decision-making resource.

But universities also have much to gain from these initiatives. Without schools to supply data, many higher education researchers rely on national data sets, which rarely provide the specific information they need. Even if researchers can gain access to data, it’s difficult to use that research to directly affect specific K–12 institutions.

Because such partnerships may involve sensitive student data, it is critical for participants to build trusting relationships. In the ideal scenario, according to Turley and Stevens, “Leaders from both institutions mutually agree with and are invested in the larger mission of the partnership, can communicate effectively across institutions, and are open and willing to learn from each other.”

In a conversation with Education Dive, Dr. Janice Jackson, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, agreed. “There’s…this trusting relationship that allows us to give them access [to student-level data before the district even looks at it] and for them to be completely honest with us,” she said.

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