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REL Central Ask A REL Response

Data Use

June 2021


What characteristics of cross-sector STEM partnerships (such, as STEM ecosystems, collaborative networks, or research practitioner partnerships) are associated with increased STEM learning?


Following an established research protocol, REL Central conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to help answer the question. The resources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic databases, and general Internet search engines. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We have not evaluated the quality of the references provided in this response, and we offer them only for your information. We compiled the references from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant sources may exist.

Research References

Allen, P. J., Brown, Z. & Noam, G. G. (2020). STEM learning ecosystems: Building from theory toward a common evidence base. International Journal for Research on Extended Education, 8(1), 80––96. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“An innovative system-building initiative known as the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice (SLECoP) is transforming U.S. STEM education through cross-sector partnerships between schools, afterschool and summer programs, libraries, museums, and businesses, among others. Although logic models exist to describe how SLEs can make positive contributions toward youth STEM learning in theory, it is unknown how individual SLEs are motivated or equipped to collect the evidence needed to demonstrate their value or abilities to solve the problems they were formed to address. The present study describes the results of a 34-item qualitative survey–completed by leaders of 37 SLEs from four U.S. regions–designed to understand where SLEs are in their evaluation planning, implementing, and capacity-building processes. We found that most SLEs were championed by the extended education sector, and all were highly motivated to conduct evaluation and assessment. Most communities reported a willingness to create a shared vision around data collection, which will help researchers and practitioners track, understand, and improve STEM quality and outcomes in and out of school.”

Allen, P. J., Lewis-Warner, K., & Noam, G. G. (2020). Partnerships to transform STEM learning: A case study of a STEM learning ecosystem. Afterschool Matters, 31, 30–41. Retrieved from

From the introduction:

“One of the most notable transformations in the STEM educational landscape in the last decade is the rise of the out-of-school time (OST) sector as a leading provider of STEM enrichment (Krishnamurthi, Ottinger, & Topol, 2013; National Research Council, 2015). High-quality OST programs provide young people with rich, engaging learning experiences, coupling STEM concepts with hands-on activities that foster youth voice and choice and apply STEM to real-world social contexts (Lyon, Jafri, & St. Louis, 2012; Noam & Shah, 2014). A large and growing literature documents the positive effects of OST STEM on youth outcomes (e.g., Allen et al., 2019; Dabney et al., 2012; Young, Ortiz, & Young, 2017). Practitioners, researchers, and policymakers show increasing interest in strategic partnerships among OST providers, K–12 schools, and other community organizations (Anthony & Morra, 2016; Bevan et al., 2010; National Research Council, 2015) to improve access to quality STEM learning, especially among underserved youth, and to increase the number of young people who pursue STEM careers (National Research Council, 2015).

To better understand how communities can develop and leverage partnerships within and beyond OST to improve STEM programming, we conducted an in-depth case study of one of the first STEM learning ecosystems in the U.S.: the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance in Oklahoma, which is working to improve STEM teaching and learning from its home base in the OST sector. This article begins by describing the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice (CoP), a national initiative that cultivates dynamic community partnerships to provide high-quality STEM learning. After presenting our research frame and outlining our methodology, we summarize key findings from the Tulsa alliance, focusing on how an OST-led STEM learning ecosystem forms, develops, acts, evolves, and sustains itself over time. Our conclusions focus on how the OST field can lead a national movement to transform STEM education by developing strong partnerships with schools, businesses, and STEM institutions; by investing in quality standards; and by building data systems and common measurements to support continuous improvement.”

Falk, J. H., Dierking, L. D., Staus, N. L., Wyld, J. N., Bailey, D. L., & Penuel, W. R. (2016). The Synergies research–practice partnership project: A 2020 Vision case study. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 11(1), 195–212. Retrieved from
Full text available at

From the abstract:

“This paper, describes Synergies, an on-going longitudinal study and design effort, being conducted in a diverse, under-resourced community in Portland, Oregon, with the goal of measurably improving STEM learning, interest and participation by early adolescents, both in school and out of school. Authors examine how the work of this particular research-practice partnership is attempting to accommodate the six principles outlined in this issue: (1) to more accurately reflect learning as a lifelong process occurring across settings, situations and time frames; (2) to consider what STEM content is worth learning; (3) to examine learning as a cultural process, involving varied repertoires of practice across learners’ everyday lives; (4) to directly involve practitioners (and learners) in the research process; (5) to document how existing and emerging technologies and new media are, and will continue, to shape and redefine the content and practice of STEM learning research; and, (6) to take into account the broader socio-cultural-political contexts of the needs and concerns of the larger global society.”

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2020). NASA’s science activation program: Achievements and opportunities. The National Academies Press. Retrieved from

From the description:

“The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is one of the United States’ leading federal science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) agencies and plays an important role in the landscape of STEM education. In 2015, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) created the Science Activation (SciAct) program to increase the overall coherence of SMD’s education efforts, to support more effective, sustainable, and efficient use of SMD science discoveries for education, and to enable NASA scientists and engineers to engage more effectively and efficiently in the STEM learning environment with learners of all ages. SciAct is now transitioning into its second round of funding, and it is beneficial to review the program’s portfolio and identify opportunities for improvement. NASA’s Science Activation Program: Achievements and Opportunities assesses SciAct’s efforts towards meeting its goals. The key objectives of SciAct are to enable STEM education, improve U.S. scientific literacy, advance national education goals, and leverage efforts through partnerships. This report describes and assesses the history, current status, and vision of the program and its projects. It also provides recommendations to enhance NASA’s efforts through the SciAct program.”

Ralls, D. Bianchi, L. & Choudry, S. (2020). ‘Across the divide’: Developing professional learning ecosystems in STEM education. Research in Science Education, 50(6), 2463–2481. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This paper reports the findings from a cross-sector research project designed to question how the development of university-school partnerships can influence university academics’ pedagogic practice in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Findings from this research are offered at time when, in parallel with countries around the world, universities and schools in England are being encouraged to review and reflect on the quality of teaching and professional development, in line with the Teaching Excellence Framework consultation (2016) and the Standards for Professional Development (Department for Education 2016b) (Bianchi 2017). This paper seeks to develop a coherent response to two major issues; the policy imperative to develop greater science expertise in schools and to improve the quality of teaching and learning of science in higher education institutions. The research seeks to advance the notion of critical reflection on the quality of cross-sector STEM teaching and learning, by moving to what the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) (2015, p.15) terms a ‘meso’ networked level’ of professional development in STEM education. This paper highlights how interpreting the imperative of constant change in education reform as a relational, outward looking endeavor offers the potential to help both universities and schools to better address the global education challenges that lie ahead.”

Regional Educational Laboratory West. (2017). A compilation of research on cross-sector education and career partnerships. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from

From the narrative background:

“ Literature on partnerships that cut across education and non-education sectors suggests that such cross-sector collaboration can be a key strategy to strengthen education and career pathways, especially for underrepresented or minority students. The literature covered in this compilation focuses on cross-sector collaboration for education improvement, which involves partnerships between education organizations and business, government, or civic organizations, and on cross-segmental partnerships, which involve collaboration across segments of K–12 and postsecondary education. The literature describes a variety of trends, types, and approaches to partnerships, from public-private partnerships and P–16 or P–20 initiatives, to cradle-to-career efforts and collective impact approaches (Henig, Riehl, Houston, Rebell, & Wolff, 2016; Henig, Riehl, Rebell, & Wolff, 2015). This REL West compilation of research is designed to support a series of conversations about how this literature can inform the development and strengthening of similar partnerships in Arizona. The development of this compilation was led by REL West’s Arizona Partnership for Education and Career Success (APECS) Alliance in partnership with the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) and Arizona Career Leadership Network (AzCLN).

The compilation is intended to help APECS partners better understand the literature on education and career–focused cross-sector collaboration and to better understand potential implications for strengthening partnerships and programs, particularly around data use. This compilation taps into the literature on the historical context of education and career partnerships; the ways in which partnerships are created and sustained; and practices that may strengthen collaboration, data use, and data sharing to support the goal of improving students’ education outcomes and career outcomes.

Guided by feedback from key APECS partners on the content and usefulness of the findings, REL West has organized information in both narrative and annotated forms. The first part of the document provides narrative summaries of the history and types of cross-sector partnerships; how partnerships have been described and measured; the development and key elements of cross-sector partnerships; and some high-level considerations highlighted by the literature. The second part of this document, ‘Annotated References,’ provides brief summaries or excerpts from a selection of research reports, literature, and resources that are organized into categories according to their focus on collective impact efforts; cross-sector collaboration (general context, best practices, and historical and current efforts); public-private partnerships; P–16/P–20 initiatives; school-business partnerships; and school-family-community partnerships. Appendix A outlines the methodology used to develop this compilation document.”

Additional Resources

National Science Foundation. (2020). STEM education for the future: A visioning report. Retrieved from

From the preface:

“Rapid technological advancements and societal changes are our daily reality. While the future of work, the economy, and society is uncertain, one thing is not: To maintain the nation’s leadership in science and technology discovery, we must create an approach to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education that prepares and advances the U.S. for this future. Experts agree that science, technology, engineering and math will drive new innovations across disciplines, making use of computational power to accelerate discoveries and finding creative ways to work across disciplinary silos to solve big challenges. To remain competitive going forward, our nation must continue to design and build a thriving innovation economy, supported by a citizenry that is invested in the STEM enterprise. To succeed, the nation must invest in new research and innovation infrastructures that include all people, regardless of their background.”

Penuel, W. R., Clark, T. L., & Bevan, B. (2016). Infrastructures to support equitable STEM learning across settings. Afterschool Matters, 24, 12–20. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract:

“STEM learning is a process that unfolds through dynamic interactions over time and across settings. Formal education in schools is not the only–or necessarily the most significant–context for STEM learning. This paper outlines principles for building a diverse and connected ecosystem and the features of a STEM learning infrastructure to promote equity. The five design principles to support equitable learning across settings include the following: (1) Draw on Values and Practices to Articulate Shared Learning Goals; (2) Involve Stakeholders in Co-Design; (3) Make Connections across Settings; (4) Name Youth as Contributors; and (5) Intentionally Broker Learning across Settings. The authors’ recommendations are derived from a review of literature on general strategies for leveraging diversity in STEM learning and on specific programmatic efforts to promote young people’s learning across settings. The research on equity shares a premise that diverse everyday experiences are a resource for–rather than a barrier to–young people’s learning. The goal of STEM education, then, should be not to eliminate perceived deficits in students, their families, or their communities, but to find connections between each of these and disciplinary knowledge and practices. Because the literature on programs that make explicit attempts to promote learning across settings is relatively new and sparse, the authors sought to identify programs that were grounded in this premise and that had some evidence of positive youth outcomes. The review included designs that show at least some promise of expanding youth access to STEM learning in and across settings. The result is a set of principles for designing equitable STEM learning ecosystems and a corresponding set of infrastructures necessary to support such systems.”

Tapprich, W., Grandgenett, N., Leas, H., Rodie, S., Shuster, R., Schaben, C., & Cutucache, C. (2016). Enhancing the STEM ecosystem through teacher-researcher partnerships. Metropolitan Universities, 27(1), 71–85. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“STEM faculty at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) have partnered with teachers and administrators in the Omaha Public Schools (OPS) to implement a Teacher-Researcher Partnership Program. This program establishes resources and infrastructure that engage K–12 science teachers in scientific research experiences. In the first implementation of this program, eleven UNO faculty mentors, drawn from several STEM disciplines, were matched with eleven OPS teachers to conduct genuine research projects in support of their teaching.”

White, E., & Shakibnia, A. F. (2019). State of STEM: Defining the landscape to determine high-impact pathways for the future workforce. Proceedings of the Interdisciplinary STEM Teaching and Learning Conference, 3, Article 4, 23–56. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

&ldquoThis article attempts to address the workforce crisis with implications for economic competitiveness and national defense faced by America and the dichotomy of STEM needs and available employees. Businesses struggle to fill critical skilled roles in STEM occupations and thus suffer sluggish growth. In fact, some estimate up to 2.4 million STEM jobs go unfilled College graduates in STEM fields struggle to find jobs. STEM jobs have doubled as a proportion of all jobs since the industrial revolution. New jobs and entirely new fields are being created daily. Estimates suggest that 65 percent of children entering elementary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that are not on our radar yet. More students are in college than ever before, and STEM graduates out-earn those in non-STEM fields 12–30 percent across all education levels. It seems impossible for both these narratives to be accurate. Yet, impossibly, they are both quite real. These two realities demand a greater understanding of the STEM talent ecosystem and a greater commitment to action. Both employers who have jobs to fill and job seekers are facing myriad confusing messages, options, and challenges. Considering this complexity, it is tempting to put our energy towards finding a single solution–the one program, metric, or organization that has all the answers. Since the National Science Foundation (NSF) coined the term ‘STEM’ nearly two decades ago, we have seen an explosion in interest, investment, programs, research, and data all seeking such a solution.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

National Network of Education Research-Practice Partnerships:

From the website:

“We aim to develop, support, and connect partnerships between education agencies and research institutions in order to improve the relationships between research, policy, and practice.”

STEM Ecosystems:

From the website:

“Launched in Denver in 2015 at an international global conference, the STEM Learning Ecosystems is a Global Community of Practice with extensive sharing of resources and expertise among leaders from education, business and industry, non-profits, philanthropy and others. The 94 communities selected from across the world compose a global Community of Practice and have demonstrated cross-sector collaborations to deliver rigorous, effective preK-16 instruction in STEM learning. These collaborations happen in schools and beyond the classroom–in afterschool and summer programs, at home, in science centers, libraries and other places – both virtual and physical. They spark young people’s engagement, develop their knowledge, strengthen their persistence and nurture their sense of identity and belonging in STEM disciplines. Students connected to ecosystems and the pathways they create are intended to be able to connect what they learn in and out-of-school with real-world learning opportunities, leading to STEM-related careers and opportunities.”


Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “Collaboration management”
  • “Cross-sector collaborations”
  • “Cross-sector collaborative network”
  • “Cross-sector education partnerships” 
  • “Cross-sector STEM partnerships”
  • “Institutional cooperation”
  • “Learning ecosystem”
  • “Program effectiveness”
  • “Private collaborative partnership”
  • “Public collaborative partnership”
  • “STEM ecosystems”
  • “STEM education”

Databases and Resources

REL Central searched ERIC for relevant references. ERIC is a free online library, sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences, of over 1.6 million citations of education research. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and Google.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: The search and review included references published between 2011 and 2021.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority was given to ERIC, followed by Google Scholar and Google.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were used in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types, such as randomized controlled trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive analyses, and literature reviews; and (b) target population and sample.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Central Region (Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Central at Marzano Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Central under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0005, administered by Marzano Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.