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Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research


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FY Awards

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The School District of Philadelphia-Penn Graduate School of Education Researcher-Practitioner Partnership in Education Research

Year: 2014
Name of Institution:
University of Pennsylvania
Goal: Researcher-Practitioner Partnership
Principal Investigator:
Desimone, Laura
Award Amount: $399,818
Award Period: 2 years (7/1/2014-6/30/2016)
Award Number: R305H140097


Co-Principal Investigators: Tonya Wolford (School District of Philadelphia)

Education Issue: Like many large urban school districts in the United States, the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) has struggled with low student academic performance. As of the 2012-2013 school year, only 13% of the SDP-operated schools were making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), an accountability measure used each year to determine the achievement of individual schools and the school district as a whole. Approximately 57% of SDP schools are identified as needing school improvement because they failed to meet the AYP standards several years in a row. One of the district’s key reform strategies is to create a portfolio of successful schools by piloting new schools, identifying struggling schools for district-managed turnaround, and turning chronically underperforming schools over to charter operators. The Partnership’s research plan focuses on better understanding and supporting the improvement of the SDP’s schools, in particular, district-managed turnarounds (Promise Academies), charter-managed restarts (Renaissance Schools), as well as innovative new school models that are being piloted in the district. Specifically, researchers will focus on developing measures for evaluating school improvement and design a rigorous impact evaluation of these schools. As of 2014-2015, there are twelve Promise Academies, twenty restarts, and three new schools. Several innovative school models will be launched in 2015-16.

Partnership Significance and Goal: Under the Penn Compact, the university collaborates with multiple local organizations on initiatives to improve education, public health, economic development, and other areas of public life. Working with the SDP helps to fulfill Penn GSE’s responsibility to this university-wide compact. Penn GSE is a relatively small school that focuses on urban education in research and practice with multidisciplinary faculty, representing sociology, economics, policy analysis, psychology, as well as education. Penn GSE trains more Philadelphia teachers than any other institution, and many SDP district and school leaders hold Penn degrees.

Although the SDP and Penn GSE have a long history of working together, this award will create a new partnership because previous joint activities have been separate and unrelated to each other. Through this Partnership, both organizations plan to build a structured, formalized relationship, which currently does not exist. The goal of this partnership is to build a formal research alliance between the two organizations, which builds the capacity of both organizations; improves research-to-practice links; studies the district’s approaches to school reform, and establishes a foundation for future, larger scale collaborative impact studies.

Partners and Partnership Activities: The research activities will focus on Promise Academies and other District-run turnaround schools, Renaissance Charter Schools, new innovative school designs, and a group of comparison schools. The partners will use the 2-year project period to build partnership infrastructure and to execute a research plan. The team will build partnership infrastructure with an emphasis on creating working groups to execute the research plan and providing capacity-building mechanisms such as mini-conferences, student placements, and course practicums. The partners will also propose steps to institutionalize the partnership to withstand changes in leadership, such as including partnership activities in the scope of work of each organization and designating partnership space at each organization.

Setting: The activities and research will take place in the School District of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania.

Population/Sample: Approximately 137,512 students in 212 public schools and 16,000 students in twenty charter schools in grades K-12 will be included. Approximately 82% of its students are classified as being economically disadvantaged; 7% of students are classified as English Language Learners and 14% as having disabilities; 57% are African American, 18% are Hispanic/Latino, 14% are Caucasian/Euro- Americans, 6% are Asian/Pacific Islanders, and 4% identify as multiracial or other.

Initial Analysis: The research team will identify preliminary achievement trends in turnaround, restart, and new schools and study the quality of their implementation of school improvement plans, identifying strengths and weaknesses and outlining possibilities for improvement. The research team will use interviews, surveys, and observations to collect data on school context, instructional quality, and instructional leadership. Researchers will create and implement mechanisms for district educators and decision-makers to discuss and plan how to use findings from the study to inform decision making about adaptation and improvement, as well as to serve as the foundation for designing a larger scale impact study that would directly compare and test the efficacy of the various school improvement models, for instance, Promise Academies compared to Renaissance charters run by various charter operators.

Project Website:


Book chapter

Hill, K., and Desimone, L. (forthcoming). Professional Capacity Building Through Job-Embedded Learning. Handbook of Educational Supervision. (Eds. Sally Zepeda). Wiley-Blackwell.

Hill, K., Desimone, L.D., Wolford, T., and Reitano, A. (2017). Assessing School Turnaround: Using an Integrative Framework to Identify Levers for Success. In C.V. Meyers and M.J. Darwin (Eds.), Enduring Myths That Inhibit School Turnaround (pp. 173–192). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Desimone, L., Wolford, T, and Hill, K. (October-December 2016). Research-Practice: A Practical Conceptual Framework. AERA Open, 2(4), pp. 1–14.