Improving Child Outcomes Through A Researcher-Practitioner Partnership

Clare IrwinClare Irwin is highly experienced in measurement, research methods, and early education research. She applies her expertise across a wide range of activities including leading quantitative and qualitative studies of early childhood education, developing tools and tutorials for educators, and designing survey instruments. Currently, she serves as the lead for the Vermont Universal PreK Research Partnership, which is part of the work of the REL Northeast & Islands. She is also the co-Director of the Partnership for Early Education Research (PEER), a researcher-practitioner partnership that is working to improve preschool and child outcomes with a special focus on dual language learners. In this post, Clare describes her work with PEER, reflects on a recent event, and shares next steps in PEER's work.  

In 2014, Yale School of Medicine, in partnership with Education Development Center (EDC) and Cooperative Education Services (C.E.S.), received a researcher-practitioner partnership grant through the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The main purpose of this grant was to establish the Partnership for Early Education Research (PEER) by connecting with and engaging early education providers and school districts in the communities of Bridgeport, Norwalk, and Stamford, Connecticut. Together, we set out to conduct rigorous, collaborative, actionable research focused on identifying strategies to improve outcomes for children from birth through age 8.

Over the course of the two-year grant, we worked diligently to establish positive working relationships across these education stakeholders as well as the Connecticut State Department of Education and Office of Early Childhood. In addition, we worked collaboratively with our partners to develop a long-term research agenda that included four priority areas of focus:

  • Program quality, including pedagogy and curriculum and teacher training and professional development
  • Preparing for the kindergarten transition
  • Dual language learners
  • Family and community services

As we have moved forward to address these priority areas, PEER has worked to produce research that can inform early childhood education policy and practice at the local and state levels, increase access to high-quality early childhood education, and reduce disparities in educational outcomes. In winter 2016, PEER was awarded a grant through the Spencer Foundation that will allow us to address aspects of our research agenda related to dual language learners. By providing our partners with readily-accessible practice and policy briefs that summarize research on promising practices for assessing and instructing dual language learners and engaging families of dual language learners, we intend to inform their work with this vulnerable population.

This grant will also allow PEER to provide assistance to our partners related to their home language survey, build their data capacity to improve their understanding of their dual language learner population, and provide the funding necessary to partner with practitioners to translate findings from the research into meaningful professional development. This is a particularly important area of research for PEER since significant numbers of school-aged children speak another language at home--39 percent in Bridgeport, 33 percent in Norwalk, and 44 percent in Stamford (U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2006-2008). In fact, PEER’s director, Dr. Strambler, created this graphic that shows that dual language learners are heavily concentrated in poor, underperforming districts and highlights the resulting disparity in academic performance between dual language learner and non-dual language learner children.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, PEER stakeholders convened at the Leir Retreat Center in Ridgefield, Connecticut for the event Closing Gaps: Supporting and Engaging Families of Young Learners where they listened to an engaging keynote address by New York University’s Dr. Pamela Morris, participated in lively discussions around family and community engagement, and revisited PEER’s long-term research agenda. We were interested in engaging our partners in conversations that highlighted problems of practice that were currently on the agenda, those that were missing, and places where our member organizations may play a role in assisting in research efforts.

We walked away from this event with ideas for 11 possible studies and technical assistance projects related to our research agenda. Our partners suggested their organizations may be interested in participating in these activities by providing data, participating in professional development activities and learning communities, and engaging in data collection efforts. Over 50 educators, policymakers, funders, and researchers convened for the day. In the words of Norwalk ACTS’ Executive Director Anthony Allison, "It was so gratifying to participate in this week’s workshop and to see so many Norwalk ACTS’ members engaged in the collaborative work. The workshop reaffirmed for all of us that our Pre-Natal to 3rd Grade Workgroup is truly building an Early Childhood System that will have a significant, positive impact on this cohort of children. PEER’s Dual Language Learner (DLL) projects will enhance Norwalk ACTS’ capacity to mobilize our community members to support and amplify the DLL work already underway within Norwalk.”

We are now in the process of polling our partners regarding the study and project ideas that they are most interested in seeing us pursue next. This information will be used to decide what funding we seek to further address PEER’s long-term research agenda. In the months ahead, I'll blog again on our partnership's progress and lessons learned to help inform the many other researcher-practitioner partnerships that are underway nationwide.

Date: 

Friday, June 16, 2017 - 8:15am