Supporting Research-Practice Partnerships, Individually and Collectively, Through the REL Program

Jun 19, 2019

RELevant: Viewpoints and Findings from the REL Mid-Atlantic

Teacher and student
Photo by Rich Clement

Collaboration between education researchers and practitioners to develop and apply research evidence is at the heart of REL Mid-Atlantic. Over the past seven years, the RELs have taken research-practice partnerships (RPPs) to scale in communities around the country. Although the intensity and structure of RPPs vary, their value is that researchers and practitioners combine their expertise to collaboratively chart the path to progress. RPPs benefit from researchers’ knowledge and skills in interpreting local data or existing evidence to develop locally relevant insights for policy and practice. They also benefit from practitioners defining local issues and informing research questions, and providing contextual information to help interpret research evidence. Together, they identify evidence-informed strategies to achieve their objectives (Farrell et al. 2018). Collectively, lessons learned from RPPs add value for other stakeholders and can be shared more broadly. Here we describe how REL Mid-Atlantic facilitates RPPs and how we engage a broader network to share what we’ve learned.

Addressing challenging, real problems of practice. Understanding local context is key to producing actionable resources to address pressing problems. We work with stakeholders to co-develop new knowledge and research-based tools that help achieve progress toward addressing thorny issues. Our efforts partnering with the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) are one example of this approach. SDP approached the REL seeking support for enhancing, expanding, and diversifying its teacher pipeline. Informed by a growing body of research about the positive impact of a diverse teacher workforce on student outcomes, and with most of its teachers identifying as white, SDP sought to stem the tide of teacher attrition while increasing racial diversity within its teacher workforce. Through conversations with SDP staff, we built a collaborative relationship with SDP focused on addressing their attrition and pipeline challenges.

We began the collaboration with SDP by co-developing a teacher intake form to collect information about new hires’ teacher preparation. We also learned more about the district’s teacher residency program, which prompted us to synthesize evidence on teacher residency programs the district could use to inform its program. Our collaboration with SDP continues with an analysis of the district’s data to identify factors that are related to retention or attrition among its teachers.

Since engaging in this partnership, SDP has begun collecting data that could help it determine which new teacher characteristics are associated with success. It has used the fact sheet from REL Mid-Atlantic to inform a decision to increase funding for a teacher residency program that is successfully attracting teachers of color. Soon, we will study factors that explain retention among the district’s effective teachers; the next step will be to examine how to apply those findings to practice and policy within SDP in order to improve retention rates and diversify the teaching workforce.

Sharing what RPPs do. Although RPPs focus primarily on working with educators to address local problems of practice, RPPs can collectively produce greater value for their stakeholders by sharing about their work and experiences. REL Mid-Atlantic staff meet quarterly with our colleagues from the other nine RELs to share other RPPs’ work on key topics such as using evidence in education or educator training and support. These meetings showcase the local partnerships central to RPPs and what the broader education community might learn from them. For example, at the American Educational Research Association conference, five RELs made a joint presentation on collaborative research that each REL conducts with a local partner to address teacher mobility and retention. The first presenter discussed setting a research agenda on patterns in a district’s teacher workforce. The second presenter described the process of working with several states to reach consensus on terminology and reporting. The third presenter covered data preparation and shared strategies for handling data issues, and the fourth presenter described work that examined mobility among rural educators and ways to address stakeholder capacity building. The final presenter used examples from an analysis of teacher supply and demand to discuss dissemination and knowledge utilization. By sharing work that RELs have done with practitioners, presenters offered critical insights about the power and challenges of building collaborative relationships at all points of the research and evidence-building process.

Here at REL Mid-Atlantic, we are excited about the work we do together with our state and district partners to leverage and integrate our expertise, studying and addressing pressing problems of practice and sharing what we’ve done.


Farrell, C. C., Davidson, K. L., Repko-Erwin, M. E., Penuel, W. R., Quantz, M., Wong, H., Riedy, R., & Brink, Z. (2018). A descriptive study of the IES Researcher–Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research Program: Final report (Technical Report No. 3). Boulder, CO: National Center for Research in Policy and Practice.

Cross-posted from the REL Mid-Atlantic website.


The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not represent those of Mathematica.