Tools & Resources
Frequently Asked Questions
- How does SERP differ from other efforts to link education research and practice?
- How does the SERP effort relate to the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation?
- Aren’t the Regional Education Laboratories already charged to do what SERP is proposing to do?
- What about all the existing efforts to link research and practice in education?
- In what way would the business community be involved in SERP?
How does SERP differ from other efforts to link education research and practice?
First, the SERP enterprise brings a level of coherence to education research and development that is now lacking. A key element of that coherence is the linking of work on learning and instruction with work on schools as organizations, and education policy. Good work in each of these areas has limited impact when it is isolated from the others.
Second, the SERP enterprise provides an institutional infrastructure for building and supporting long term relationships between researchers and practitioners, transferring some of the most onerous requirements of conducting research on practice from the researchers and schools to the SERP organization. Ongoing, relationships with field sites allows promising programs and practices to be tested in multiple sites so that key features of the context that support or undermine success can be studied.
Third, SERP focuses at every point on the follow-through needed for practice. This means that research and development are closely linked. And issues of dissemination and scaling up cannot be assumed to follow from good R&D. They are themselves later stages in the program of R&D that seeks to learn how to support teacher learning and school improvement.
Finally, as a public-private partnership SERP brings a new set of funding partners to the table. This unique aspect of SERP gives those responsible for delivering education services - state and local governments - a considerable share of the “ownership” of the R&D. But it also creates the opportunity for private businesses, foundations, and federal agencies to productively join in R&D efforts that support their own long term goals.
How does the SERP effort relate to the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation?
SERP and the federal agencies involved in education research share several important goals: improving the quality of education research and development, making education research more responsive to the needs of practitioners, and insulating the education research enterprise from excessive political influence.
On several dimensions, the SERP proposal is quite different from – and complimentary to – the IES and NSF effort programs. To be useful to classroom practice, much of the needed research and development must go on in the classroom context. The distinct roles of the federal and state governments require that the former be some distance from the classroom. Federal agencies can certainly make funds available for classroom-based research. However the transaction costs for researchers and schools to work together is high on both sides. Schools that would like researchers to help them address specific problems of practice have few pathways that will lead to the relatively small community of researchers who want to work in schools and who are interested in the problem at hand. Similarly, researchers who are interested in working in schools confront a daunting array of challenges—from finding schools that would be open to researchers, to negotiating access to individual classes and permissions for all students involved in the research.
The SERP R&D infrastructure creates long-term relationships with schools and school districts that serve as “field sites.” By taking on the arrangements for this type of work at an institutional level, individual researchers and school personnel are not taxed so highly for participation. With these field sites in place, conditions improve for agencies like IES to effectively carry their mission forward. Researchers might well apply for an IES grant to conduct research in a SERP field site.
As a public-private partnership SERP is different from a government agency. While government funding is sought, SERP draws upon new resources from the private sector as well. The interest of the private sector in contributing to improvements in K-12 education is demonstrated in efforts such as that led by Louis Gerstner, former chairman of IBM, who joined ranks with the chief executives of American Express and Boeing to form a task force on the quality of teaching. Since the SERP agenda focuses on teaching, learning, schools as organizations, and education policy, it provides a well-organized vehicle to facilitate private sector participation in any of these areas that corporations wish to pursue.
Finally, it is widely acknowledged that the capacity in the field for high quality education research and development is now quite limited. That capacity must be created as a research and development program builds. An important feature of the SERP plan is to create the opportunity, in the linking of universities and school field sites, for doctoral students to be trained in school-based research. The SERP proposal also includes a post-doctoral fellowship program that would provide the opportunity for researchers in a variety of disciplines to focus their efforts on problems of education practice. We believe SERP can expand the capacity for the type of work that IES and other agencies wish to fund.
Aren’t the Regional Education Laboratories already charged to do what SERP is proposing to do?
The ten regional laboratories of the U.S. Department of Education were created to bring knowledge from research and from educational practice to state and local education practitioners and policy makers. Those laboratories provide technical assistance and developmental support to schools and states in their regions that are highly valued by many in the constituencies served. However they are not funded at a level, nor have the mission, credibility or authority to do work at the level and scale of what the field demands and what SERP can do. A SERP research program can provide the regional education laboratories with a much more powerful knowledge base with which to pursue their mission. In reciprocal fashion, the links of the labs with the policy makers and schools in their regions provide a necessary mechanism to allow the work conducted by SERP to reach those communities more effectively. The opportunities for partnership between SERP and the regional labs are numerous.
What about all the existing efforts to link research and practice in education?
The SERP proposal is about creating coherence in education research and development; creating common research protocols and data collection efforts, linking work going on in many different locations so that it can be more cumulative, and carrying promising research and development efforts through all of the stages of work necessary to have an impact on practice. The obvious place to begin that work is to sustain and build on existing successful efforts to link research and practice. Research and development projects, underway now and in the future, draw extensively on those efforts.
In what way would the business community be involved in SERP?
We envision three different roles for the business community. First, businesses have been most generous in supporting efforts to improve education in the communities in which they are located. Because SERP consists of field sites around the country whose mission it is to advance our understanding of how to improve learning outcomes, businesses in those communities are obvious partners and potential financial supporters. Their interests would clearly overlap directly with those of SERP.
Second, members of the business community who have been involved in the SERP effort have made the case that private businesses could contribute to education R&D more broadly if it were clear how to do so effectively. No structure currently exists to give businesses confidence that if they support effective R&D, it will actually change education practice. SERP is creating a track record that allows businesses to feel confident about investing in improving education outcomes.
Finally, the SERP work supports the development of new programs and tools that might be effectively marketed by business enterprises. Attention has been devoted in the SERP launch phase and will continue to be devoted to the legal and practical arrangements that can be made to harness the resources of entrepreneurs to fund R&D that could lead to marketable products.