Partnering with educators on research to address inequities
Carrie Townley-Flores had taught in middle and high schools throughout the United States, but it wasn’t until she spent time teaching in Finland that the inequities in American K–12 education came alarmingly into focus. “Finland isn’t perfect, but they don’t let the floor fall out from under children the way we do [in the United States],” she says.
The experience inspired her to pursue a career in research to help educators and policymakers even the playing field for students irrespective of their demographics. Now in her fifth year in the GSE’s doctoral program in educational policy, she is one of the first students to pursue the GSE’s new Certificate Program in Partnership Research, which certifies that candidates have completed a set of training requirements for partnership research in the field of education, including coursework and hands-on experience.
Much of her work has involved close collaboration with school leaders in San Francisco, using data about readiness to aid in evaluating and reforming preschool programs. New collaborations in New York and Kentucky aim to improve equity and support COVID recovery. “What helps schools is to say, let’s talk about the school processes in conjunction with social determinants—exposure to resources, sleep, nutrition, quality of relationships—and then pinpoint the true fulcrums that affect students’ pathways,” Townley-Flores says.
Researchers typically don’t get the kind of instant feedback Townley-Flores was used to receiving as a teacher, but seeing the reactions from school officials when her research produces an ‘aha’ insight is deeply satisfying, she says. “Those are the moments I’m reminded why I’m doing this.”