When the San Francisco Unified School District—responsible for educating increasing numbers of children for whom English was not a first language—decided it needed more rigorous data to back up its approach to language instruction, the district turned to Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE).
“San Francisco Unified had made a huge investment in bilingual education, relying on research done someplace else that said bilingual education is a good thing. But they wanted research from their own backyard,” says Laura Wentworth, PhD ’10, director of the Stanford/San Francisco Unified School District Partnership, which matches researchers from Stanford with school district leaders to solve real-life problems of practice.
On this episode of School’s In, Wentworth joins GSE Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope to talk about research-practice partnerships: unique, long-term relationships that are mutually beneficial to researchers and practitioners in the field.
For San Francisco Unified, teaming up with the university would produce the first large-scale quantitative analysis in the field of teaching English Learners. “They found that, over time, bilingual programs really did have a big impact on students’ achievement,” says Wentworth. As a result, the district—confident that it was on the right track—was able to make the informed decision to stick with its program. Findings from the research would also influence state level policies about bilingual education.
The Stanford/SFUSD partnership has launched dozens of other research projects on issues facing the district, including a shift in math instruction policy and piloting a high school ethnic studies course, two other examples Wentworth discusses on this episode.
“Teachers, principals, school district officials—they want to know what they’re doing is working,” says Wentworth, whose job it is to broker these types of partnerships, matching up researchers and practitioners in the field. “That’s where the data-driven decision making comes in, layering in research that can get at the impact and help with design and delivery.”
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