The Developing Responsive Research Conference challenged researchers to forefront on-the-ground practical challenges and education agency leaders to incorporate research studies to evaluate their everyday practices.
On Dec. 4, school district administrators and researchers from across Southern California gathered at the USC campus for the inaugural Developing Responsive Research Conference hosted by the newly launched USC EdPolicy Hub, or “Hub”.
The recently launched Hub collaborates with Southern Californian schools, education systems and community colleges with the intent of delivering practical, actionable solutions to these same stakeholders. “The USC EdPolicy Hub will help USC Rossier realize its mission of helping schools address the systemic challenges in education that disproportionately affect low-income families and communities of color,” said USC Rossier Dean Pedro Noguera in an announcement when Jon Fullerton joined USC Rossier as the new EdPolicy Hub executive director.
“While we hope the results of our work at USC Rossier will be widely relevant outside of the region, the needs and questions of our Southern California partners and schools are our focus,” said Fullerton during his opening remarks at the launch event. “We created the Hub to co-design and conduct relevant research that will help schools navigate the challenges and improve outcomes and equity for students in the region.”
“Our primary goal is connecting Southern California practitioners and partners to researchers at USC and beyond to help answer their critical questions,” added Fullerton. “While it's extremely important that practitioners and researchers work closely together, working together requires both groups to leave their comfort zones and think in different ways than is typical in our day-to-day work.”
At the inaugural Developing Responsive Research Conference, 34 agency administrators and 32 researchers convened at the USC campus. Participants in the conference included eight education agencies from across the region including Anaheim Union High School District, the Hawthorne School District, the Kern County Office of Education and the Los Angeles Community College District among others. Representing agencies working across critical transitions of youth development from elementary years to post-secondary, participants also represented different kinds of educational options from charter schools to traditional K–12 schools.
Weeks prior to the conference, participants discussed challenges ranging from assessing the impacts of pre–K and transitional kindergarten programming, to creating new ways of measuring and evaluating student progress in high school. While the mechanics of research designs typically are viewed as abstract to most practitioners, well-designed studies can provide insights that contribute to a successful district comeback after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Developing Responsive Research Conference presented an opportunity to combine our knowledge as practitioners with the expertise of researchers to identify a topic to analyze and to design a study to do just that,” said Brian Markarian EdD ’09, superintendent of the Hawthorne School District. “During our breakout sessions, we discussed our transitional kindergarten program and our desire to construct a study to determine its impact on students.”
Each agency team included a senior leader with decision-making authority, someone with knowledge of data and data availability regarding the problem and one-to-two additional staff involved with the agency’s challenge. Agency teams were then matched with three to five faculty and doctoral student researchers.
“We discussed our project with the USC team to identify what would be the most meaningful thing to study within our project, along with the associated metrics,” said Lisa Gilbert EdD ’19, deputy superintendent at Kern County Superintendent of Schools. Kern County is studying literacy intervention, including curriculum, professional learning and family involvement components for elementary students. “The coaching and questioning from USC Rossier PhD student Akunna Uka, as well as senior researchers/faculty, Julie Marsh and Maria Ott were extremely helpful in developing the potential project.” Gilbert found in her session that schools cannot work in isolation nor assume that what schools are doing is working. “We have to use research to help guide our decisions and evaluate our actions in the educational environment. We owe it to our children,” she added.
As senior director of academics at Ednovate—a network of public, tuition-free college prep high schools in Orange and Los Angeles County—Lanira Murphy’s goal for attending the conference was to co-create a research plan with the USC researchers and staff. They are learning how to integrate social emotional student outcomes into their whole-child report card and, in the longer term, want to validate their report card outcomes against students’ long-term outcomes (e.g., postsecondary enrollment and attendance, career tracks, etc.). Murphy’s biggest takeaway from the conference was the opportunity to connect with other schools. “It was exciting to hear what the other schools and districts were working on,” said Murphy. “I also felt confident that we had a possible research topic and I look forward to the potential of working together.”
At the Dec. 4 launch event, Dean Noguera moderated a panel comprised of USC Rossier Associate Professor Morgan Polikoff; Alysia Bell, president of UNITE-LA; Gabriela Mafi EdD ’02, superintendent of Garden Grove Unified School District; and Francisco Rodriguez, chancellor of Los Angeles Community College District. The panel discussed the value of tying research to action.
Chancellor Rodriguez saw partnering with the Hub as an opportunity to not only know what to do, but to also determine what to stop doing. “This gives us a sensible, timely and opportunistic view of what to stop doing that may be harmful to the success of students,” said Rodriguez. The chancellor reminded the audience that community colleges often have to be mindful and judicious about where funds are invested.
“With oncoming financial challenges and the continued impact of the pandemic on learning, this is a watershed moment for California public schools,” added Fullerton. “We hope the Hub will provide the data and insights to help systems make changes to improve equitable outcomes at all levels, with students’ long-term success as the ultimate goal.”
Panel video: USC Rossier EdPolicy Hub launch event