Category Voices
Author By Faith Connolly, PhD

The Baltimore Education Research Consortium (BERC) is a special example of a Research Practice Partnership—one of many currently developing across the country. Our partnership began in the mid-90s when the late Sam Stringfield, a CSOS faculty member, was on the Baltimore City School Board. As part of that relationship, data and research-practice sharing began between the district research office and Sam and his research team.

In 2006, Stephen B. Plank, Martha Abele Mac Iver, and Bob Balfanz initiated a more formal process for a research-practice partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools. With technical assistance provided by John Easton from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research and others, BERC was launched and began its work. One unique feature of BERC is that it partners two universities, Johns Hopkins and Morgan State, along with Baltimore City Public Schools. A more detailed story of our history can be found here.

Ten years later, building on its applied research perspective to develop deep understanding of children and what sets them up to be successful, BERC has expanded its relationships and research agenda. While continuing to conduct applied programmatic research, we have created data collaboratives with members from government organizations such as the Baltimore City Health Department, quasi-government organizations such as The Family League of Baltimore, and publicly-funded service providers such as Head Start, home visiting programs, and the Baltimore City Public Schools. This has allowed us to describe student trajectories from birth through entry into Baltimore City kindergarten. This collaborative also provided an opportunity to examine the impact of not being social and behaviorally ready for kindergarten on later success in elementary school. We were also able to investigate children’s participation in early education programs and readiness for kindergarten in academics and attendance. Each of these studies has been used by members in the collaborative to modify prioritization of enrollment to create a seamless transfer for families from one program to the next. There’s still much to do, but collaborative members continue to ask the next important questions to better understand how to serve families in Baltimore.

Recently, Baltimore’s Promise has reached out to BERC to create a new data collaborative to further describe and investigate programs such as out-of-school time, youth development, and career success, to inform more programs in Baltimore City as well as provide rigorous evaluations of interventions and new programming as it is developed by Baltimore’s Promise and partners through the city.

A new focus for BERC researchers is the potential impact of Improvement Science on urban schools. Some of our partners work in Early Head Start, Head Start pre-K and elementary classrooms on literacy instruction and others in high schools to improve attendance and course grades. In summer 2015, we invited the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching
to provide a 3-day workshop to learn about Improvement Science. About 50 BERC researchers and partners attended, including principals and school staff, as well as teams from our partner organizations. Since then Improvement Science practices have been introduced to about ten schools and we hope to see these approaches escalate over time. A recent IES video of some of the work we’re doing with Baltimore high schools describes our work to date.
Moving forward, BERC plans to expand the work in thinking about and developing data collaboratives as well as how to best scale the use of Improvement Science to improve the educational and life outcomes of children in Baltimore.

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