Can We Close the Research to Practice Gap?

November 5, 2021

One of the persistent problems in education is the gap between what we know about effective educational practices and the practices that are frequently used in public schools.  Many of these practices do not have empirical support.  The challenge for all educators is how do we close the gap?  The flow of research to practice is often perceived as being a one way flow from researchers that develop effective interventions and disseminate them to practitioners who are expected to adopt them (Ringeisen, Henderson, & Hoagwood, 2003).  Ringeisen et al., argue that this is not likely to result in widespread adoption of effective practices.  McLaughlin and colleagues (1997) have made the argument that having an array of effective practices is not sufficient for closing the research to practice gap.  In many instances, the practices developed by researchers are not a good contextual fit for the school settings because training and experience requirements for implementers are unreasonable within the school setting, the resources necessary for implementation are not present, and the time demands to implement are unrealistic.  If the dominant model of disseminating empirically-supported interventions is not impacting the research to practice gap, what should we do?  The goal is important but we need effective alternatives to the common approach.  Recently a report from the William T. Grant Foundation, (Farrell, Penuel, Coburn, Daniel, Steup (2021) entitled, Research-Practice Partnerships in Education: The State of the Field.  In this report, the authors define research-practice partnerships as “intentionally organized to connect diverse forms of expertise and shift power relations in the research endeavor to ensure that all partners have a say in the joint work.”  This is a significant shift from usual practice in the development and dissemination of effective practices.  There are five principles associated with these partnerships: (1) they are long term collaborations (2) they work toward educational improvement or equitable transformation (3) they feature engagement with research as a leading activity (4) they are intentionally organized to bring together a diversity of expertise (5) they employ strategies to shift power relations in research endeavors to ensure that all participants have a say.  This is an important shift.  Practitioners are now partners with researchers.  It is a movement away from the researcher as expert model to a model in which practitioners are equally expert as researchers.  Each is an expert in different domains of improving educational practices.

If practitioners are involved from the beginning in guiding research then the practices are more likely to be seen as usable by educators when considering interventions to adopt. The development of research-practice partnerships has the potential to increase the adoption of empirically-supported practices.

Citation: Farrell, C.C., Penuel, W.R., Coburn, C., Daniel, J., & Steup, L. (2021). Research-practice partnerships in education: The state of the field. William T. Grant Foundation.


References: McLaughlin, M. J., & Leone, P. E., Meisel, S., & Henderson, K. (1997). Strengthen school and community capacity. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 5(1), 15-24.
Ringeisen, H., Henderson, K., & Hoagwood, K. (2003). Context matters: Schools and the “research to practice gap” in children’s mental health. School Psychology Review, 32(2), 153-168.