Most of us have heard the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child.” As a parent, I completely agree! As an educational professional, I think this phrase applies equally to translating research to educational practice – it takes a village, and it is not as easy as it sounds! I have spent the last twenty years of my career working in the schools to try to improve educational outcomes for students. While I continue to have the same mission, I recently began working at the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) at the University of Minnesota as an Associate Director. Now, my task is how to assist districts and other educational organizations to use the results of research to help guide their work towards closing the achievement gap and increasing educational outcomes for all students.

My experience over the past 20 years has largely been focused on how to maintain effective programs for students during tough economic times. We have all faced budget cuts, quickly rising benefit costs, salary increases for staff, and a growing number of high needs students. Fortunately, I learned there are strategies available that can raise achievement to all students without breaking the bank! However, the challenge for leaders is to distinguish what expenditures really make a difference for students from a hundred that do not. Knowing what works requires district leaders to ask different questions.

Typically, conversations start out by asking “What works in education?” While this may seem like a great question, a more powerful question is “What works best?” If you review the educational research literature, there are thousands of strategies that “work.” However, we need to identify those strategies that have the greatest impact on student achievement and make sure those strategies are well embedded in the instructional environment. When we talk about closing the achievement gap, we need to identify strategies and frameworks that will accelerate student achievement allowing them to make more than one year’s growth in one year.

Imagine if you had answers to some of the following questions during your annual budget preparation:

  • Students of teachers receiving support from instructional coaches gained 4 months more learning than students of teachers who did not receive coaching.
  • Students of teachers who received professional development in (pick your area) fared no better than students of teachers who did not receive the professional development.
  • Students who used on-line “flex books” performed similarly on standardized tests of achievement than students who used traditional textbooks.

If you were trying to make budget decisions about those three areas, you may decide to invest in instructional coaches, change the way professional development is delivered, and move away from purchasing textbooks in selected areas. But having data like this requires work. It requires that districts evaluate all programs, frameworks, and strategies using multiple measures. Many districts don’t have the internal capacity to do this type of work.

CAREI wants to help! We are working to identify statewide needs in the area of assessment, research, and evaluation and provide low-cost (or no-cost) services to districts. We have set an ambitious goal that we want our services to impact 80% of school districts within three years! In the ongoing quest to translate research to practice, I will be writing a regular column in the MASA newsletter called “Research to Practice”. I hope to identify relevant research and help build the bridge to practice. Please contact me at if you want more information about CAREI or if you have certain topics you would like covered in future newsletters!

Kim Gibbons, Ph.D., currently is the Associate Director of the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement at the University of Minnesota. Prior to that, she was the Executive Director of the St. Croix River Education District (SCRED) located in Rush City, MN. SCRED has received national recognition for its use of the Response to Intervention (RtI) framework. In 2007, SCRED received a legislative appropriation to fund a statewide Minnesota RtI Center for two years. Dr. Gibbons obtained her doctoral degree in school psychology from the University of Oregon where she received extensive training in the problem solving model, curriculum based measurement, and research-based instructional practices. Prior to her role as the Executive Director, Dr. Gibbons has worked as a director of special education, staff development coordinator, and school psychologist. She is active in state leadership and is the past-president of the Minnesota Administrators for Special Educators. Finally, she is the co-author of three books and has numerous other peer-reviewed publications. She is a sought-after consultant who has given numerous workshops throughout the nation.

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