In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Equity and Improvement: Engaging Communities in Educational Research

  • Introduction
  • Improvement in Education
  • Case Studies in Community-Based Research
  • Anthologies
  • Critical Theories
  • Methodologies for Engagement
  • Engaging Students, Engaging Families
  • Global Perspectives
  • Multimodal Frontiers in Community-Based Research

Education Equity and Improvement: Engaging Communities in Educational Research
Dee Asaah, Ankhi Thakurta, María Paula Ghiso, Gerald Campano
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 July 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0253


Improvement initiatives in the field of education have historically aimed to reduce the gap between the aspirations of school reformers and the oppressive realities confronting students and families from non-dominant communities. Despite this ambition, scholars spearheading community-based research and practitioner inquiry suggest that such divides persist because the very groups underserved by educational systems are also marginalized by enduring power asymmetries between “the Academy” and “the field.” Consequently, their voices and perspectives remain under-represented in efforts to define, research, and pursue educational improvement. This bibliography presents a range of resources to help students, researchers, practitioners, and policymakers re-theorize the relationship between community perspectives and educational reform, centering the ways of being and knowing of those historically undervalued in the research enterprise. We gather pieces that are essential to understanding the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of community-based research as well as key texts addressing the role of improvement in education. In addition, we feature a range of interdisciplinary examples of school and community-based research from around the world that illustrate how knowledge producers have navigated power dynamics vis-à-vis their contexts, their positionalities, and the other complexities inherent to conducting inquiries within and alongside minoritized communities. These examples variously erode the boundary between “the researcher” and the “researched,” indicating ways in which educational improvement strategies may be co-constructed in ethical collaboration with those most chronically underserved.

Improvement in Education

A guiding ambition of community-based research is to improve educational outcomes for students and their families in marginalized communities through partnerships that often include researchers, community members, community-based organizations, and other stakeholders. Given the power disparities between members of the partnership, Campano, et al. 2015 and others have underscored issues of ethics and power and emphasized the need to reimagine how research institutions collaborate with practitioners and communities. Likewise, Bryk 2015 calls for “a different role for the education research community” (p. 475) in improvement science. “We have tacitly accepted that there is a small class of ‘knowers’ and a much larger class of ‘doers,’ who are expected to just use the knowledge generated by others” (p. 475). The author’s call for education stakeholders to form “networked improvement communities” and work together “respecting and valuing the varied expertise that is needed to solve educational problems” (p. 475) dovetails with the goal of participants involved in community-based research. While the objectives of improvement science and community-based research are similar—to value the perspectives of those most implicated and impacted by educational systems—some differences do exist. For example, Ghiso, et al. 2019 argues that in improvement science there is “long-term commitment with multiple projects rather than a single study” while in community-based research “the length of the project is not determined by the cycle of research, but by the urgencies and social justice struggles faced by partners” (p. 3). We begin this section with salient literature about improvement in the field of education. Bryk 2010 draws on longitudinal data to highlight improvement work carried out by the Consortium on Chicago School Research in the 1990s, while Bryk 2015 theorizes the “improvement paradigm.” Bryk 2015 highlights how work in the medical field by the physician Atul Gawande informs Bryk’s thinking on improvement science. Similarly, Lytle 2008 shows how Gawande’s work holds implications for teachers involved in “practitioner inquiry,” a research methodology used by many in the field of community-based research such as Blackburn, et al. 2009, Brydon-Miller and Maguire 2009, Cochran-Smith and Lytle 2009 (cited under Critical Theories), and Lampert and Ball 1998. Like Bryk 2015, Lewis 2015 explains the underpinnings and approaches of improvement science and theorizes about their place in the realm of education by invoking two case studies; meanwhile, Park, et al. 2013 and Penuel, et al. 2011 exemplify the operationalization of “improvement” in different educational contexts.

  • Blackburn, M. V., C. T. Clark, L. M. Kenney, and J. M. Smith. 2009. Acting out! Combating homophobia through teacher activism. Practitioner Inquiry Series. New York: Teachers College Press.

    This book exemplifies how educators from diverse backgrounds can collaborate across institutional lines to advocate on behalf of their students. Particularly, the teacher-inquiry group showcased challenges to homophobia and hegemonic notions of heteronormativity with the aim of fostering healthful and equitable learning environments for all students.

  • Brydon-Miller, M., and P. Maguire. 2009. Participatory action research: Contributions to the development of practitioner inquiry in education. Educational Action Research 17.1: 79–93.

    DOI: 10.1080/09650790802667469

    Brydon-Miller and Maguire trace the beginnings, objectives, and characteristics of Participatory action research (PAR) and examine how it can be used to improve opportunities for students, families, educators, and communities. The article also explores the affordances of incorporating aspects of PAR into practitioner inquiry.

  • Bryk, A. S. 2010. Organizing schools for improvement: Research on Chicago school improvement indicates that improving elementary schools requires coherent, orchestrated action across five essential supports. Phi Delta Kappan 91.7: 23–30.

    DOI: 10.1177/003172171009100705

    This piece reflects on a longitudinal study of elementary schools spearheaded by the Consortium on Chicago School Research in the 1990s. Drawing on findings from the fifteen-year database, Bryk traces how the “complex interplay” of schools and communities connect to educational outcomes, offers “essential supports for school improvement,” and provides suggestions for various educational stakeholders (p. 24).

  • Bryk, A. S. 2015. 2014 AERA distinguished lecture: Accelerating how we learn to improve. Educational Researcher 44.9: 467–477.

    DOI: 10.3102/0013189X15621543

    In this 2014 AERA distinguished lecture, Bryk sketches “a new improvement paradigm” for education (p. 467). His approach combines improvement science with networked improvement communities (NICs), thus foregrounding tools, heuristics, and strategies to better analyze the myriad factors that “generate unsatisfactory outcomes” in educational settings (p. 474).

  • Campano, G., M. P. Ghiso, and B. Welch. 2015. Ethical and professional norms in community-based research. Harvard Educational Review 85.1: 29–49.

    DOI: 10.17763/haer.85.1.a34748522021115m

    In this article, the authors describe how they created guidelines in collaboration with community members during their ongoing multi-year partnership situated in a multiethnic and multilingual Catholic parish and its school and community center in the northeastern United States. The paper underscores how universities and communities that are engaged in collaborative research and working across multiple boundaries can forge enduring research partnerships based on respect and trust.

  • Ghiso, M. P., G. Campano, E. R. Schwab, D. Asaah, and A. Rusoja. 2019. Mentoring in research-practice partnerships: Toward democratizing expertise. AERA Open 5.4.

    DOI: 10.1177/2332858419879448

    Two university professors and three doctoral students examine how their multi-year research-practice partnership (RPP) alongside multilingual, multiethnic refugee and (im)migrant populations in the northeastern United States, which focuses on issues of educational access and equity in K-12 schools, reimagines the mentorship of graduate students. This study conceptualizes the relationship between research universities and community-based organizations, and underscores some similarities, overlaps, and differences between improvement science and community-based research.

  • Lampert, M., and D. L. Ball. 1998. Teaching, multimedia, and mathematics: Investigations of real practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

    This book explores how teachers learn through the self-reflective examination of their own practice. Lampert and Ball examine the curriculum and instruction, students’ knowledge acquisition, and the culture of two elementary classrooms, focusing on mathematics lessons over the course of a year.

  • Lewis, C. 2015. What is improvement science? Do we need it in education? Educational Researcher 44.1: 54–61.

    DOI: 10.3102/0013189X15570388

    Lewis’s article theorizes the place of “improvement science,” which she defines as “an applied science that has dramatically improved practices in industries ranging from automobile manufacturing to healthcare,” in the field of education (p. 54). Drawing on Community College Pathways Networked Improvement Community and lesson study in Japan as two examples from the field, she reflects on the affordances and limitations of the approach.

  • Lytle, S. L. 2008. Practitioner inquiry and the practice of teaching: Some thoughts on “Better.” Research in the Teaching of English 42.3: 373–379.

    Lytle argues that Atul Gawande’s Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance holds examples for the practice of teaching. Although her article is aimed at classroom teachers, Gawande’s concept of “positive deviance—the idea of building on the capability people already had rather than telling them they had to change” (p. 25) would benefit researchers and practitioners working with/in communities.

  • Park, S., S. Hironaka, P. Carver, and L. Nordstrum. 2013. Continuous improvement in education. Stanford, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

    This paper examines how “continuous improvement” is approached by three “types” of organizations in the educational field: those focused on “instructional improvement”; those focused on “system-wide” improvement; and those concerned with “collective impact” (p. 3). The authors share their findings on the features and approaches of these organizations and conclude with four main observations.

  • Penuel, W. R., B. J. Fishman, B. Haugan Cheng, and N. Sabelli. 2011. Organizing research and development at the intersection of learning, implementation, and design. Educational Researcher 40.7: 331–337.

    DOI: 10.3102/0013189X11421826

    This article describes the potential place of design-based implementation research in education. It discusses “four key features” of this approach and envisions the ways it might support the “productive adaptation of programs as they go to scale” in the field (p. 331).

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