New research consortium to focus on Philly’s schools in quest for best practices

A first-of-its-kind research partnership that could highly influence Philadelphia’s public schools was announced Tuesday.



The Philadelphia Education Research Consortium (PERC) – funded by a three-year $900,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation – will “provide research and analyses on some of the city’s most pressing education issues” for the city’s district and charter sectors.

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The nonprofit Research For Action will act as the consortium’s home base.

“Up until now, any research that was done in the district was done on a piecemeal basis, project-by-project,” said RFA’s executive director Kate Shaw. And it was often in the interest of “whatever researcher was doing the research.”

By contrast, PERC’s researchers will serve at the self-identified needs of the city district and charter schools.

“They’re going to tell us what they want to have done,” said Shaw. “It’s not driven by the research interests of RFA or anybody else … We exist in service to their information needs.”

PERC’s research agenda will be set by representatives of the Philadelphia School District and two members of the city’s charter community.

One will be Naomi Johnson-Booker, who is both president of Philadelphia Charters for Excellence and CEO of Global Leadership Academy Charter school.

The other will be Cynthia Figueroa, CEO of Congreso, whom Shaw says has “deep experience in charter school governance.”

Once the agenda is set, RFA’s researchers will develop reports in partnership with scholars at Temple University, Drexel University, and the University of Pennsylvania.

“PERC is going to be drawing on all the research talent across the city of Philadelphia to produce the best research for the school district and the charters,” said Shaw.

Researchers will not have blanket access to district and charter school files, but pursue information on a project-by-project basis.

By design, the consortium’s committee has not yet set the research agenda.

The information needs of schools “can change very rapidly,” said Shaw. “There may be nothing on the horizon on the topic of ‘school safety’ in the month of September, but by December there may be a crisis that emerges that requires attention.”

Shaw said this sort of consortium has helped school districts in Chicago, Baltimore, New York and Los Angeles develop best practices.

“Any time a large urban district that’s confronted with many challenges has the benefit of timely and accessible and rigorous analysis, it’s a huge benefit to a district,” she said.

Whether PERC’s research will be made available publicly will be determined at the outset of each individual project.

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