Cynthia Coburn

Cynthia Coburn
Northwestern University | NU · School of Education and Social Policy

About

49
Publications
21,311
Reads
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6,870
Citations
Citations since 2017
17 Research Items
4101 Citations
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Introduction
Skills and Expertise

Publications

Publications (49)
Article
Full-text available
District central offices are increasingly partnering with external organizations, such as professional development providers, to facilitate instructional improvement. Given the highly interdependent nature of partnership work, partners often need to coordinate their work together. We define coordination as how partners align different actions so th...
Chapter
We offer a conceptual framework for research use in schools that utilizes an organizational perspective. By organizational, we mean that we consider the complex contexts within which teachers and school leaders work, and how these contexts facilitate and hinder opportunities to use research in decision making. We highlight three school-level factor...
Article
The year students take Algebra I historically determines how far they progress in secondary mathematics, creating complex equity issues around access to this course. By examining a case study of one large, urban school district adjusting to the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSS-M), we demonstrate how district leaders’ interactions, i...
Article
Given the rapid growth of research–practice partnerships (RPPs), we need a framework that helps the field understand how RPPs can facilitate organizational learning in service of local educational improvement and transformation. Drawing on sociocultural and organizational learning theories, we argue that learning can happen for the organizations en...
Article
In an effort to improve learning for young children and respond to preschool fade out, some districts are working on “PreK-3” initiatives to create better connected learning pathways for children. In these pathways, primary grades continue to build on what children learn in preschool; they also present potential implementation challenges that are n...
Article
Research-practice partnerships (RPPs) provide opportunities for researchers to support school districts in addressing the complex challenges they face. Cynthia E. Coburn, William R. Penuel, and Caitlin C. Farrell situate RPPs in the history of educational research and discuss the needs they were designed to address. They then describe what contempo...
Article
Using over 350 hours of observational data from district-level meetings, we investigate how leaders support their interpretations of problems and proposed solutions during closed-door negotiations around three policy decisions, and how they invoke race, class, and language in the process. District leaders primarily cite constraints from stakeholder...
Article
Full-text available
Interest in the study of scale has grown over the past three decades, yet it still suffers from a lack of conceptual clarity. Despite attempts at conceptualizing scale, there is still wide diversity in how the term “scale” is used. These differences matter. They impact how scale is studied, the strategies used to achieve scale, and the lessons we c...
Article
Full-text available
In research-practice partnerships (RPPs), the line between researcher and practitioner can be blurred, and the roles for everyone involved may be unclear. Yet little is known about how these roles are negotiated and with what consequences for collaborative efforts. Guided by organizational theory, we share findings from a multiyear case study of on...
Article
School district central offices regularly engage with external partners in improvement efforts, but these partnerships are not always productive. Indeed, little is known about under what conditions partnerships are likely to lead to organizational learning outcomes. We conducted a longitudinal comparative case study of two departments in one urban...
Article
Professional development [PD] providers can shape how teachers understand and implement new policies. Yet we have a limited understanding of how providers develop the ideas they promote. We explore this by examining social capital among mathematics PD providers. Using social network and interview data, we identified providers in brokerage positions...
Article
While early childhood practitioners have long been asked to have complex understandings of child development and provide rich, meaningful educational experiences for children, focusing on mathematics marks new terrain. Consequently, teacher educators are now tasked with figuring out how to communicate new ideas about early mathematics education to...
Article
Full-text available
Globally, school systems are pressed to engage in large-scale school improvement. In the United States and other countries, school district central offices and other local governing agencies often engage with external organizations and individuals to support such educational change efforts. However, initiatives with external partners are not always...
Article
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While there is an abundance of data-use literature available, there is still a need to develop methodological approaches for studying naturally occurring data use in decision-making processes over time. The central contribution of this paper is a strategy to understand the use of data in long-term observations of educational leaders’ policy-making...
Article
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PK–3 " has become a rallying cry among many developmental scientists and educators. A central component of this movement is alignment between preschool and the early elementary grades. Many districts have made policy changes designed to promote continuity in children's educational experiences as they progress from preschool through third grade— to...
Article
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This study investigated what research district leaders find useful. It draws on evidence from interviews and surveys of central office leaders in three large urban districts in the United States. We find that although leaders did report using research as federal policies intend—to select among curricula, programs, and interventions to adopt—the kin...
Article
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Both the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and recent efforts to hold schools and teachers accountable have been hotly debated among practitioners, policymakers, and the public at large. Much of the debate centers on the merits and demerits of these initiatives and the general approach they represent to reforming teaching and learning. In this art...
Article
Policymakers, funders, and researchers today view research–practice partnerships (RPPs) as a promising approach for expanding the role of research in improving educational practice. Although studies in other fields provide evidence of the potential for RPPs, studies in education are few. This article provides a review of available evidence of the o...
Article
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This article presents a conceptual framework for analyzing how researchers and district leaders perceive and navigate differences they encounter in the context of research-practice partnerships. Our framework contrasts with images of partnership work as facilitating the translation of research into practice. Instead, we argue that partnership activ...
Article
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This paper presents a conceptual framework to analyze how researchers and district leaders perceive and navigate differences they encounter in the context of research-practice partnerships. Our framework contrasts with dominant images of partnership work as facilitating the translation of research into practice, emphasizing instead that partnership...
Chapter
Full-text available
This chapter presents an overview of the chapters in Part I focused on research use at the local level. These chapters each emphasize interactive processes associated with research use in local educational systems. They underscore the fact that multiple actors at different levels of systems and from outside the system are implicated in research use...
Article
Teachers’ social networks can play an important role in teacher learning and organizational change. But what influences teachers’ networks? Why do some teachers have networks that are likely to support individual and organizational change, while others do not? This study is a first step in answering this question. We focus on how district policy in...
Article
Full-text available
Scaling up instructional improvement remains a central challenge for school systems. While existing research suggests that teachers’ social networks play a crucial role, we know little about what dimensions of teachers’ social networks matter for sustainability. Drawing from a longitudinal study of the scale-up of mathematics reform, we use qualita...
Article
One of the central lessons from research on data use in schools and school districts is that assessments, student tests, and other forms of data are only as good as how they are used. But what influences how they are used? This relatively straightforward question turns out to be fairly complex to answer. Data use implicates a number of processes, c...
Article
Background/Context Calls for evidence-based decision making have become increasingly prominent on the educational landscape. School district central offices increasingly experience these demands. Yet there are few empirical studies of evidence use at the district level. Furthermore, research on evidence use among policy makers in noneducation setti...
Article
Full-text available
This article explores the usefulness of communities of practice theory for understanding how districts can create organizational environments that foster teachers' opportunities to learn the new ideas and practices required to carry out ambitious reforms. It draws on data from a longitudinal study of the implementation of ambitious mathematics curr...
Article
Full-text available
As school districts move toward systemic approaches to instructional reform, they are increasingly collaborating with outside organizations in this complex work. While emerging research touts the benefits of insider–outsider collaboration, we know little about the underlying processes by which partnerships are negotiated and maintained at the distr...
Article
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Policy makers increasingly include provisions aimed at fostering professional community as part of reform initiatives. Yet little is known about the impact of policy on teachers’ professional relations in schools. Drawing theoretically from social capital theory and methodologically from qualitative social network analysis, this article explores ho...
Article
District central office administrators increasingly face policy demands to use “evidence” in their decision making. These demands up the ante on education policy researchers and policy makers to better understand what evidence use in district central offices entails and the conditions that may support it. To that end, the authors conducted a compre...
Article
Full-text available
Policy problems do not exist as social fact awaiting discovery. Rather, they are constructed as policymakers and constituents interpret a particular aspect of the social world as problematic. How a policy problem is framed is important because it assigns responsibility and creates rationales that authorize some policy solutions and not others. This...
Article
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Current policies place unprecedented demands on districts to use evidence to guide their educational improvement efforts. How districts respond is likely to be influenced by how individuals in the district conceptualize what it means to use evidence in their ongoing work. This study draws on sensemaking and institutional theory to investigate how i...
Article
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A growing body of research has emphasized the social processes by which teachers adapt and transform policy as they enact it in their classrooms. Yet little attention has been paid to the role of school leaders in this process. Drawing on sociological theories of sensemaking, this article investigates how principals in two California elementary sch...
Article
A growing body of research has emphasized the social processes by which teachers adapt and transform policy as they; enact it in their classrooms. Yet little attention has been paid to the role of school leaders in this process. Drawing on sociological theories of sensemaking, this article investigates how principals in two California elementary sc...
Article
Full-text available
Studies of the relationship between policy and practice typically focus on the formal policy system alone. Yet, the public policy system does not exist in isolation. A host of nonsystem actors promote, translate, and transform policy ideas as they carry them to teachers. This study draws on neoinstitutional theories of organization to investigate t...
Article
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The decoupling argument—that schools respond to pressures from the institutional environ- ment by decoupling changes in structures from classroom instruction—has been a central fea- ture of institutional theory since the early 1970s. This study suggests the need to rethink this argument. Drawing on a study of the relationship between changing ideas...
Article
Full-text available
The issue of “scale” is a key challenge for school reform, yet it remains undertheorized in the literature. Definitions of scale have traditionally restricted its scope, focusing on the expanding number of schools reached by a reform. Such definitions mask the complex challenges of reaching out broadly while simultaneously cultivating the depth of...
Article
Full-text available
Recent research on the relationship between instructional policy and classroom practice suggests that teachers interpret, adapt, and even transform policies as they put them into place. This paper extends this line of research, using an in-depth case study of one California elementary school to examine the processes by which teachers construct and...

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