Social & Education Policy


Research Partnership with the Iowa City Community School District

Dr. Sarah Bruch, Director of the Social and Education Research Program, is the principal investigator leading a research-practice partnership with the Iowa City Community School District. Using a research-practice model, this partnership leverages social science and education policy research and practitioner knowledge to more effectively address persistent problems of policy and practice and improve students’ educational opportunities and outcomes. The partnership provides a structure for long-term collaboration and provides an avenue to develop a research agenda together so that the questions asked are of direct interest to district decision-makers.

In 2015, we began this research-practice partnership with the ICCSD to help them address the disparities in their District and work toward achieving their goal “that all students can achieve at high levels and that equitable classrooms are essential to their success.” The broad aim of this research partnership is to improve the equitability of school experiences for students in our local community school district by providing the ICCSD with the research expertise and capacity to conduct data collection and analysis, and to project, implement and design research-based solutions to existing disparities.

This research-practice partnership consists of:

  1. Designing and analyzing student and teacher survey data annually. Survey data is used to assess the current experiences of students and teachers in the District, and is aligned when possible to current programming initiatives designed to address equity issues.
  2. Providing the District with reports based on the analysis of overall and disaggregated data as well as school-specific reports of survey and student administrative data.
  3. Evaluation the equity programming initiatives of the District through the use of pre- and post-implementation assessments, teacher and student surveys and administrative records of students.

Recent Work

2017 Report: Results from a survey administered to all 5th through 12th grade students in the ICCSD in February and March 2017. The 2017 survey added more inclusive gender identity and sexual orientation questions, and also included several items related to experiences and treatment of immigrants and students of different religious backgrounds. LGBTQ policy brief: The brief explains why it is important to understand the experiences of LGBTQ students, describes the experiences of LGBTQ students in the ICCSD, and details potential strategies the District could use in addressing the needs of LGBTQ students. It also makes preliminary recommendations for the District to consider.


Needs Assessment: In April 2016, Bruch and researchers from the PPC authored a report that describes the results from a student survey administered to all 6th, 8th and 11th grade students in February 2016. The survey was designed to assess student experiences of school across a number of areas including relationships with teachers, mentor relationships, support resources, negative experiences of school, social belonging, motivations to attend school, perceptions of discipline, inclusive classrooms, and the salience of race and gender for social identity and relationships. The report highlighted a consistent pattern of disproportional experiences for students of color and of lower socioeconomic status.

Focus Areas: Drawing on the findings from the Assessing Student Experiences Report, three focus areas were identified for the District: teacher and mentor relationships; inclusive community; and disciplinary environment. For each focus area, a policy brief was prepared answering the following questions:

  • Why is this particular aspect of student experience important?
  • What is the extent of the problem in regard to this aspect of student experience in the ICCSD?
  • What are the strategies for intervening that have been shown in the education research literature to be effective?
  • What are the evidence-based recommendations that can inform the ICCSD decision-making process?

Task Force: In the fall of 2016, a multi-stakeholder task force was convened to discuss strategies to improve student experiences and reduce disparities. The task force worked through the recommendations made in the three focus area policy briefs. For each recommendation, the task force identified strengths, weaknesses, and other considerations for the District. Three of these recommendations stood out as top priorities for the task force:

  • Adopt a district-wide strategy for addressing disparities in student experiences and outcomes.
  • Provide training to all district staff, teachers, and administrators to improve the awareness, knowledge, and understanding of cultural competency and implicit bias.
  • Actively recruit and retain staff, teachers, and administrators of diverse backgrounds.

Evaluation: Using the annual student survey along with other data collection efforts, university researchers evaluate the equity-related programming initiatives and track changes in student experiences and outcomes.