HOUSTON— On Monday, July 29, Rice University Professor and Assistant Director of the Rice University Kinder Institute of Urban Studies Dr. Ruth López Turley spoke to Womble Bond Dickinson attorneys and staff members during the latest installment of the firm’s Diversity Speaker Series.

The discussion, which took place live in the firm’s Houston office, and was broadcast to Womble Bond Dickinson’s other US offices, was presented by Womble Bond Dickinson’s Diversity Committee. Houston Office Managing Partner Jeff Whittle provided introductory remarks.

Public school systems gather massive amounts of student data every year, but schools generally lack the capacity to conduct research with that data. On the other hand, universities have tremendous research capabilities, but their work rarely informs school district leaders.

“The research we do tends to live in academic journals that, to be honest, sit on shelves collecting dust,” said Dr. Turley. With that disconnect in mind, Dr. Turley founded the Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC), a research-practice partnership between Rice University and the Houston Independent School District aiming to improve the connection between education researchers and decision makers for the purpose of closing achievement gaps and improving outcomes for students.

HERC takes a different approach to educational research. Researchers develop long-term relationships with local school district leaders, and school officials work with researchers to develop questions and strategies that will serve students’ needs in a real-world setting.

“We’re trying to make sure the research we produce has an impact,” Dr. Turley said.

So far, the results are promising. HERC is now working with 11 Houston-area school districts representing more than 700,000 students. Thanks to HERC research, Texas recently introduced full-day pre-kindergarten across the state, after HERC research found that these programs double the rates of kindergarten readiness. HERC research also led Houston-area schools to begin college counseling in middle school, rather than high school, and early returns are showing increases in both college applications and college acceptance rates.

Dr. Turley said HERC’s work is flexible to meet the changing needs of the schools. For example, after Hurricane Harvey devastated many Houston neighborhoods, HERC provided the schools with maps illustrating which students’ homes were impacted by flooding.

Dr. Turley also talked about the National Network of Education Research-Practice Partnerships (NNERPP) which aims to develop, support, and connect partnerships between education agencies and research institutions in order to improve the relationships between research, policy, and practice. The NNERPP has partnerships in 26 cities, including Atlanta, Georgia; Baltimore, Maryland; Houston, Texas; Raleigh, North Carolina and Washington, D.C., where Womble Bond Dickinson also has offices.

Ruth Turley