University of Oregon Ed. Research Lab Partners With Company to Ramp Up Product Reach

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An education program at the University of Oregon is counting on a private company to help it break free of the constraints of a traditional research lab and bring more of its products to a much bigger, nationwide audience.

Partnerships between universities and the private sector aimed at bringing products to market, in education and other areas, are fairly common.

But officials from Oregon’s Center on Teaching and Learning, and the company, Catapult Learning, say their arrangement is particularly ambitious in scope and could serve as a model for similar education-focused public-private partnerships.

The university predicts the arrangement will allow the center to take a variety of its rigorously researched products and programs–beginning with a reading program–and dramatically expand their reach in schools, through Catapult Learning’s professional development and implementation.

Created in 2000, the Center on Teaching and Learning has developed a dozen programs and products for academic interventions, assessment, curriculum, and other areas. It aspires to bring rigorous evidence to the design of its products, and has been awarded more than 75 state and federal research grants over the last decade, many from the federal Institute of Education Sciences, as well as the National Science Foundation.

The Oregon center is perhaps best known for having developed DIBELS, an assessment tool for special needs students and federal Title I schools that is used in grades K-8.

The center also created the UO DIBELS Data System, a data reporting and monitoring service that the university says has served grades K-3 in 20 percent of all U.S. public schools.

But despite DIBELS’ broad use, many of the Oregon center’s other products and programs have had little take-up in school districts. That’s not because K-12 officials don’t want them, but because the university can’t support the work it would take to bring them to large numbers of districts, said Hank Fien, the director of the Center on Teaching and Learning.

The center’s intervention products, in particular, require extensive professional development and coaching time and resources, he said.

The upshot is that the center has “difficulty bringing our programs to market,” Fien said. In many cases, his staff is getting “requests from entire states and districts,” he said, and “we just can’t keep up with demand.”

Going After District Bids

Initially, the partnership–called the Institute for Scaling Evidence-Based Education–will focus on ramping up the reach of the center’s Enhanced Core Reading Instruction program. The reading program focuses on using explicit and systematic instruction, teacher modeling, practice, and review.

Catapult Learning will provide professional development for the reading program, support with implementation, and other work, such as marketing it to schools.

But over time, both Fien and Catapult Learning CEO Jeffrey Cohen said they expect the partnership to extend to other products and programs developed by the university’s researchers. The university and company will share revenue from the work.

Catapult describes itself as one of the nation’s biggest education service providers, with the ability to “implement services in thousands of schools simultaneously.” The Camden, N.J.-based company says it currently works with more than 500 school districts nationwide and can enlist more than 5,000 educators and others in providing PD, instructional intervention, and behavioral health services.

Catapult Learning’s staff will receive extensive training on the reading program and other University of Oregon products before it takes up that work in schools on the center’s behalf, Cohen said. Catapult will also handle the marketing of the institute and its products, he added.

As part of the project, Catapult will collect data to study the effectiveness of the implementation, for the purposes of evaluating the program, Fien said. Additionally, the University of Oregon will apply for federal research funding to rigorously study the scaling up of the reading program. This will include random assignments of schools receiving different levels of coaching through Catapult, he said.

To date, many school users of the Center on Teaching and Learning products have sought to buy them by reaching out to the programs directly, said Fien.

Most districts are required to go through a formal RFP if they are purchasing products above a certain price. The university and Catapult Learning are likely to work together in responding to those requests, beginning next month.

Cohen said the partnership will allow the University of Oregon to continue to focus on the “science, and proof, and evidence of effectiveness” of its products. Catapult Learning will address the outreach and support.

“Our belief is that getting to scale is one of the big challenges in education,” said Cohen. The university offers the research heft, and “we think of ourselves as the implementation force.”

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