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K-20 Partnership: A Definition and Proof-of-Concept


School districts and institutions of higher education (IHEs) have, historically, attempted to improve K-12 instructional quality and student performance in relative isolation from each other, and with limited success. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and calls to improve pre-service teacher education have prompted policymakers and others to rethink models of instructional improvement and teacher preparation. One possible model involves partnerships between K-12 districts and IHEs, which we call "K-20 partnerships." In our role as evaluators of the SCALE MSP, we believe that a first step in evaluating partnerships, their interventions, and outcomes is defining what partnerships are and are not. Doing so also enables evaluators to determine if, in fact, NSF and US ED grantees accomplished funded work; what roles, if any, partnerships played in achieving desired ends; and, ultimately, if the NSF and US ED theory of action has merit. Previously, numerous evaluation studies have examined the effects of partnership-developed interventions, but only a few have associated intervention results with partnerships between K-12 and higher education institutions. To determine the value of partnerships for improving teaching, learning, and educational institutions, evaluators must make firm links between partnerships, interventions, and outcomes. The resultant models, we believe, can help practitioners construct more effective partnerships and successful interventions. In this paper, we argue that partnership, as a construct, needs further definition to distinguish it from other forms of organization and inter-organizational relationships. Having identified this problem through literature review, we put forth a definition, which is synthesized from available literature. We then test our definition through a single case, which serves as a proof of concept study. Our conclusion discusses the adequacy and sufficiency of our definition and reports on next steps in our work.