Bridging Research and Practice

Background image: Mixed race boy using magnifiying glass in a greenhouse

21CSLA research investigates how educational leaders learn to lead for equity in TK–12 education through systematic examinations of professional context, leadership capacities, and equity in schools.

Research is an integral part of 21CSLA's work.  While providing high-level professional learning for educational leaders, it is essential to understand how the leaders are learning with us so that we can continue to center equity, improve our work, and contribute to a larger knowledge base. By engaging in research, we are able to gain a synthesized overview of how different parts of 21CSLA work together, outline the purposeful processes, and make visible the impacts. At the same time, we also elevate and celebrate the hard work of education leaders in our schools by increasing our understanding of their learning and practice. This work enables us as researchers to better support practitioners. We are inclusive of all research traditions and methods, while research-practice partnership is an integral part of how 21CSLA advances equity. The 21CSLA research team also assists the work of the 21CSLA Regional Academies through conducting research, giving them voice and agency, and elevating their work. 

21CSLA research investigates how educational leaders learn to lead for equity in TK-12 education through three foci on: 1. Professional Context, 2. Leadership Capacities, and 3. Equity in Schools.

21CSLA graphic on research

Focus 1: Professional Context

What are current (and changing) professional contexts in which educational leaders lead for equity?

In order to investigate educational leaders’ learning, we must first understand their professional contexts, including their unique resources and limitations. Activities of 21CSLA are embedded in daily contexts, constantly interacting with other contextual factors brought by educational leaders. Therefore, understanding the broader contexts is a necessary part of our work. For example, professional contexts can change with the rise of remote schooling, a newly identified increasing student need (e.g., SEL), and/or change with district/state-regulated education budget. We consider other research, theory, and policy work in this focus, too, as these provide frameworks to understand how and why professional contexts sustain certain characteristics and/or change.

Focus 2: Leadership Capacities

How does equity-centered professional learning provided by 21CSLA support educational leaders’ learning to lead for equity?

This is the central focus of our research. We examine aspects of 21CSLA activities and investigate how they are supporting our educational leaders to learn to lead for equity. This includes internal evaluation that informs us how we are doing as a project. We are also aware of other capacities being developed simultaneously (beyond equity leadership), as well as other factors that can influence leadership learning, and these various capacities and factors interact with each other in the process. This is where we develop new research questions and theories about leadership learning, feeding them back to the broader education field to continuously improve the integrated work of leadership education.

Focus 3: Equity in Schools

How does the learning in 21CSLA contribute to issues of equity in TK–12 education?

As we better understand how educational leaders learn to lead for equity, we also examine how their learning is contributing to issues of equity in TK–12 schools. We investigate, based on how educational leaders learn, how their decisions and newly-developed classroom- school-, or district-level practices and policies further help them lead for equity, creating a feedback loop. We also examine how students may learn differently with increased access and opportunities in schools.

Interactions and Connections among Three Research Foci

The three research foci support and interact with one another synergistically, to help us understand better how school leaders learn to lead for equity and how our education changes. We use the findings from the research on professional context (Focus 1), relate them with newly-developed education practices and policies (Fous 3), to identify how the educational contexts are changing, and how educational leaders’ learning (Focus 2) could help drive the change. In this way, the new knowledge we develop about leading for equity in schools cycles back to the current professional contexts and further supports our work with education leaders to learn in the changing contexts. Our research work advances through a positive feedback loop, adding new knowledge with each cycle.

Considering the scale of the 21CSLA project, it is reasonable to assume our research will develop over time, from Focus 1 to 2, to 3, while we gain a better shared understanding of educational leaders' learning to lead for equity. 

21CSLA Research and Evaluation

Three approaches that inform the work and continuous improvement of 21CSLA State Center include the External Evaluation, Internal Evaluation, and Research activities. 21CSLA Internal Evaluation informs the Center’s decision-making by engaging in ongoing inquiry within the Center team. Two focal questions of all 21CSLA Internal Evaluation are: 

  • IEQ1: How is 21CSLA implementing equity-centered professional learning to build leader capacity to transform systems, whether through Center or RA activities? 

  • IEQ2: In what ways is the Center supporting this professional learning and capacity-building? And, what can be improved?

21CSLA External Evaluation ensures the execution of 21CSLA activities as prescribed by state policy makers and examines their impact on TK12 Education. Evaluators are outside of the 21CSLA Center and RAs. RTI International serves as the External Evaluator. The four enduring questions guide all 21CSLA External Evaluation are: 

  • EEQ1: What is the impact of 21CSLA on leadership practices that affect student learning?

  • EEQ2: To what extent is 21CSLA centralizing equity for the purposes of increasing equitable student outcomes?

  • EEQ3: To what extent does 21CSLA scale and replicate effective leadership professional learning?

  • EEQ4: How does 21CSLA connect to the CA System

The table below summarizes each approach.

TypePurposesIntended AudienceLength of Projects
Internal Evaluation: Conducted by Internal staff (UCLA SRM, Center Team)Continuous improvement, process and formative outcomes, informing and supporting Center which benefits RAsCenter, Regional AcademiesShort
External Evaluation: Conducted by External Evaluator (RTI International)Accountability, summative impactState Agencies, Center, Regional AcademiesLong
Research: Conducted by Internal and External ResearchersKnowledge development, informing policy and practiceEducation field including State Agencies, Center, Regional AcademiesFlexible

Research Expansion Work Team

Rebecca Cheung
Jabari Mahiri
Alison Munzer
Aki Murata
James Wright