Message from the Dean - June 2012

Iowa’s Research and Development Center for Education Innovation, University of Northern Iowa

June 2012 Message 

Colleagues, I hope you all are having a great summer.  With the closing of Malcolm Price Laboratory School, there is a need to envision a new model for the research and development work that was once conducted at the school.  The Teacher Education Executive Council has been temporarily tasked with crafting the rudiments of this new model.  The concept paper below provides an outline of the next iteration of research and development.  This concept paper calls for the creation of the Iowa’s Research and Development Center for Education Innovation.  The Teacher Education Executive Council is reviewing several documents and having conversations about how to solidify this concept.  After reading  through the paper, please let me know your thoughts about the feasibility and viability of this initiative.


Concept Paper

      The University of Northern Iowa proposes that the Research and Development School Model that was coupled with Malcolm Price Laboratory School become a separate center that focuses on innovation in PK-12 education research and development.  This center will be situated within the College of Education and would be connected with preservice education as well as inservice professional development.

      We envision the center as the hub and incubator for innovative research.  The center would consist of a cadre of tenured professors, visiting researchers, scholars, teachers, and experts in residence who will work in collaborative partnerships with districts throughout the state.

       The goals outlined in Senate File 470 for the research and development center will remain:

1.  To raise and sustain the level of all prekindergarten through twelve students' educational attainment and personal development through innovative and promising teaching practice.

2.  To enhance the preparation and professional competence of the educators in this state through collaborative inquiry and exchange of professional knowledge in teaching and learning.

3.  To focus on research that transforms teaching practice to meet the changing needs of this state's educational system.

      The new model will capitalize on the breadth of university disciplinary expertise from across the campus.  We envision a “think tank” model wherein critical research questions would be identified and research would be theoretical, empirical and applied.  Funding arrangements would be established to allow and encourage visiting scholars, practitioners, DE staff, and other experts to be engaged, depending on the project.  Work will be done with partner districts on research initiatives that enhance students’ performance.  These research initiatives could be organic based on the needs of the school as well as specified based on the research needs of the state.  For example, the center could focus on a state need for generating, piloting, and researching the effectiveness of project-based education in a competency-based teaching and learning environment.  Another example would be focused on educational policy in which areas of parental engagement, human capital, staffing models, administrative practices, and finance might be addressed.

      The center would also act as a clearing house for innovative pedagogical techniques and curriculum design and development.  The center would create a repository of innovative research and practices that PK-12 teachers throughout the state can assess.  These innovations would be captured through video vignettes (modeled lessons) as well as lesson plans, unit plans, research papers, and descriptive articles of the scholarship of teaching and learning.  Maximum use of technology will be used to disseminate research findings and engage practitioners.

      The center would also be the site in which Iowa’s schools could seek support for professional development, design of assessment systems, the modeling of best practices, and the showcasing of transformative research.  This component of the center will also coordinate the distribution of services of other university centers and programs that have a PK-12 dissemination focus.  Examples include the Regents’ Center for Early Developmental Education; the Center for Disability Studies in Literacy, Language, and Learning; the Freeburg Early Childhood Program; the Richard O. Jacobson Center for Comprehensive Literacy; and the Center for Teaching and Learning Mathematics.  As the center’s faculty are distributed across the state, they could serve as placement coordinators of preservice teachers so that the preservice teachers would have a broader arena of practice to complete their clinical requirements.

      In summary, the proposed Iowa’s Research and Development Center for Education Innovation will:

  • Be the clearing house for education innovation;
  • Conduct transformative research;
  • Provide professional development for practicing teachers;
  • Broaden the arena of practice for preservice teachers; and
  • Synergize existing services of other active PK-12 centers across the university. 



     The University of Northern Iowa (UNI) is strongly committed to being the premier Pre K-12 higher education institution in the state and among the best in the nation.  In his installation address in September 2006, UNI President Benjamin J Allen emphasized the importance of this priority but also the need to make changes when necessary:     

“We MUST have UNI positioned to be the leading academic institution in the State of Iowa for Prek-12 issues.  …the University of Northern Iowa must be unchallenged on its leadership on issues related to pre-K through 12.  If we are not now in that position, we must assess our position and determine priorities and strategies to be in that position.  Given the recent criticisms of all Colleges of Education and teacher education programs, we must have the courage to do some introspection and assessment of our own program to determine how much responsibility we have for some of the problems, and how much potential we have to be a leader in finding the solution.”

     For the first time ever, the priority of being the leader in Pre K-12 education was made one of the six priorities or goals of the University Strategic Plan (Goal 3:  Lead the State and Nation in Pre K-12 Education).   The process of developing this plan included the vetting of the goals and priorities with stakeholder groups across campus.   This Pre K-12 Education priority was not a priority in the other three earlier university strategic plans dating back to 1996.  Further evidence of making Pre K-12 education a priority lies in the fundraising efforts that have resulted in gifts like the largest ever to UNI ($11 million) to create a Literacy Center in the College of Education.

Original Creation of R&D School Model

     The legislation creating the R&D School Model was initiated via Senate File 470, Spring 2009, with a question about whether a R&D School should be located at the Price Lab School.   Full consideration to the broader array of R&D resources and expertise found across the entire campus and the importance of locating the research in a variety of school settings was not given at the time.  The recommended alternative, “Iowa’s Research and Development Center for Education Innovation,” will allow for better optimization of resources.  The population limits in the statute for Price Laboratory School result in above average costs for instruction per pupil, as well as limit some research due to sample size.

Premises for an Alternative R&D Model

      The R&D model will involve more of the teaching, research and outreach resources on campus by having a broader base—not just the Lab School, in fact, not just the College of Education.  We envision a “think tank” involving members of faculty and staff from across campus.  Critical research questions would be identified and research would be conducted to inform practices and education policy.  Examples might include research on assessments, human capital, staffing models, administrative practices, finance, as well as teaching and learning models.  Funding and arrangements would be established to allow/encourage visiting scholars, practitioners, DE staff, etc. to be engaged in the research depending upon the project.

     The R&D model will involve more authentic settings for the research to be conducted and applied and for teaching and learning models to be developed.   This can best be accomplished by forming selected partnerships with school districts across the state depending upon the nature of the research or type of development issue—e.g., best teaching or science practices in rural, urban, or suburban schools.

     The R&D model will address a much wider range of issues with more robust results by having flexibility in terms of resources applied to an issue and the partnership with school districts.  For example, for a particular research issue, faculty from several universities and education experts from public and private entities could collaborate with a particular school district over multiple years.  After the research and development process is completed, the project, including the partnership, would be dissolved and new partnerships developed based upon other needs.

Advantages of the Alternative Model

      Research and development outcomes would be much more robust because the classroom situations would be much more reflective of the variety of classroom settings across the state than currently exist at Price Lab School.  Research could be focused on a diversity of student populations, classrooms, and community settings.

  • The DE/UNI partnership would gain much more visibility and credibility by having partnerships with school districts located in different parts of the state.
  • UNI would set aside funds to actually conduct research and collaboration with others outside UNI to get the best minds involved in designing the research. 
  • A much wider variety of research questions can be addressed and hypotheses tested by having a broader set of disciplines and testing sites involved.   
  • UNI as a national leader would be enhanced by having a mechanism for having nationally prominent education scholars and thinkers connected to the “think tank” or on particular projects being conducted.  More importantly, the State of Iowa would benefit by having these world class educators involved.   
  • UNI preservice students would be exposed to a broader range of classroom settings for clinical experiences.
  • The center will be led by UNI under the governance of the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, and operate in partnership with the Iowa Department of Education.  An advisory board of representing education stakeholders will be formed, including representatives of the University of Iowa and Iowa State University.