Case Study

A Researcher-Practitioner Partnership: Vermont’s Universal Prekindergarten System

By Clare Waterman Irwin and Wendy Geller
August 24, 2022
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This case study highlights a researcher-practitioner partnership aimed at informing state policy decisions through actionable research evidence based on a collaborative research process. Specifically, it describes the Vermont Universal PreK Research Partnership, a collaboration of Education Development Center (EDC), the Vermont Agency of Education (AOE), the Vermont Agency of Human Services (AHS), and Building Bright Futures (BBF), which is funded through the Institute of Education Sciences’ Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands at EDC. The primary goal of the partnership is to inform Vermont policymakers as they deliberate on Act 166, the state’s universal prekindergarten (preK) legislation. 

Based on the research questions prioritized by the implementing state agencies during an initial scan, the partners focused their work on understanding the availability of and access to preK programs, as well as equity in access by geography and student/family characteristics. Because the program was new and data were fragmented and, in some cases, nonexistent, completing this analysis required an investment in cleaning and connecting data, as well as some new data collection. The resulting findings, shared with the agencies and with the Vermont Legislature, have informed decisions about potential modifications to the statewide preK program. Throughout the process, the partners worked closely together to ensure that the research addressed decision-makers’ questions about the policy while also ensuring that the limitations of the data were clear.

The case study highlights the process by which the partnership’s research agenda was formed and undertaken, challenges and successes in building the partnership and conducting the research, findings from the partnership’s two studies to date, and reflections on how the partnership addresses each of the actionable evidence principles.