would have an ongoing involvement in the research enterprise. The data collected could be used in many different studies, making the initial investment far more productive.
Moreover, the value of the data collection rises substantially when students are followed over many years. Longitudinal data sets are the workhorses of empirical research in the social sciences. Investigation of the long-term impacts that are central to effective policy making can be explored only when data are collected longitudinally. But because longitudinal data collection requires a long-term effort in an environment in which many of the individuals (researchers, principles, teachers) have short-term horizons, the presence of an institutional infrastructure that can ensure continuity is critical.
Still, schools may be reluctant to participate in data collection without the promise of both protection (privacy of information) and significant payoff. Access to the quality of data needed for direct investigation of instructional questions becomes more likely if an organization like SERP develops solid credentials at instituting and honoring standards for information privacy—even as it attends to making data maximally useful for researchers within those privacy constraints.
Payoff for schools will be required in the form of negotiated products of research and development that satisfy the needs of schools as well as those of the researchers. It is certainly likely that many schools would have no interest in a research partnership. But the school administrators who do look to the research community for help with puzzling questions of practice have little guidance about where to find that help. SERP can serve as a magnet for schools and school districts who are looking for partnerships with researchers. When the desire for partnership is mutual, the demands of careful data collection may be more easily met.
A major contributor to both quality and impact of the SERP program, then, is the ability of the organization to attract schools as field sites and to nurture long-term relationships. Cultivating those relationships will be critical in achieving the trust that will be required for access to classrooms and to student-level data that will make empirical investigation of the most important problems of practice possible.