Data collection and analysis are critical sources of knowledge and support for large school districts and their boards. Research departments within school systems, however, are tasked with responding to local and state compliance mandates rather than addressing critical longer term policy issues confronting system leaders.
Inspired by the Consortium on Chicago School Research which conducts external research on Chicago’s public schools, a group of Baltimore foundations sponsored a forum with the Chicago Consortium and local universities in 2006. With funding from the Abell Foundation and the Open Society Institute, researchers from the Johns Hopkins University and Morgan State University, in collaboration with Baltimore City Public Schools (City Schools) and community/civic groups, launched BERC, an independent educational research consortium, in 2007.
BERC’s mission is to conduct and disseminate long- and short-term strategic data analysis and research that informs decisions about policy and practice to improve the educational and life outcomes of children in Baltimore.
Setting its educational research agendas through a collaborative process, BERC acquires and assesses data, conducts research and data analysis around priority agenda items, and disseminates findings to key constituents and the public. In its strategic data analysis, BERC has produced over 20 reports tracking longitudinal progress of students in City Schools such as “Importance of September Attendance” (July 2014) and “The Challenge of On-Time Arrival: The Seven-Year Flight Path of Baltimore’s Sixth Graders of 1999-2000.” In addition, Abell Foundation funding has enabled BERC to study, for the first time, college readiness, college enrollment and college completion for graduates of Baltimore City Public Schools. BERC’s four reports since 2011 shed a light on challenges still facing City Schools and present opportunities to increase college and career readiness of graduates; its partnership with City Schools and the Maryland Higher Education Commission staff are informing college-ready policies and practices.
BERC also reserves time for rapid response analysis and program evaluations on issues of importance to its executive committee and the foundation community. The Abell Foundation, for example, has used BERC for program evaluations on the CollegeBound Retention Program and The Ingenuity Project.