Photo: Flickr user Karen Apricot.

The Kinder Institute's own Ruth N. López Turley named among the most influential education scholars in the country.

As a think and do tank, the Kinder Institute hopes not just to produce research but to influence policy, which is why it's gratifying to see our own Ruth N. López Turley, the director of the Houston Education Research Consortium with the Kinder Institute and a sociology professor here at Rice University, on Rick Hess' 2019 list of the 200 U.S.-based scholars "who did the most last year to shape educational practice and policy." 

As part of his regular Education Week column, Hess, director of education policy studies over at the officially non-partisan but conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, ranked 200 scholars based on everything from newspaper mentions to congressional records. "This whole endeavor is admittedly a highly imperfect exercise," Hess noted, but he defended its usefulness to share information and spark conversation. 

Big names like Harvard University's Raj Chetty, Stanford University's Robert Reich and others made the list. Some had recent book publications, like U.C. Berkeley's Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law or Virginia Commonwealth University's Tressie McMillan Cottom's Lower Ed. Others, like Stanford University's Sean Reardon, have been working to present education data in more insightful and accessible ways.

For her part, Turley is at the center of the research-practice partnership, seeking to work directly with school districts to answer critical questions and address equity concerns. "So before the research begins, we jointly produce a research agenda," she told the Houston Chronicle in 2016. "That makes decision makers more invested because they played a role in deciding on the questions in the first place. We're aiming for long-term alliances that involve working on a series of projects to address long-standing problems instead of one small problem or project at a time."

Beginning with the Houston Independent School District, the Houston Education Research Consortium's work has expanded to include partnerships with a number of other area districts, including Cypress-Fairbanks, Spring Branch and Alief. 

Turley also helped found a national network of similar education research-practice partnerships and has offered her expertise to policymakers, including as a member of the State Board of Education’s Long-Range Plan Steering Committee. 

Long before Ruth Lopez Turley knew what sociology was, she was studying it. Growing up in Laredo, a town on the U.S.-Mexico border and one of the poorest in the country, she observed great disparities in educational success — noting that while most white students were academically successful, most Hispanics were not. She carried this observation with her while attending Stanford University as an undergraduate. “My first sociology class discussed poverty and inequality and that really captured my attention because I honestly didn’t know that there were people who studied these things,” Turley said.

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