Bill Penuel headshot 22
Distinguished Professor • Director
Learning Sciences & Human Development • National Center for Research in Policy and Practice

I design and study curriculum materials, assessments, and professional learning experiences for teachers in STEM education, primarily in science. I also study how contemplative practices and critical inquiry can support educators in cultivating more compassionate learning environments and schools. A third line of my research focuses on how long-term research-practice partnerships can be organized to address systemic inequities in education systems linked to race, gender and sexual diversity, and language.

In each of my projects, I work in partnership with educators and education leaders to explore how to attenuate inequities in school systems by: (1) creating equitable classroom cultures that attend to student experience; (2) testing strategies for address epistemic injustices in whose knowledge is elicited and valued; and (3) connecting teaching to the interests, experiences, and identities of learners, particularly those to whom our society owes an education debt. I use a wide range of research methods, including one my colleagues and I developed called design-based implementation research, to test what we design.

I have authored two books on research-practice partnerships, Creating Research-Practice Partnerships in Education (Harvard Education Press, 2017), and Connecting Research and Practice for Educational Improvement (Routledge,2018) and co-edited a book on improvement research, The Foundational Handbook on Improvement Research in Education (Rowman & Littlefield, 2022). I give workshops regularly on how to build and sustain research-practice partnerships centered on promoting equity through inclusive, collaborative design processes and monitoring of equity of educational opportunity.

For prospective PhD students: My work is beginning to focus more on cultivating compassion and dignity in schools and on promoting equitable collaboration in small group learning in STEM classrooms. I seek students who are interested in these topics and who have a particular interest in promoting racial equity in STEM and in creating spaces that affirm gender and sexual diversity in STEM. I seek to prepare my students for careers as boundary spanners who are skilled at multiple methods, knowledgeable about theories of learning and organizational change, and who hope to work as design researchers at the intersection of research, policy, and practice.


PhD Developmental Psychology, Clark University, 1996
EdM Human Development and Psychology, Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1992
BA Psychology, Clark University, 1991


DeBarger, A.H., Penuel, W.R., Harris, C.J., & Kennedy, C.A. (2015). Building an Assessment Argument to Design and Use Next Generation Science Assessments in Efficacy Studies of Curriculum InterventionsAmerican Journal of Evaluation

Penuel, W.R., Allen, A.R., Farrell, C., & Coburn, C. (2015). Conceptualizing research-practice partnerships as joint work at boundariesJournal for Education of Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR), 20(1-2), 182-197.

Penuel, W.R. (2014). Studying Science and engineering learning in practiceCultural Studies of Science Education. 1-16. doi: 10.1007/s11422-014-9632-x