Cynthia Coburn

Cynthia Coburn

Professor, Human Development and Social Policy
Professor, Learning Sciences


Cynthia E. Coburn is a professor at Northwestern's School of Education and Social Policy. Coburn studies the relationship between instructional policy and teachers' classroom practices in urban schools. To date, Coburn has investigated this issue in a series of studies that tackle critical issues facing public schools: the relationship between reading policy and teachers' classroom practice, the scale-up of innovative mathematics curricula, data use at the district level, and the relationship between research and practice for school improvement. In 2011, Coburn was awarded the Early Career Award from the American Educational Research Association in recognition of her contributions to the field of educational research in the first decade of her career. Coburn has a BA in philosophy from Oberlin College, and a MA in Sociology and a PhD in Education from Stanford University.

Curriculum Vitae

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  • 2019 - Honorary Degree, Faculty of Psychology and Education and the Psychological Sciences Research Institute, UC Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
  • 2018 - Appointed to National Academies' Standing Committee on Advancing Science Communication Research and Practice
  • 2015 - Elected Fellow, American Educational Research Association, honoring "exceptional contributions to and excellence in education research"
  • 2014 - Association of Student Government Faculty and Administration Honor Roll, for excellence in undergraduate teaching, Northwestern University
  • 2014 - Chair of Educational Change, Faculty of Education, Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile
  • 2012 - Chancellor's Professor, University of California Berkeley
  • 2011 - Early Career Award, in recognition of distinguished portfolio of a cumulative within the first decade of career; American Educational Research Association
  • 2008 - Albert J. Harris Award for outstanding research contribution to the prevention or assessment of reading or learning disabilities; International Reading Association
  • 2007 - Award for Outstanding Reviewer; American Educational Research Journal-Social and Institutional Analysis
  • 2006 - Palmer O. Johnson Award for outstanding scholarship in an AERA journal; American Educational Research Association
  • 2002 - Dissertation Award, Division L (Politics and Policy); American Educational Research Association
  • 1999 - Spencer Foundation National Fellowship for Research Related to Education
  • 1988 - Phi Beta Kappa



Year Degree Institution
2001 PhD, Education Stanford University
1997 MA, Sociology Stanford University
1989 BA, Philosophy Oberlin College

Selected Publications

Huguet, A., Wong, L-S., Harrison, C., Coburn, C. E., & Spillane, J. (2019). Research use and school leaders: A review of the evidence. in C. James, D. H. Eddy-Spicer, M. Connolly & S. D. Kruse (eds) , The SAGE Handbook on School Organizations. Sage Publications.

Tseng, V. & Coburn, C. E. (2019). The Changing Tides of Evidence Use in U.S. Education: From What Works to Continuous Improvement. in A. Boaz, H. Davies, A. Fraser & S. Nutley (eds), What Works Now: Evidence Informed Policy and Practice. UK: Policy Press.

Morel, R. P., Coburn, C. E., Catterson, A. K., & Higgs, J. (2019). The multiple meanings of scale: Implications for researchers and practitioners. Educational Researcher: 369-377.

Farrell, C., Harrison, C., & Coburn, C. E. (2019). "What the hell is this and who the hell are you?": Role negotiation in research-practice partnerships. AERA Open.

Farrell, C. & Coburn, C. E. (2018). The role of district absorptive capacity for organizational learning: An empirical study. American Education Research Journal: 955-994.

Morel R. P. & Coburn, C. E. (2018). Brokering in context: Exploring influence in a professional development network. American Education Research Journal: 247-288.

Whyte, K. L., Stein, M. A., Kim, D., Jou, N., & Coburn, C. E. (2018). Mathematics in early childhood: Teacher educator's accounts of their work . Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 39(3), 213-231: 39(3), 213-231.

Coburn, C.E., McMahon, K., Borsato, G., Stein, A., Jou, N., Chong, S., LeMahieu, R., Franke, M., Ibarra, S., & Stipek, D (2018). Fostering Pre-K to Elementary Alignment and Continuity in Mathematics in Urban School Districts: Challenges and Possibilities. Policy Analysis for California Education..

Coburn, C. E., Friedmann, E. & Stipek, D (2018). Fostering pre-K to elementary alignment and continuity in urban school districts: Challenges and possibilities. A policy brief. Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE).

Farrell, C. C. & Coburn, C. (2017). School districts and their external partners: A conceptual framework for productive partnering . Journal of Educational Change: 18(2), 135-159.

Huguet, A., Allen, A-R., Coburn, C.E., Farrell, C.C., Kim, D.H. & Penuel, W.R. (2017). Locating data use in the microprocesses of district-level deliberations. Nordic Journal of Studies in Education: 3(1), 21-28.

Stipek, D., Clements, D., Coburn, C. E., Franke, M. & Farran, D. (2017). PK -3: What does it mean for instruction?. Social Policy Report: 30(2), 1-22.

Penuel, B., Gallagher, D., & Coburn, C.E. (2017). Varieties of relationships between educators and researchers. in B. Penuel & D. Gallagher, Building and Sustaining Research-practice Partnerships in Education. Harvard Educational Press.

Coburn, C.E., & Penuel, W.R. (2016). Research-practice partnerships: Outcomes, dynamics, and open questions. Educational Researcher, 45(1): 48-54.
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Coburn, C.E., Hill, H.C., & Spillane, J.P. (2016). Alignment and accountability in policy design & implementation: The Common Core State Standards and implementation research. Educational Researcher, 45(4): 243-251.
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Coburn, C.E. (2016). What's policy got to do with it? How the structure-agency debate can illuminate policy implementation. American Journal of Education, 122(3): 465-475.
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Penuel, W.R., Farrell, C.C., Allen, A-R, Toyama, Y., & Coburn, C.E. (2016). How district leaders use research: Comparing differences within and across districts. Educational Policy, 32(4): 540-568.

Boaz, A., Coburn, C.E., et al. (2016). The future of Evidence and Policy: Moving forward from Valencia. Evidence & Policy.
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Penuel, W.R., Allen, A.-R., Coburn, C.E., & Farrell, C. (2015). Conceptualizing research-practice partnerships as joint work at boundaries. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR), 20(1-2): 182-197.
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Penuel, W.R., & Coburn, C.E. (2014). Research use at the school and district level. in Finnigan, K., & Daly, A.J. (Eds.), Using Research Evidence in Education: From the Schoolhouse Door to Capitol Hill Springer.
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Coburn, C.E., Mata, W., & Choi L. (2013). The embeddedness of teachers' social networks: Evidence from mathematics reform. Sociology of Education, 86(4): 311-342.
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Penuel, W.R., Coburn, C.E., & Gallagher, D. (2013). Negotiating problems of practice in research-practice partnerships focused on design. in B.J. Fishman, W.R. Penuel, A.-R. Allen, & B.H. Cheng (Eds.), Design-based Implementation Research: Theories, Methods, and Exemplars (pp. 237-255). National Society for the Study of Education Yearbook.
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Coburn, C. E. & Turner, E. O. (2012). Research on data use: A framework and analysis. Measurement: Interdisciplinary Research and Perspectives, 9(4): 173-206 [lead article].
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Coburn C. E. & Turner, E. O. (2012). Putting the "use" back in data use: An outsider's contribution to the measurement community's conversation about data use. Measurement: Interdisciplinary Research and Perspectives, 9(4): 227-234.
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Coburn, C. E. & Woulfin, S. L. (2012). Reading coaches and the relationship between policy and practice. Reading Research Quarterly, 47(1) [lead article]: 5-30 [lead article].
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Coburn, C. E., Russell, J. L., Kaufman, J., & Stein, M. K. (2012). Supporting sustainability: Teachers' advice networks and ambitious instructional reform. American Journal of Education, 119(1): 137-182.
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Turner, E. O., & Coburn, C. E. (2012). Interventions to promote data use: An introduction. Teachers College Record, 114(11): 1-13.
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Coburn, C. E. & Bueschel, A. C. (Eds.) (2012). Promoting data use in education: Promises and pitfalls. Special issue of Teachers College Record, 114(11).

Coburn, C. E. & Turner, E. O. (2012). The practice of data use: An introduction. American Journal of Education, 118(2): 99-111.
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Woulfin, S. & Coburn, C. E. (2011). Policy implementation: The path from reading policy to classroom practice. in Bean, R. M. & Dagen, A. S., Best Practices of Literacy Leaders in Schools (pp. 337-354). Guilford Press.

Coburn, C. E. & Stein, M. K. (2010). Research and Practice in Education: Building Alliances, Bridging the Divide. Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.

Coburn, C.E., Mata, W. & Choi, L. (2010). "I would go to her because her mind is math": Network formation in the context of mathematics reform. in Daly, A. J., Social Network Theory and Educational Change (pp. 33-50). Harvard Educational Press.

Coburn, C. E., Pearson, P. D., & Woulfin, S. (2010). Reading policy in an era of accountability. in Kamil, M., Pearson, P.D., Moje, E., & Afflerbach, P., Handbook of Reading Research Volume IV (pp. 1-26). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Coburn, C. E., Toure, J., & Yamashita, M. (2009). Evidence, interpretation, and persuasion: Instructional decision making at the district central office. Teachers College Record, 111(4): 1115-1161.
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Coburn, C. E. Honig, M. I., & Stein, M. K. (2009). What is the evidence on districts' use of evidence? in Bransford, J. D., Stipek, D. J., Vye, N. J., Gomez, L. M., & Lam, D., The Role of Research in Educational Improvement (pp. 67-86). Harvard Education Press.

Coburn, C. E., Bae, S., & Turner, E. O. (2008). Authority, status, and the dynamics of insider-outsider partnerships at the district level. Peabody Journal of Education, 83(3): 364-399.
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Coburn, C. E. & Russell, J. L. (2008). District policy and teachers' social networks. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 30(3): 203-235 [lead article].
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Honig, M. I. & Coburn, C. E. (2008) (2008). Evidence-based decision making in school district central offices: Toward a policy and research agenda. Educational Policy, 22(4): 578-608.
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Stein, M. K., & Coburn, C. E. (2008). Architectures for learning: A comparative analysis of two urban school districts. American Journal of Education, 114(4): 583-626.
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Coburn, C.E., & Russell, J.L. (2008). Getting the most out of professional learning communities and coaching: Promoting interactions that support instructional improvement . Learning Policy Brief, 1(3): 1-4.
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Coburn, C. E. (2006). Framing the problem of reading instruction: Using frame analysis to uncover the microprocesses of policy implementation. American Educational Research Journal, 43(3): 343-379 [lead article].
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Coburn, C. E. & Talbert, J. E. (2006). Conceptions of evidence-based practice in school districts: Mapping the terrain. American Journal of Education, 112(4): 469-495.
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Coburn, C. E. & Stein, M. K. (2006). Communities of practice theory and the role of teacher professional community in policy implementation. in Honig, M. I., New Directions in Education Policy Implementation: Confronting Complexity (pp. 25-46). The State University of New York Press.

Coburn, C. E. (2005). The role of nonsystem actors in the relationship between policy and practice: The case of reading instruction in California. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 27(1): 23-52.
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Coburn, C. E. (2005). Shaping teacher sensemaking: School leaders and the enactment of reading policy. Educational Policy, 19(3): 476-509.
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Honig, M.I., & Coburn, C.E. (2005). When districts use evidence to improve instruction: What do we know and where do we go from here?. Voices in Urban Education (6): 22-29.
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Coburn, C. E. (2004). Beyond decoupling: Rethinking the relationship between the institutional environment and the classroom. Sociology of Education, 77: 211-244 [lead article].
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Coburn, C. E. (2003). Rethinking scale: Moving beyond numbers to deep and lasting change. Educational Researcher, 32(6): 3-12.
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Coburn, C. E. (2001). Collective sensemaking about reading: How teachers mediate reading policy in their professional communities. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 23(2): 145-170.
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Research Interests

Relationship between research and policy
Relationship between instructional policy and teachers' classroom practices in urban schools

Last Updated: 2019-12-11 15:05:36