Dr. Porter served as dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education and George and Diane Weiss Professor from 2007 to 2014. He began his academic career on the faculty at Michigan State University (1967–1988), where he co-directed the Institute for Research on Teaching and served as associate dean for Research and Graduate Study. During this time, he also took three years’ leave from MSU to serve as a visiting scholar at the National Institute of Education, where he created and was first chief of the Methodology and Measurement Division and later associate director in charge of the Basic Skills Group.
From 1988 to 2003, he served as Anderson-Bascon professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he directed the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. In 2003, he joined the faculty of Vanderbilt University, where he was the Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations in the Peabody College of Education and Human Development and served as director of the university’s Learning Sciences Institute.
His research on teacher decision-making created the Surveys of Enacted Curriculum (SEC) tools for measuring content and content alignment as well as teacher log procedures. He is senior author of the VAL-ED assessment of school leadership. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Education, recipient of the AERA Distinguished Contributions to Education Research Award, Lifetime National Associate of the National Academies, past-President of the American Education Research Association, and was for eight years a member of the National Assessment Governing Board.
He is a present or past member of a dozen scholarly editorial and advisory boards, including American Educational Research Journal, Educational Researcher, Teachers College Record, and Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness. He is the author or co-author of 46 book chapters, 84 scholarly articles, dozens of technical reports, and one book.