A crucial component of urban school improvement is deep and relevant research based on the factors that matter most for improving student learning. UEI’s University of Chicago Consortium on School Research conducts research that assesses policy and practice in the Chicago Public Schools.
The UChicago Consortium seeks to expand communication among researchers, policymakers, and practitioners while supporting the search for solutions to the problems of school reform. It encourages the use of research in policy action and improvement of practice, but does not argue for particular policies or programs. Rather, the Consortium builds capacity for school reform by identifying what matters for student success and school improvement, creating critical indicators to chart progress and conducting theory-driven evaluation to identify how programs and policies are working.
The UChicago Consortium understands that research that builds capacity in schools requires a stalwart commitment to:
- maintaining an extensive data archive on CPS fostering extensive stakeholder engagement and strong ongoing relationships with the school district
- conducting scientifically rigorous research with broadly accessible findings. building a knowledge base about core problems of urban schools over time
- promoting extensive outreach to provide information to broad audiences.
Throughout the Consortium's history, its researchers have worked closely with Chicago Public Schools and the broader community to share research findings, consider implications, and advise on initiatives aimed at addressing needs uncovered by the research. The Consortium has 20 full-time researchers and releases eight to 12 studies each year. These studies have a concrete impact. For example, research on the key characteristics of elementary schools that improve student learning led CPS to revamp its school improvement planning process for all of its elementary schools. At the high school level, the Consortium's research showing ninth grade as a “make it or break it year” resulted in CPS creating a tracking system for ninth-graders and investing in interventions with students who fall off-track.
Research on college access led to extensive CPS program development, including tracking systems to monitor the completion of financial aid forms and the proportion of students at each high school entering and graduating from college. On the national level, the UChicago Consortium's researchers provide technical assistance to urban school districts across the nation in developing data systems that will produce key indicators for being on-track for high school graduation and for college entrance and completion. A growing number of urban centers have also called on the Consortium for assistance in initiating their own research partnerships. The UChicago Consortium is now supporting the incubation of applied research centers in 20 major urban centers across the country. New York City, Newark, Kansas City and Baltimore have already established research consortia based on the Consortium's work. In addition, Texas has launched a 19-school district consortium.