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 Chicago School Research conducts research that assesses policy and practice in the Chicago Public Schools.
UChicago CCSR 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, UChicago CCSR 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.
UChicago CCSR 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 UChicago CCSR'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. UChicago CCSR 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, UChicago CCSR 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, UChicago CCSR 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 UChicago CCSR for assistance in initiating their own research partnerships. UChicago CCSR 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 UChicago CCSR's work. In addition, Texas has launched a 19-school district consortium.
The Urban Education Lab (UEL) was established to bring together leading education-policy researchers across the country to improve educational outcomes in urban areas through:
- Rigorous Policy Research: The UEL emphasizes the use of the most scientifically rigorous methods to derive inferences about policy impacts, including randomized controlled trials and their close substitutes (such as regression discontinuity designs)
- Inter-Disciplinary Evaluations: The UEL draws from a wide range of scientific disciplines to develop partnerships between practitioners and researchers from various fields. We believe no single social science discipline alone has the breadth of perspectives and tools necessary to solve the urban education problem.
- Cost-Effective Decision Making: The UEL emphasizes the use of benefit-cost and cost-effectiveness analyses as part of its experiments, to enable policymakers to learn more about how to achieve the greatest social good for a given level of (increasingly scarce) schooling resources.
- Knowledge Sharing: The UEL believes that the dissemination of the findings of its studies in an accessible and useful way, to policymakers as well as the broader research community, is necessary to inform policy decisions and further our scientific understanding of urban education.