Education research can be a daunting field, full of numbers and professional jargon. Making research findings accessible and applicable is often easier said than done, even for an organization like the Consortium on Chicago School Research, which has been studying policies and their outcomes in Chicago Public Schools since 1990.
CCSR’s newest initiative, a series of conferences called the Consortium Institutes, is designed to tackle some of the challenges faced by practitioners, researchers, and school district representatives working to bridge the gap between research and practice. The first of these institutes, “Conducting Research to Build the Capacity of Urban Educators,” took place at the University of Chicago Gleacher Center on February 24-25, 2011. The conference, which focused on principles of capacity-building research and sought to create a network of researchers, was the first of what CCSR hopes will be many conferences designed to address common problems in the field of educational applied research. David Stevens, Associate Director of CCSR Institutes, said the goal of this conference was “to create a professional community of researchers and school system representatives who will gather to share best practices, concerns, and solutions to common challenges” faced by researchers working to build the capacity of policymakers and practitioners.
More than 100 researchers from across the country attended the two-day conference. They travelled from as far as Hawaii and Texas and represented a range of geographic areas, from smaller, more rural areas to big city school systems, including the New York Public Schools. Attendees included representatives from school districts, other research consortia, research partnerships, and Regional Education Laboratories. Chicago Public Schools also sent representatives, including Terry Mazany, interim Chief Executive Officer of CPS who gave the keynote address to a packed room. In his talk, Mazany emphasized the important role that CCSR research has played in informing policy and practice in Chicago Public Schools.
Though Mazany and others praised CCSR for its leadership in the area of capacity-building research, there also was an acknowledgment that CCSR and similar organizations face some daunting challenges: adapting to a changing funding landscape, maintaining relationships amidst district turnover, and establishing a coherent research agenda, for example. Most importantly, researchers grappled with how to ensure that their work has a real, positive impact in schools. Perhaps the biggest take away from the meeting was the power of collaborating around these issues. As Paul Goren, the Lewis-Sebring Director of CCSR, noted in his closing remarks, the groups that convened at the Institute are like patches in search of a quilt, one that can be complete if it works together to solve common problems.