Schools as Organizations

The ways in which schools and classrooms are organized affect student learning, both in terms of what students learn and how they learn it.  Consortium research has highlighted the importance of five organizational supports for school improvement: effective leaders, collaborative teachers, involved families, supportive environments (safe, orderly, and focused on learning), and ambitious instruction.

Organizational supports can vary substantially from one school to another and also from school program to program.  The Consortium’s past research on different types of schools, including small schools and turnaround schools, and programs, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, has examined the impact of enrolling in those schools on student achievement, and also on the organizational features driving those schools’ performance. Schools’ organizational supports also play a role in how new district policies are implemented within the school.  Past work has documented substantial school-by-school variation in the implementation of new policies (e.g. Algebra for All, probation policy).  Future work will continue to examine the ways in which school organization and structure influence student achievement and the ways in which policies and practices are enacted.

6-16 Success.  In the fall of 2014, UChicago Impact launched the Success Project in partnership with the Lefkofsky Family Foundation, CPS, and the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL). The Success Project is a three-year effort that aims to better prepare middle grade students for the transition to and success in high school and beyond. It has been implemented in 10 CPS neighborhood schools and all of the elementary schools managed by AUSL.  Underlying this initiative is a belief that many urban public middle students in the United States enter high school without sufficient social supports and academic skills to succeed in high school and college. The program addresses this gap through a course taken by all middle students—called 6to16—and the engagement of a 6to16 coordinator based at each school.  UChicago Consortium is doing a formative evaluation to provide information about how this program has been operationalized and its initial effectiveness.

Charter High Schools.  Research at UChicago Consortium and elsewhere has suggested that a number of the charter high schools in Chicago are showing improvements in student achievement beyond what would be expected, given the characteristics of the students they are serving.  We would like to rigorously examine the degree to which student achievement is strong at particular charter schools.  Once we have verified the degree to which schools have exceptionally strong performance, we would like to study what it is about the schools that is leading to such strong gains and might be replicated elsewhere.

Community College Pathways.  Each year, about 20 percent of Chicago Public School graduates matriculate into a community college within the year after graduating from high school. For many students, community colleges are the best option for postsecondary education, as they lack the GPAs and ACT scores to gain entrance to most four-year colleges; in each year, approximately a quarter of CPS graduates leave high school with academic qualifications that would make them eligible to attend most four-year colleges. This project seeks to better understanding CPS students’ pathways through community colleges and the high school experiences and qualifications that make them more likely to be successful so that students can be more effectively supported as they seek to attain the degrees and certificates that will make them likely to succeed in the labor market.

Five Essentials-Early Education.  UChicago Consortium is partnering with The Ounce of Prevention Fund ("Ounce") to explore how the measurement of the five essentials could be adapted and applied to early childhood settings. In K-12 settings, the Five Essentials being measured are: effective leadership, collaborative teachers, student-centered supportive environments, family involvement, and ambitious instruction.  UChicago Consortium and the Ounce plan to adapt, refine, and validate the K-12 Five Essentials surveys for fit, feasibility, and effectiveness in publicly-funded early education programs. The resulting Five Essentials-Early Education will consist of two surveys–one for early educators and one for parents–designed to measure the five essential organizational features that support effective practice and, ultimately, promote children’s kindergarten readiness. For more information on the project, click here.

Study of the Long-Term Impacts of CPS School Closings.  Chicago Public Schools, like many districts across the U.S. facing budgetary constraints, has closed schools to address issues of low-performance and low-enrollment. Motivated by fiscal deficit, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) closed 49 elementary schools at the end of the 2012-13 academic year. Research on the effects of closing schools is scant and the impact of the policy on schools, teachers and their students is not well understood. In January 2015, the UChicago Consortium on School Research (The Consortium) released an initial small-scale study of the policy, showing where displaced students enrolled the following year and the reasons students ended up at different types of schools. In this second phase, The Consortium is conducting a study on the long term impacts of closing schools in order to provide districts with a better understanding of whether, and how, closing schools benefits students, whether academic gaps are closed among students, whether there are both beneficial and adverse consequences, what happens to staff in closed and receiving schools, and the factors that influence whether receiving schools are able to serve students well. This project is a mixed-methods study and utilizes rich longitudinal datasets from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) on individual students, teachers, and schools, annual survey data collected from students and teachers, and newly collected qualitative case study data from staff and students in sampled designated welcoming schools.  It is critical that we understand the effects of these policies to help students and schools when these policies are in place or when districts decide to close schools in the future. This is a unique opportunity for an IES Fellow to work on a study with policy implications. We are looking for an individual with strong interest in learning both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies.