The Consortium on School Research at the University of Chicago was founded in 1990, two years after the passage of the Chicago School Reform Act that decentralized governance of the city’s public schools. Since then, the UChicago Consortium has distinguished itself as a unique organization, conducting research of high technical quality that is accessible to practitioners and policymakers and that is used broadly by the school reform community.

Most importantly, the UChicago Consortium is viewed as making important contributions to school reform, both through the findings and implications of specific research studies and more broadly by improving the capacity of the district to use data, build effective strategies, and evaluate progress. In this report, we argue that the UChicago Consortium’s focus on building capacity for school reform both sets the UChicago Consortium’s role apart from traditional approaches researchers have used to influence policy and practice and also represents a new model for conducting policy-relevant research. 

The report begins with a brief background of the UChicago Consortium. We then describe how a focus on capacity building has been institutionalized in a specific set of organizational arrangements that allow us to establish coherence across studies, seek broad stakeholder engagement, and make findings accessible. We argue further that developing new roles for research is increasingly important in new policy environments that depend significantly on the capacity of teachers and principals to not only respond to incentives and accountability but also to manage decentralized decision making and school improvement efforts.