For leaders of large urban school districts, there are often two problems with academic research into their schools: it takes forever to get results, and usually, the district has no say in what gets studied.
A new partnership between Chicago Public Schools and Northwestern University is hoping to change that. They are launching a grant program that aims to increase collaboration between university researchers and CPS and provide results on a faster timeline.
“Instead of waiting for years to get money and then to carry out the research, we’re prioritizing research … where maybe this time next year, CPS will already have some strong answers to questions they care about,” said David Figlio, dean of Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy (SESP), which is facilitating the program.
The new Rapid Impact Grants Program will emphasize research that focuses on questions CPS really wants to answer, such as how well a new curriculum is going, how to improve preschool, or how well the school system’s planning for schooling beyond graduation is going.
CEO Janice Jackson, who was elevated to run the school system earlier this year, said she’s trying to create a more constructive relationship with local universities.
“I feel in years past, Chicago [Public Schools] was always seen as something to study as opposed to a partner in that work,” Jackson said. “Often times, researchers are so disconnected from what actually happens day to day in the school that the findings don’t lead to changes at the local level and the classroom level where it matters most.”
Local donors have made $145,000 available for the first year, with support from the Spencer Foundation, the Steans Family Foundation, the Chicago Public Education Fund, and an anonymous donor. Projects with a budget under $20,000 are more likely to be funded, according to the guidelines for researchers.
Northwestern researchers have until Sept. 7 to submit proposals. CPS and SESP will select the first round of projects in October, with a second possible round in November.
Jackson says this new partnership will not affect the district’s existing open data sharing agreement with the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, which has conducted long-term research on CPS’ school reform efforts.
“This is just going a step further,” Jackson said.
Figlio said this type of direct partnership between a university and school district is unique nationally. If these research projects develop breakthroughs, he hopes it can expand beyond Northwestern to include other local colleges and universities.