UChicago Consortium Anniversary — Introduction: Twenty-Five Years of Inquiry and Partnership

PENNY BENDER SEBRING: Welcome everyone, to the Consortium's 25th Anniversary. And the first thing I'd like to do is to ask those people who were working in Chicago Public Schools, or working on school reform in 1990, to please stand up. Let's see who you are. That's wonderful. For the rest of you, a lot of this is going to be a history lesson, I think. So to situate our celebration today, I'm going to return to 1990 when we started the Consortium. The Chicago School Reform Act had cut resources in powers of the central office, and then devolved money and authority to local schools, which who were themselves, creating their new local school councils. It was a very confusing time and there was very little systematic evidence available on the Chicago Public Schools. In the midst of that, Tony Bryk, our founder and who you will see on video shortly, was approached by CPS to see whether the universities could get involved in evaluating this new reform.

And it was out of that request that we started. In July of 1990, Tony asked me to join him in this effort. We, in addition to the school system, we also involved universities, nonprofit groups, the Teachers Union, the Administrators Association, and many other groups. Thus the name, the Consortium. We began our work in a space above the U-Chicago Lab School's band room, where students were trying mightily to make music. Tony and I were each working part time. Can you hear me? OK. Tony and I were each working part-time on the Consortium and we had a part-time secretary and a part-time graduate student and that was it. Today, we have well over 20 full-time researchers, and we've become a consequential and trusted institution in the city. We've created a large body of research. Many of you are familiar with it, covering topics from preschool attendance to high school discipline, and from double dose algebra to non-cognitive factors involved in learning.

None of this would have been possible without the Chicago Public Schools, who have been great collaborators. And they provide this kind of support, even though often times we went to them with very discouraging news. And we'll show a video shortly on our model. I also want to formally announce that we are shortening our name to the U-Chicago Consortium on School Research. I heard a few giggles. So for short, you can call us the U-Chicago Consortium, or the Consortium. In a few minutes, Sara Ray Stoelinga, the Sara Liston Spurlark Director of the U-Chicago Urban Education Institute, will explain how the Consortium fits into the Institute. And Sara herself has worked for the Consortium and earlier iterations of the Institute for nearly 20 years. Our focus today, our substantive focus is how to ensure that more students go to and through college. And we want to, and we want to say that we are very indebted to Melissa Roderick, who began this very significant line of work more than a decade ago. Very good.

We know we have far too many talented students who don't go to college at all, or go to college and then stop short of getting a degree. And this is an incredible loss for these students and for our city and for our society. So today, we'll get a primer on the most salient findings regarding what is effective in preparing and orienting students for college. Then we'll have a panel of high school leaders and a university leader talking about innovative programs to help students succeed. Then we'll have a little review of the reports that the consortium has provided to high schools, and most all high schools have received those now and we'll be getting other versions of them. We know of no other city where such detailed information is provided to the high schools, or to the elementary schools, for that matter. After that we'll move into breakout groups where you will have a chance to hear from a high school team that has been looking at its data and learned what they are seeing.

And then our discussion groups will go on to consider the question of what we all can do to support high schools as they try to prepare their students to go to and through college. We have many different organizations here today, including universities. So we think this is an opportunity for you to connect to others who are also interested in college access and college success. And then at the end, after the breakout groups, we'll come back here and have some wrap up and implications. And let's see, I think probably we'll be ending about 6:30, and then we'll start our reception. So let's see the video and then we'll hear from Sara. The Consortium is a research institute at the University of Chicago that does studies on school reform. We live on this funny boundary of doubt and belief that we're always skeptical about evidence, and we're skeptical about whether there's progress, but we believe that schools can get better. ELAINE M.

ALLENSWORTH: We know Chicago really well. But we don't just know Chicago, we know schools. We understand urban education in a way that's really kind of deep and nuanced and that you don't see a lot of times in education research. We try to ask questions that are going to get at really deep issues, things that people are really struggling with, not just in Chicago but across the country. How schools work and how students learn and what really matters for student success. JENNY NAGAOKA: It's so important for us that we not just be doing good research, but it's actually good research that is usable by people. That it's actually changing how people are thinking about the issues in education, how they're thinking about their day to day work, how they're thinking about what sort of policies we need. ARNE DUNCAN: I've always been a huge fan of the Consortium, and I think having something like that in Chicago where I worked was a huge advantage. Other superintendents in other cities that didn't have a strong, impartial research base made their jobs harder.

And having folks who can feed you good information, who will tell you not what you want to hear but what you need to hear, who will tell you the truth is extraordinarily beneficial. So I always thought it was a huge asset, a huge advantage, to me, to the city, and ultimately most importantly to the kids we were trying to serve. PENNY BENDER SEBRING: One of our most significant studies was the study of the five essential supports, and this was a study of the common characteristics of improving schools. Improving schools had five areas that they were very strong in, school leadership, collaborative teachers, family involvement, a supportive and safe environment for kids, and then finally, ambitious instruction going on in the classroom. ISAAC CASTALEZ: There was so much to dig into in the survey, but it was also a catalyst for me to begin my improvement as a school leader and to make the changes that I needed to make at my school. Attendance has improved, the number of suspensions and infractions in the school have gone down drastically, by more than 200% in some cases.

Now my students are increasingly willing to take on challenges. They feel more confident in themselves because there are structures and supports around them that they trust. And that allows them to take thoughtful risks and to work harder, because they are working in an environment that is safer, warmer, and more supportive of their needs. LIZ KIRBY: I just go back to being a principal my very first year and not knowing what I was doing. And I was looking for an anchor and looking for the things that I could focus on. And the Consortium, those reports were, I mean, they were posted all on my bulletin boards. You know, I had them right on my computer, even, just to remind me of what was important and what really should be guiding my work with teachers. One of the first areas of focus was really looking at the performance of students in their freshman years. ELAINE M.

ALLENSWORTH: We came out with a report in 2007 called, What Matters for Staying on Track in Graduating, where we really showed the crucial importance of attendance and how even one F made a huge difference in the 9th grade year for a student being likely to graduate. AARTHI DHUPELIA: Freshmen on Track work has been a huge deal for the district. It really helped adults organize around the work and talk about, student by student, how can we have the student with the challenges that we're facing. And so it sort of started dialogue and work within schools that wasn't necessarily happening systemically. LIZ KIRBY: Not only did the On Track rates improve, but achievement also improved. On Track really was a magical thing. Graduation rates went up, the incidence of negative climate misconducts went down, college enrollment, most importantly– and this all this is connected also– I will say this any day of the week, there is a child that is not in jail and there's a child that is not dead because of the work on On Track. JOHN EASTON: I think that the Consortium is an institution, especially located at a university like the University of Chicago, where this has succeeded over 25 years. I think that is something of a beacon for other players.

I've heard people even talk about it as a social movement that's really fundamentally changing the way education research is done. JENNY NAGAOKA: The Consortium is, it's an amazing place in so many ways. People work there because they really care about what's happening in our city and they care about what happens to the students in the Chicago Public Schools. And they really want schools to improve. JOHN EASTON: Well, there's been fantastic work the past 25 years. Hopefully in the next 25 years, you'll see even more timely research, even more impactful data, that could help educators who have dedicated their lives to helping children be successful. ELAINE M. ALLENSWORTH: I feel like we've had an extraordinary influence on education in Chicago and in school districts across the country. But I feel like we could do so much more. And I'm really excited to see what that's going to be. SARA RAY STOELINGA: I'd like to add my welcome to the special event honoring the U-Chicago Consortium's 25th Anniversary. Thank you so much for being with us here this evening.

I wanted to offer a few insights and perspectives on U-Chicago Consortium's existence within the Urban Education Institute, kind of situating the Consortium within UEI. And as you may know, the UEI has four units within it. One is our U-Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program, with its residency-based approach to training teachers with a full year of residency training and also three years of coaching support wherever they land in Chicago Public Schools. We have our University of Chicago Charter School, which is pre-k through 12, serving 900 students on the south side of Chicago with a goal of really creating critical thinkers and leaders and 100% college graduation of our students. Thirdly we have U-Chicago Impact, which disseminates research-based practice-proven tools from the Consortium and from our other units as well nationally, and touching about 2.5 million students across the country, currently. And of course, we have U-Chicago Consortium, whom we are here to celebrate this evening.

So thinking about how to situate the Consortium within URI, one of the things I thought I might do was to actually briefly illustrate the influence and impact that the Consortium has on its sister units within UEI, and I want to start with U-Chicago Charter. So if you walk into the conference room in the University of Chicago Woodland Campus– and we actually have the Interim Campus Director, Mike Lackenbach is here present with us– if you walk in there they actually have two walls that are white boards that are covered with the Consortium's work. There are quotes from Elaine Allensworth on the wall. All of the five essentials are blown up poster size with all of the items and measures listed. There are report covers that illustrate the most important focus areas that the school has, that's influenced by the Consortium's research. And importantly, this year the CEO of U-Chicago Charter, Shane Evans, who's also here with us this evening, actually instituted new metrics focused on 98% attendance goal for all of our campuses.

And of course, this clearly comes directly out of the Consortium's work. And so it's an example of the impact of the Consortium's work on the school. If you go to U-Chicago Impact, the Consortium of course created five essentials, and you saw that in the video. And I know many of you use this in your day to day work, the power of that predictive indicator, of the way in which understanding how we organize schools for improvement and the impact that has on the long term health and outcomes of students. And I'm proud to say that U-Chicago Impact is now disseminating five essentials nationally, and we're in 12 states, 4,200 schools serving 150,000 teachers and 1.2 million students across the United States. And of course, this would not be possible without the Consortium's innovative and forward thinking about these types of indicators and U-Chicago Impact's efforts to distribute those nationally. When we go to U-Chicago UTEP, our Teacher Education Program, the research approaches that the Consortium has used to understand the quality of teaching and to understand how to measure that– so things like comparing teacher evaluation ratings from program to program, or collecting artifacts of student work that are assigned by teachers, and analyzing the extent to which those are ambitious intellectual assignments that are given to students– these kind of ways of thinking about teacher quality have molded and shaped the way the Urban Teacher Education Program does their work.

So why do I provide these snapshots? I provide them for two reasons. One is to illustrate the power of UEI's work, which the Consortium sits within. This use of evidence to drive improvement in all different aspects of the field really defines what the Urban Education Institute is and does. But the second more important reason that I give you these illustrations is to demonstrate the Consortium's influence on the micro level within UEI, and the way in which the Consortium can probably tell thousands or countless other stories about the influence that they are having on other organizations across the country, from school houses to classrooms, districts, nonprofit organizations, think tanks, et cetera. The Freshman on Track indicator is one example. It's spread across and taken root nationally. Certainly a dozen or more places have started research-based, place-based consortia that are modeled after our work here in Chicago. And the five essentials, as I just said, is in thousands of schools influencing cities all over the country.

And these are just but a few examples of the U-Chicago Consortium's influence, which starts right here at home and is happening all over the country. And so it's this legacy and contribution that we honor and celebrate today, and I want to add my deepest congratulations to the Consortium as they celebrate 25 years. And it's now my pleasure to introduce Elaine Allensworth. Elaine is the Louis Sebring Director of the Consortium, and Elaine has been with the Consortium for 17 years, starting as a junior researcher and moving across her career into the director role. As many of you already know, Elaine is considered to be a national expert in school reform and has provided the intellectual, methodological, and inspirational leadership to guide the Consortium's path. You have her bio in your folder and I know you all know her well, but one thing I just want to add about Elaine that's always impressed me is the extent to which she internalizes, guides, and contributes expertise on every single study that the Consortium does.

You will also find that she was involved in creating or contributing to all of the most influential indicators and studies that the consortium has done, such as Freshmen on Track and the Five Essentials. She's quite simply incredible. Elaine Allensworth. ELAINE M. ALLENSWORTH: Thank you, Sara. That was really nice. And thank you, all of you. I'm so excited to be here celebrating 25 years. And it's so great to be able to celebrate with all of you who are our friends, our collaborators, our colleagues in all of the work that we've been doing over these 25 years. 25 years ago, fewer than half of students graduated from the Chicago Public Schools. Think about that. Fewer than half of students who enrolled in Chicago Public Schools obtained a high school diploma. Think about in that context the idea of trying to get all students to get a college degree like wasn't even like something that people talked about. Right? Now the goal of the district is to get all students ready to succeed in college.

And we're here today actually taking that goal seriously, right? Thinking about how do we get all of our students to and through college. Some things has stayed the same. It's still a district where the vast majority of students are poor, living in segregated neighborhoods, attending segregated schools, struggling with the demands that poverty puts on families in terms of health, housing and transportation instability, neighborhood violence, where students begin school very far behind. At the same time, Chicago has made a lot of progress, despite its context, despite the context of the Chicago Public Schools, that's often hidden behind the bad news. In this school district, learning gains are much, much stronger than average learning gains across the state. Students with similar economic backgrounds have much higher achievement in Chicago then in the rest of the state, compared to other students with similar economic background. Graduation rates have increased by 20 percentage points, at least. And we've actually had more than a doubling of students obtaining college degrees in the last nine years. It's amazing. There's a narrative out there that nothing works, or that we don't know what works.

And neither of those things are true. We've seen schools make significant progress. We know that it's possible, but we also know it takes a lot of work. People in this city have worked really hard. People in schools, people in nonprofits, families, community groups, and they've done all this despite all the politics, all the turnover, the lack of funding. Now the district has very ambitious goals. The vast majority of students in the Chicago Public Schools aim to complete a four year college degree. To meet the expectations of our students, our students themselves, we need a system that's going to get them there. Currently, the odds are stacked against them. I mean, that is, that's just how it is if you're growing up in poverty, honestly. So to reach that goal, fulfill their expectations, we need to attend to the lessons that we've learned over the last 25 years.

And we've learned a lot of lessons. So I'm going to quickly go through some of those. So 25 years ago, researchers, educators, policymakers, they got together to develop the first framework, the first iteration of the framework of the five essential supports, which you can see represented up here. Since that time, we've learned a lot about what it takes that makes for strong and improving schools. Time and again, we find that the way adults work together is more important than the qualities of individual teachers or leaders. Traditional models of teachers isolated in classrooms are only sufficient if we want to keep on reproducing the inequalities that already exist in students' lives. Getting students to show better than expected outcomes so that students living, or so that schools serving the poorest neighborhoods show outcomes equivalent to schools serving the middle class, requires exceptional school capacity. You've probably seen the model of the five essential supports like this.

You've seen the individual school reports. Schools with improving student outcomes have leaders that bring adults in the school together, teachers, staff, and families to work collaboratively on goals around improving the school environment– that's whether the school is safe, supportive, academically focused– and instruction. Often school leaders are trying to do a million things at once. They're putting out fires. They're trying to implement lots of uncoordinated programs. But successful leaders figure out what to do, how to put all that aside and bring people to work together on coherent, shared goals around student outcomes. Now the guide for all of this activity needs to be on how students actually experience the school environment. Using student data, attendance, grades, suspensions, student survey reports, as well as performance on tests, to gauge how things are working for students and then guide school strategies.

The history of school reform is one of many big policies that were supposed to solve big problems. We've studied many of these large scale reforms over and over again. And we almost always find both benefits and adverse consequences. Full scale, top down, tends to result in amplifying uneven school performance. Schools that have cooperation and trust amongst staff and with families, that have systems in place for school improvement, those are the schools that can adapt new policies to their advantage. For schools that have weak organization and little trust and collaboration, new policies are just one more demand that makes the school even more chaotic and makes people even more frustrated and can make achievement worse.

Strategies that build local capacity are just much more likely to be effective than those that simply demand change. So we've also learned that college readiness requires careful attention to transitions, especially the transition to high school. That 9th grade year, because that's the critical year, both for high school graduation and for college readiness. Used to be, back when I first started working at the Consortium and was talking to people, people would talk about preventing high school dropout and promoting college readiness as two competing goals. Right? I heard time after time again concerns from schools that, well, if they kept more students in school, their test scores would go down. Right? They wouldn't have the rigor that they needed to get students ready for college.

Now we know that improving high school graduation is the first step to improving college readiness. CPS has seen a doubling in the percentage of students obtaining four year college degrees, and that's largely been driven by the increase in high school graduation rates. Through the response of schools to Freshmen on Track research, the district has seen incredible increases in high school pass rates, course pass rates, grades, and learning. And 20 years ago, people thought high schools were unreformable. Both high school graduation and college preparation are about getting students engaged in their classes, working hard so they pass, they learn, and they develop learning habits and learning strategies that they're going to need in college and in life. Seems kind of obvious, right? But so many of the strategies that we've seen have been about improving test scores or just changing the curriculum without strategies about how to get students engaged in that curriculum.

Right? So we have strategies to give students more test practice, change graduation requirements, bring in IDS, the Common Core. All of these are silent about supporting students. How do we support students so that they can engage in the coursework? People often think that if you just get the right curriculum, students will be more engaged. But the opposite seems to be easier. Getting students coming to class every day, doing the work, that leads them to learn more and it makes it easier to implement challenging curriculum. So, I'm going to give a special plug now for working on attendance. I think Sara previewed this. People often think it's a low level goal, but it contributes more than any other factor to achievement inequality, failure, and low grades. College ready students have average attendance rates of about 98%. Yet, while attendance has improved considerably in CPS, 30% of ninth graders are still chronically absent, attending less than 90% of the time.

That's almost a third of students missing at least 10% of school. So as you're spending all your time working on your new curriculum, working on your test, picking out your textbook, think about are they actually going to be in class to appreciate that. OK. So what does that mean? Well, teacher monitoring and support we find plays a really crucial role. As adults get together to monitor data on students, attendance, grades, behavior, they develop strategies for reaching out, finding out what's interfering with students coursework, keeping students from falling behind. And that's really key. There are thousands of reasons students might be absence, might not be getting the work done or might be performing poorly on tests. But if nobody finds out why and helps them overcome whatever that challenge is, they're going to just keep drifting further and further behind, right, until it gets too late to catch up.

But if teachers notice and they help students develop strategies to succeed, they're– that's what students see as caring. That teacher cares about me. She wants me to succeed in class. And that's going to help them not just in that class, but in all their other classes. And that actually makes them better students and makes them more likely to succeed in high school and in college. Our research shows that the biggest obstacle to students' college readiness is not their test scores. It's low GPAs, low course grades. And that comes from weak engagement and work effort in classes. Now academic skills are important. I believe that. But they are not enough. And the narrow range of skills that are measured on standardized tests provide an incomplete picture of what students need to succeed in school and in life. People used to think that students failed in high school because they had low test scores.

They thought academically strong students succeeded in high school and went on to college if they wanted to, and succeeded there. Right? But we now know that there are a host of other factors other than academic skills that matter for student's educational attainment and for their life success. You may call them non-cognitive skills, 21st century skills, soft skills, whatever you want to call them. Student success as young adults depends on a host of factors in addition to their academic skills. Their beliefs about themselves, their perseverance, their learning strategies, the list goes on and on and on. And that's probably why we find, over and over again, that grades, GPAs, are so much more predictive of educational attainment than their test scores. They measure of a lot more. And they're a reflection of students' engagement over the long term, across many different kinds of challenges. For a long time, people in Chicago equated college readiness with performance on the ACT.

And probably there are still a lot of people who do that. But we've actually seen that a narrow focus on preparing for tests like the ACT can actually be counterproductive. Limiting students' overall development and leading to disengagement, frustration, and even lower test gains– that's right, remember that study where we found that too much preparation for the ACT actually led to lower scores on the ACT. The question becomes, how do you support students so that they are more engaged and developing all the competencies that they need for success. It's not about narrowing the curriculum or doing test practice. It comes back to developing systems that help adults collaborate, reach out, and support students to successfully meet diverse challenges and their larger educational goals. Educational attainment is also about the larger system that students live in. There are many potholes on the road to college.

Some are associated with academic skills and preparation. Others with mindsets, motivation, broader competencies, all those non-cognitive factors. Others are structural. The process of applying, enrolling, getting financial aid to cover all the different college expenses, actually getting to college, all those things. You know, it's partly college knowledge, you've heard people talk about college knowledge, probably. But it's also the degree to which students actually have help negotiating a really complex process. Students with more advantaged families don't have to do as much on their own. A college going culture in schools helps students through all those complex steps in preparing, applying, and selecting a college, and actually getting there. When there's one counselor per 100 students, support for college cannot rely on just one person, right? But if everyone in the school is preparing for college and going through the right steps, then students, they don't have to figure out how to opt into doing all those steps. Instead, it's a process of opting out, figuring out how to get it so it's opt out rather than opt in.

And developing systems for supporting students is crucial. When Consortium research showed that FAFSA completion was a barrier for many, many students, the district started tracking students' FAFSA completion with real time data. And schools developed systems to make sure students got their forms filled in. Now it's just not a problem anymore. It's not a problem anymore. And the college environment itself matters. Can you prepare a student to succeed at an institution where 2/3 of the students who enroll fail to graduate? Can you do that? We need colleges that themselves are well organized to support the students that they admit as students. So to earn a college degree, most students need to graduate high school, enroll in college, and then graduate from college. Usually people only look at one milestone at a time– high school graduation, college enrollment, college graduation.

But that gives you a misleading perspective. It makes it look like things are much better than they actually are. So one of the key metrics that we're now tracking is the degree attainment index, which combines the most recent information on all of those milestones together to show the movement of students to and through college, all the way from 9th grade forward. So we're trying to help everyone see the big picture, from what happens in 9th grade, which again is really critical, to high school experiences, the college choice process, and then the ways in which students are set up to succeed or fail once they get to college. The first step to meeting goals is knowing the scope of the issue, how students are doing all along the path to attainment, what really matters from their success at each of those steps. And we have a lot of research now, which I'm not going into, that points to a lot of high leverage ways to improve achievement from elementary school all the way through college. And we can measure students' outcomes along the points.

And we are going to be providing that information publicly, by high school, in March so that everyone who works with students– the OneGoals and Umojas and Gear Ups, and Albany Park Neighborhood Association and all the other community associations and parents and teachers and school leaders– everyone will be able to diagnose where the students that they work with are falling off the path to college completion. Because it takes all of us, right, working together. So I'm going to wrap up now and leave you with three things to remember, three big takeaways. First of all, monitoring student data is crucial, whether you call it working on the ABCs– Attendance Behavior Course Performance, or BAG, Behavior, Attendance and Grades, whatever you want to call it– those data points, they tell you how engaged students are in their coursework. And they also tell you, really strongly, the probability for the students both of graduating high school and completing college. Second, it takes strategic leadership to coherently bring adults together around monitoring and supporting students.

Without systems for collaboration in schools' focus on goals for students, individual teachers and families are left on their own to try to figure out what to do for students who are struggling. Right? Are we just going to leave it to everyone to figure out on their own? I'll say it again. The way that adults collaborate around goals for improving school climate and instruction is way more important for improving student outcomes than the qualities of individual teachers and leaders. The way that adults collaborate. Finally, getting students to graduate college takes a school culture that lives and breathes support for the college process so that students don't have to do it on their own. And that's all I have to say. .