About The Center for Urban Education Leadership
The Center for Urban Education Leadership (CUEL) seeks to impact issues of equity for PK-12 students through research, development, and policy advocacy. We investigate and act upon both leadership-focused and multi-disciplinary, leadership-inclusive problems to generate knowledge. We design, test, and enact learning designs to develop leaders and their organizations. Our work occurs locally, nationally, and globally. We accomplish these outcomes by applying our expertise in the areas of educational leadership, organizational development, equity/social justice, and continuous improvement/improvement science as we collaborate with other researchers and practitioners. We are driven to use our expertise and passion to IMPACT the lives of PK-12 urban students locally and throughout the world. Independently and in collaboration with other research/development organizations, CUEL has secured over 17M to fuel a broad assortment of research and development projects. In collaboration with UIC’s Ed.D. program, CUEL has been recognized for its expertise with continuous improvement by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement in Teaching.
research and publication spotlight
CUEL’s Dr. Steve Tozer Co-Authors Report on Effective Principal Preparation
CUEL affiliate and UIC Professor Emeritus Dr. Steve Tozer recently co-authored an extensive report on the learning demands of high-quality principal preparation with Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond and other colleagues from the Learning Policy Institute (or LPI). A substantial and growing body of research suggests that strong school leadership is critical for shaping productive learning environments, supporting high-quality teachers and teaching, and influencing student outcomes. But what characteristics contribute to high-quality principal preparation programs and learning experiences? And to what extent do principals have opportunities to participate in these experiences? This report reviews the research literature (2000-2017) to understand the elements of high-quality programs and learning experiences that have been associated with positive outcomes, including principals’ sense of preparedness, efficacy, and reported practices, staff perceptions of school climate, teacher retention, and student achievement. It also examines the extent to which principals have opportunities to participate in learning experiences with those elements and the policies that drive both the development of high-quality programs and access to them. Among the conclusions, the authors report that nationally principal preparation candidates enjoy greater access to relevant, high quality course content, but are less likely to access the most powerful learning experiences, including sustained in-situ internships and high-quality coaching support. Yet policies targeted to these experiences can make a difference, and have increased their availability in several states. The report concludes with a call for more research keyed to identifying the modes of learning that build early career school leader capacity and support improved and more equitable student outcomes.
CUEL’S DR. STEVE TOZER CO-AUTHORS NEW STUDY OF THE CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS AS AN IMPROVEMENT SUCCESS STORY
CUEL affiliate and UIC Professor Emeritus Dr. Steve Tozer has co-written a new study of the recent history of Chicago school reform, emphasizing the evolving capacity of CPS and its civic partners to sustain an improvement agenda through turbulent and contentious times. The co-authors include six partner-participants in the Chicago story, starting with lead author Anthony Bryk, past Carnegie president and former director of the Consortium on Chicago School Reform (CCSR). As such, the book offers a unique partner’s lens on Chicago’s success, and is the most comprehensive treatment to date of the forces that led from Chicago’s status as “worst school system in the nation” in 1987 to top 4% of the nation in student learning gains by 2017. Those forces included the mobilization of the civic community, including business, grass-roots neighborhood organizations, and foundations. Also influential was a new research and information infrastructure, led by the UC Consortium on School Research and investigated by Catalyst Magazine. These and related partner assets comprise what the authors call an “exoskeleton” supporting continuous school improvement in Chicago, a “new civic architecture” for collaborative reform. Further, the Chicago Public Schools played a dynamic and creative role in shaping this exoskeleton. UIC and its College of Education also is featured not only for its partnership with CPS in leadership development, but also for breaking new ground in teacher education. Overall, this new volume is likely to become a core resource for students of Chicago and national district improvement dynamics for years to come.
CASE STUDY BY CUEL RESEARCHERS DESCRIBES THE EVOLUTION OF LONG-STANDING DISTRICT-UNIVERSITY PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN UIC AND THE CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS
In a chapter contributed to a new edited volume devoted to how district-university partnerships can drive equity-focused school improvement, CUEL affiliates and their CPS colleagues describe the twenty-year evolution of their partnership to improve principal preparation for Chicago’s public schools.
Tozer, S., Martinez, P., Barron, C.K., Cosner, S., Hightower, Z., Jackson, J., Mayrowetz, D., Whalen, S., & Zavitkovsky. P. (2023). Preparing principals for urban schools: The challenge of equitable outcomes at scale. University of Illinois Chicago and Chicago Public Schools. In Gomez, L., et al., Improving America’s Schools Together: How District-University Partnerships and Continuous Improvement Can Transform Education. Rowman & Littlefield.
CUEL AFFILIATE CRAIG DE VOTO EXPLORES LEADERSHIP RESPONSES DURING PANDEMIC IN NEW ARTICLE IN EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION QUARTERLY (EAQ)
In a new study published by the journal Educational Administration Quarterly, CUEL Affiliate Craig De Voto, with colleagues Benjamin Superfine and Marc DeWit of UIC, investigate how K-12 leaders have responded to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic— especially the extensive federal/state policies governing their systems. The study focuses on two school districts over two years (2020– 2022), drawing on extensive interview and survey data. The data reveal that districts that possessed adequate expertise and organizational resources were better positioned to make sense of and respond to the crisis, whereas those lacking such capacities experienced increased anxiety/stress. The authors conclude by considering how how principal preparation programs and professional development efforts might prospectively address such crisis-related challenges faced by K-12 leader. The citation to the article follows. A link to the article may be accessed here.
De Voto, C., Superfine, B. M., & DeWit, M. (2023). Navigating Policy and Local Context in Times of Crisis: District and School Leader Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Educational Administration Quarterly, 0(0). https://doi.org/10.1177/0013161X231163870
RECENT WORK EXPLORING LEADERSHIP COACHING BY CUEL DIRECTOR SHELBY COSNER AND CUEL AFFILIATE CRAIG DEVOTO PUBLISHED IN EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION QUARTERLY (EAQ)
In a new study published by the journal Educational Administration Quarterly, Cosner and DeVoto investigate how clinical coaches broker relationships and otherwise intervene to assure more potent developmental experiences for their coaches in university-based school leadership preparation programs. The authors highlight several implications for the design of clinical coaching within leader preparation programs, as well as how coaches are prepared and supported in their work.
CUEL’s Assessment Specialist Paul Zavitkovsky Posts New Research Brief on Large-Scale Interim Assessments and the Not-So-Common Sense of Standardized Testing
The UIC Center for Urban Education Leadership (CUEL) announces the publication of a research brief that adds new urgency to a quiet war about what standardized tests can and can’t do that’s been simmering for decades between independent assessment professionals and commercial testing organizations. In the marketplace, at least, testing organizations have been winning this war hands down. In this brief, Paul Zavitkovsky reviews the track record of large-scale “interim” tests, and wonders whether pandemic disruptions, a decade of dismal return on investment and growing demands for instructional equity might finally begin to turn the tide on their continuing popularity. Zavitkovsky is an assessment specialist at the CUEL and is a former principal and leadership coach in the Chicago Public Schools.
Decoteau Irby Considers Race-conscious Preparation and Support Approaches for Asian, Black, Latinx, and Native K-12 Leaders in this Spencer-funded Publication
This white paper examines what we already know and what more educational scholars, policy-makers, and practitioners should know to strengthen the principal preparation and support pipeline for would-be, aspiring, and practicing Asian, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous K-12 leaders. Although researchers increasingly recognize the importance of race and race-gender conscious frames for understanding leader practice, these considerations remain novel in K-12 leadership preparation and support research. This white paper sets forth three key findings. First, despite social justice scholars’ increased attention to race and racism in leadership preparation, most research studies examine pedagogical and curricular interventions aimed at fostering White leaders’ racial consciousness and social justice practice. Second, despite increased calls for preparing more leaders of color, there remains a paucity of accounts that note the leadership preparation and support approaches that directly benefit Asian, Black, Latinx, or Native leaders. Third, leadership preparation and support studies, including those framed by a demographic imperative to increase the number of leaders of color, largely exclude insights from research that documents Asian, Black, Latinx, and Native leadership approaches and challenges.
CUEL’s Steve Tozer is a Contributor on a New Report on Developing Effective Principals
CUEL Faculty Affiliate Steve Tozer is a contributor on a new report on the development of effective principals published by the Learning Policy Institute. This report examines the literature on effective leadership development and provides the most up to date knowledge about entailments of consequential learning experiences for school leaders.
CUEL’s Lionel Allen Considers School Reform in Chicago Under the Renaissance 2010 Policy
In this provocative essay, CUEL’s Lionel Allen, who was tapped by then CPS CEO Arne Duncan and the founders of the Excellence Schools Academy to lead one of the first No Child Left Behind turnaround schools in 2006, both reflects back on this experience and advances potential unsettling implications from this work on schools and communities in the years that have followed.
NEW CUEL BRIEF SUGGESTS THAT CHRONIC ABSENCE, A THORNY CHALLENGE IN “HIGH
CHURN” SCHOOLS, NECESSITATES THE ADOPTION OF AN EVIDENCE-BASED STANCE
The UIC Center for Urban Education Leadership (CUEL) announces the publication of a new brief that builds from recent CUEL analysis of schools that have proven most challenging to improve in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). In this research brief, CUEL Researchers Steve Tozer and Lisa Walker make the case for “high churn” schools to adopt an evidence-based stance as they seek to address the issue of chronic student absence, one of the key factors that shape the learning experiences of a portion of students in “high churn” schools.
CUEL IDENTIFIES “HIGH CHURN” AS A SCHOOL TYPE THAT HAS PROVEN MOST CHALLENGING
The UIC Center for Urban Education Leadership (CUEL) announces the publication of new analysis that examines schools that have historically struggled to improve within the context of the Chicago Public Schools SQRP Accountability System. In this research brief, CUEL Researchers Lisa Walker and Steve Tozer advance the term ‘high churn” to describe a school type that has proven particularly challenging to improve. These schools exhibit comparatively high instability in student enrollment and attendance evidenced in rates of student mobility, chronic absence, and student homelessness. Teacher instability is also common in these schools. Walker and Tozer make the case for envisioning new improvement foci and approaches in these sorts of schools.
CUEL Reports Findings about Educational Ecosystems as Leadership Resources for Schools
The UIC Center for Urban Education Leadership (CUEL) announces the publication of a new study examining “intermediary organizations” as critical players in the support of school improvement, in association with the Qatar Foundation’s World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). As the research and work on educational ecosystems has grown, we now recognize a growing global trend that has positioned “intermediary organizations” in an oversized ecosystem role. Through their direct work with schools, especially the most vulnerable schools, these organizations – which include NGOs, philanthropies, and for-profit agencies – straddle the larger ecosystem and the local schoolhouse, becoming conduits of external leadership resources into schools. In this report, Center Director Shelby Cosner and colleagues explore the activities and relationships of these organizations within the broader educational ecosystem, illuminating how other similar organizations can enhance their access to the kinds of ecosystem relationships and resources that are critical to their work and have a positive impact on schools and students.
Stuck Improving: Racial Equity and School Leadership
In his 2021 publication, Decoteau Irby calls attention to racial equity and its ever-shifting dynamic as our racial consciousness continues to evolve and racism asserts itself anew. Irby’s book details both the practical efforts of equity-minded school leaders and a deeper understanding of what the work of racial equity improvement truly entails.
CREATING DIVERGING OPPORTUNITIES IN SPITE OF EQUITY WORK: EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY AND WHITENESS AS PROPERTY
In this publication, CUEL Affiliate Jason Salisbury examines educational opportunities through race in urban high schools and whiteness as property. The publication details the inequities in educational opportunity along racial lines and how researchers can critically investigate equity-minded school improvement.
K-12 Equity Directors: Configuring the Role for Impact
This brief represents a collaborative project between the Center for Urban Education Leadership (University of Illinois at Chicago), the Institute of Urban Policy Research and Analysis (University of Texas at Austin, and Leadership for Learning (University of Washington). This research engaged a team from these institutions including Decoteau Irby, Terrance Green, Ann M. Ishimaru, Shannon Paige Clark, and Ahreum Han.
Leadership in Chicago Public Schools (CPS)
In this case study, CUEL Research Director Sam Whalen examines the transformational leadership agenda of Dr. Janice K. Jackson, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, between summer 2015 and winter 2020. The study details how she and her executive team re-cultured CPS central office around practices of strategic continuous improvement to tackle systemic challenges of organizational coherence and educational inequity.
Social Justice Leadership and Leadership for Community Activism; Understanding Practices and Challenges in Large Market Oriented Contexts
Using literature on leadership for social justice, community activism, education markets, and critical urban theory as conceptual tools, Salisbury, Cosner, and Richard are examining an assortment of issues that relate to understanding and strengthening social justice and community activism practices by school leaders and about the kinds of context factors that challenge and shape this work in larger urban school districts.
CUEL’s MEAGAN RICHARD PUBLISHES ARTICLE ON SOCIALLY-JUST SCHOOL LEADERSHIP FOR NASSP
Social justice is a value frequently espoused by our districts, but what does it mean to lead for social justice? Exploring this topic is often more theoretical than practical. CUEL’s Meagan Richard dives into the key practices that help create a clearer idea of social justice leadership.
Working for Impact
Research and Evaluation
We investigate both leadership-focused and multi-disciplinary, leadership-inclusive problems to generate critical and relevant knowledge that matters and will impact practice and policy.
Continuous Improvement, Organizational Development
We are sought by both PK-12 districts/schools and higher education institutions to help them strengthen their approaches and cultures for continuous improvement. In this work, we design and provide both in-person and remote learning designs as well as ongoing support and guidance for continuous improvement and organizational development work. Both in-person and remotely, we also consult with and speak to international, national, state, and regional educational organizations, educational philanthropic organizations, universities and school districts about continuous improvement/
We are hired by international/national
Dissemination and Policy Advocacy
We actively communicate to practitioners and the policy/political community through policy briefs, webinars, zoom convenings, videos, and podcasts to ensure that the impact of our research and work is extended and expanded.