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Dissemination and Advocacy


Given our desire for IMPACT, we share our expertise and our work, particularly in the areas of principal preparation, leadership practice, and continuous improvement, to impact urban education in a variety of modes.  Among the channels of practice and policy dissemination are publications, policy briefs, advocacy and policy groups memberships, talks and presentations, videos, and social media.

Current Work on National/International Boards and Organizations

AERA Leadership and Teaching in Educational Leadership (LTEL) SIG: Since 2022, CUEL Director Shelby Cosner has been the Chair of the AERA LTEL SIG. The LTEL-SIG brings together discipline specialists, educational theorists, curriculum developers, educational researchers, classroom experts, practitioners, policy-makers, and others concerned with teaching in Educational Administration https://www.aera.net/SIG129/LTEL-SIG-129.

Agile Leaders of Learning Innovation Network: Since 2018 CUEL Director Shelby Cosner has been a member of the Agile Leaders of Learning Innovation Network. This international network brings together experts, national leaders, and leadership developers who are working to advance school leadership investments and development in nations throughout the Global South, such as Asia, Latin America, Africa, and Middle East https://www.wise-qatar.org/all-in/.

Aspen Institute: The Aspen Institute, founded in 1949 in the aftermath of WWII, is committed to driving social change through dialogue, leadership, and action to solve the greatest challenges of our time (https://www.aspeninstitute.org/about/#ideas). Since 2020, Steve Tozer has served on their Advisory Group on the Role of the Principal, an effort to articulate more fully how the school principalship can serve the aims of equity in an inequitable society.

EdPrepLab:  EdPrepLab is an initiative of the Learning Policy Institute “to strengthen educator preparation in the United States by building the collaborative capacity of preparation programs, school districts, and state policymakers” (https://edpreplab.org).  UIC is a member of EdPrepLab, and Steve Tozer co-chairs a Principal Preparation Working Group in his role as Senior Research Fellow for the Learning Policy Institute https://learningpolicyinstitute.org.

Global School Leaders: Since 2020 CUEL Director Shelby Cosner has been a member of the Academic Advisory Board for Global School Leaders. Global School Leaders is an organization that works to support school leadership development throughout the Global South, including Asia, Latin America, and Africa https://www.globalschoolleaders.org/about.

Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Partnership for Educator Preparation Steering Committee: The ISBE PEP Steering Committee was created in 2016 to develop statewide metrics for teacher and principal preparation partnerships in Illinois.  Through its subcommittee on principal preparation, the initiative seeks to develop new data collection capacity in programs and new analytic capacity in ISBE for supporting both continuous improvement and accountability in principal preparation. Shelby Cosner and Steve Tozer serve together on the Steering Committee and on the principal preparation subcommittee: https://www.isbe.net/pep.

National Center for School-University Partnerships: Housed in the School of Education at the University of Mississippi, this center builds on the work on the Carnegie Foundation’s ILEAD project to support partnership work between universities and schools/school districts. CUEL participated in the prior ILEAD steering committee. Since the inception of this new National Center in 2023, CUEL, in collaboration with UIC’s Ed.D. program and Chicago Public Schools, has participated in its inaugural activities, which will support the C2 RPP and its work to impact chronic absence in CPS schools in the coming years. https://ncsup.olemiss.edu/.

National P-3 Center:  The National P-3 Center, located at University of Colorado Denver, bridges the divides between the early care and education (ECE) and PreK-12 systems that serve children from birth through 3rd grade.  Steve Tozer is a founding Advisory Board Member and regularly offers presentations to Center audiences on leadership of P-3 learning communities. He was a consultant for the recently published Leading PreK-3 Learning Communities:  Competencies for Effective Principal Practice (2021), a partnership between the P-3 Center and NAESP.

University Council for Educational Administration:  Since 2019 CUEL Director Shelby Cosner has been a member of the University Council for Educational Administration’s (UCEAs) nine-member executive committee. UCEA is a consortium of roughly 110 university-based leadership higher education institutions committed to advancing the preparation and practice of educational leaders for the benefit of schools and children. UCEA works to impact the field of educational leadership through research, practice and policy advocacy http://www.ucea.org.

University of Connecticut PreK-3 Leadership Program: The UCONN P-3 Leadership Program, sponsored by the Connecticut State Department of Education, was designed to prepare and develop leaders for PreK-3 settings in Connecticut. Steve Tozer is a member of the founding Advisory Board and annually presents leadership findings to cohorts of aspiring P-3 leaders  https://pk3leadership.uconn.edu/about-pk3/.

Wallace Foundation Educational Leaders Network (ELN):  The Wallace Foundation ELN is an affiliation of over 30 key policy organizations in education leadership in the U.S., including National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, Learning Forward, Education Commissions of the States, Council of Chief State School Officers, and a few leading universities such as University of Washington and UIC.  The ELN seeks to drive policy change in principal preparation and development at local, state, and national levels. Shelby Cosner and Steve Tozer both serve as members https://www.wallacefoundation.org/pages/default.aspx.


Center researchers and faculty affiliates disseminate their work to peer-reviewed and scholarly outlets across a range of topics. Here is a listing of such publications from 2011 to 2022:

By year

By topic






CUEL Research and Policy Briefs
A Question District Leaders Need to Ask More Often: What Parts of Formative Assessment Can’t Be Out-sourced? December 2022

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. Read the brief here.

Reducing Chronic Absence: Making Equity Strategies Specific, Adaptive, and Evidence Based, December 2021

The UIC Center for Urban Education Leadership (CUEL) announces the publication of a new brief that builds upon 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. Read the brief here.

Toward the Continuous Improvement of Chicago Public Schools’ High Churn Elementary Schools, December 2021

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. Read the brief here.

Exploring Educational Ecosystems Through The Lens Of Intermediary Organizations: Insights for Policy and Practice, November 2021

On behalf of Shelby Cosner, Director of the UIC Center for Urban Education Leadership, we are pleased to announce the publication of our new study done in collaboration with the Qatar Foundation.  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 straddle the larger ecosystem and the local schoolhouse, becoming conduits of external leadership resources into schools. With this in mind, we examined a set of more mature non-system intermediary organizations that work directly with schools to generate important insights about their work in forging relationships within and gaining vital resources from these expansive and diffuse ecosystems. Examining the ecosystem from the vantage point of these organizations generated important insights for helping non-system intermediary organizations to better consider and gain access to the kinds of ecosystem relationships and resources that are likely to prove important to their work, to schools, and to students. It also sheds light on broader issues relevant for ecosystem-building efforts. View study findings here.


Investigating the Continuous Improvement Approaches of a “Big City” CEO, December 2020

In this project CUEL investigated the leadership practices associated with applying a continuous improvement approach to “big city” school system leadership, along with the impacts of this approach and the challenges encountered along the way. Support was provided by the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, the Crown Foundation, and the Children First Fund. In December 2017 Dr. Janice Jackson assumed the post of Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third largest school system, after two years of guiding the district’s instructional improvement efforts as Chief Education Officer. It was the first time in many years that a native Chicagoan and career CPS educator – a former teacher, principal, and principal supervisor – had become the district’s chief administrator. Her ascent also coincided with a period of unprecedented accolades for CPS, once dismissed as “worst in the nation,” for outdistancing almost all urban districts in the academic growth of its diverse students. Determined to sustain this performance, Dr. Jackson set about to restructure and reculture CPS as a more effective learning organization based upon the implementation of continuous improvement principles and routines of professional learning at all system levels. She also determined to build her own leadership practice through disciplined cycles of professional reflection. To advance both of these ambitions, and as a graduate of the UIC EdD Urban Leadership Program, she reached out to the CUEL to craft a case study of her leadership that would inform the broader field of district leadership as well as her own leadership decisions.

In consultation with Dr. Jackson, and beginning in June 2019, CUEL researchers devised a 15-month case study design that will address three overarching research questions. First, what were the conceptual and institutional origins of Dr. Jackson’s approach to continuous system improvement, and how did her approach and understandings evolve with time? Second, what range of structures, routines, protocols, and tools were deployed to enact the CEO’s vision for district transformation through continuous improvement, and how did these processes and artifacts take advantage of and transform existing district capacity? Third, what impacts emerged from Dr. Jackson’s leadership and the dissemination of continuous improvement strategies, first at the central office level, and then through the system to schools, educators, and students? And what challenges and obstacles had to be addressed to advance her agenda for improvement? The study integrated interviews, focus groups, and observations of leadership settings with the construction of a detailed event timeline and the identification and tracking of implementation and outcome metrics central to the CEO’s continuous improvement design. Along the way CUEL also explored some unintended consequences of implementing new cross-district organizational learning strategies. Read the executive study here. Read the full report here.

Leveraging the Federal Role in Developing High Quality Principal Preparation under Title II, March 2020
In this policy brief, written by CUEL affiliate Dr. Craig De Voto and published by the University Council for Educational Administration, Title II of ESSA is examined. Title II of ESSA includes provisions for developing high quality principals.This brief elaborates two strategies the federal government can employ under Title II to support principal quality:1) competitive grants and 2) monitoring return on investment. Read the full report here.

Selection of School Leadership Candidates for UIC’s EdD Urban Education Leadership Program, Part II, June 2018

In the second of two continuous improvement briefs on selection, Center researchers and Ed.D. program administrators describe how they build program capacity to assess & measure the characteristics they associate with school leader success. Read the second brief here.

Selection of School Leadership Candidates for UIC’s EdD Urban Education Leadership Program, Part I, April 2017

In this continuous improvement brief on selection, Center researchers and Ed.D. program administrators describe the development of an admissions process to assess characteristics they associate with school leader success. Read the brief here.


This report describes some surprising shifts in regional achievement patterns in Illinois public schools under NCLB. These shifts show worrisome declines in many communities that were not the original focus of NCLB, and promising growth in some communities that were evidence presented also shows that changes in school effectiveness . . . what schools and districts do to improve their impact on student and adult learning . . . played as powerful a role in local and regional achievement shifts as race and family income did. Read the full report here.


This study clarifies achievement trends that occurred under NCLB and explains why NCLB reporting practices made those trends so hard to see. It concludes by describing important contributions that new PARCC exams can make and warns of new reporting problems that threaten to squander those contributions before they see the light of day. Read more here.

Principal Roles, Work Demands, and Supports Needed to Implement New Teacher Evaluation, June 2014

In 2014, CUEL staff released a policy brief on what principals and districts must do to support new teacher evaluation reforms across states. Read the brief here.


Videos and podcasts
UCEA Podcast on Continuous Improvement of Education Leader Preparation Programs; Episode #5 A Discussion with Dr. Shelby Cosner on Mentoring Programs for Improvement

UCEA’s In the Lead podcast series presents pivotal conversations with people making an impact on educational leadership preparation, practice, and policy. The series dives deeply into national efforts that supported the continuous improvement of a set of principal preparation programs engaged in The Wallace Foundation’s UPPI project.  In this podcast episode, CUEL Director Cosner discusses her work in mentoring preparation programs engaged in continuous improvement.

Education Trust podcast on Extraordinary Districts: Live! A Discussion On Exposing and Learning From Expertise

Season 2 episode 2 of the Education Trust’s ExtraOrdinary Districts podcast series profiles Lane Oklahoma and drew upon a set of experts to discuss the topic of exposing and learning from expertise. This panel included CUEL affiliate Dr. Steve Tozer as well as Dr. Timothy Shanahan, reading expert and UIC emeritus professor, and Todd Hughes of the Choctaw Nation (December 2019).

Education Trust ExtraOrdinary Districts: Live! A Discussion on District Improvement

Hosted by the Center for Urban Education Leadership (CUEL), Season 2 episode 1 of ExtraOrdinary Districts brought together an all-star panel to discuss school district improvement. Janice Jackson, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, Harvard University’s Ronald F. Ferguson, and University of Michigan’s Nell Duke. The panel, introduced by CUEL Center Director Shelby Cosner and moderated by ExtraOrdinary District creator Karin Chenoweth, had a wide-ranging discussion that went from the need for carefully designed early reading instruction to the moral imperative of equity. Jackson described the need to be “relentless” in giving students the opportunity to learn rather than trying to “fix” students (October 2019).

National Governor’s Association Hot Topics Podcast

Steve Tozer (CUEL Faculty Affiliate) shares his insights on how governors and states can improve principal preparation and development; lessons learned from his work in Illinois and around the country to develop effective principals and school leaders; and an overview of current models of innovative university principal preparation partnerships (October 2019).

How Do Principals Help Students Learning?

Education Week video examines Chicago Public Schools’ strategy of intense focus on principals and UIC’s Center for Urban Education Leadership and Doctoral Program in Urban Education Leadership as key contributors to this strategy, features former CUEL Director Steve Tozer (May 2018).

Education Trust podcast series on Extraordinary Districts examines the need for Extra-Ordinary Principals, features former CUEL Director Steve Tozer  (January 2018)

Episode One: The State – Creating a Bold Plan

The Wallace Foundation video examines principal preparation policy transformation in Illinois, features former CUEL Director Steve Tozer (October 2016).

Episode Two: New Leaders – A Bold Move To Better Prepare Principals

The Wallace Foundation video examines principal preparation policy transformation in Illinois, features former CUEL Director Steve Tozer (October 2016).

Episode Three: The University  A Bold Move To Better Prepare Principals

The Wallace Foundation video examines principal preparation policy transformation in Illinois, features former CUEL Director Steve Tozer (October 2016).

Episode Four: The District – Pulling the Plan Together

The Wallace Foundation video examines the involvement of district partners in principal preparation program redesign and enactment, features former CUEL Director Steve Tozer(October 2016).

Educational Inequality in America

Chicago Bar Association and Advance Illinois video examines educational inequality in America, features former CUEL Director Steve Tozer along with Dr. Linda Darling Hammond and Dr. Charles Payne (August 2016).

 K-3 Policymaker’s Guide to Action: Learning from the Education Commission of the States

Center for Policy Research in Education video examines K-3 policy recommendations, features former CUEL Director Steve Tozer (January 2016).

talks and presentations