HomeWhat We DoResearch and Evaluation Projects

Research and Evaluation Projects

Our Approach

Using a range of methodological approaches and anchoring our work in appropriate conceptual tools, we engage in applied research that generates actionable and consequential findings for the field of education as well as for practitioners and policy makers. CUEL also designs and enacts program and intervention evaluations for school districts and other educational organizations. These evaluations are used to examine the fidelity and impact of programs and interventions and to inform refinements to existing programs and interventions. 

Current Research and Evaluation Studies

Examining Inclusive Principal Competencies and Practices

Funded by the US Department of Education, CUEL is conducting a study to identify and codify in a framework a set of inclusive leadership competencies. Once codified in a framework, these competencies will inform the design of a wide assortment of technical assistance materials that will be deployed nationally as a part of Lead IDEA, a 15M national technical assistance center that is a joint venture between the American Institute for Research (AIR), CUEL, University of Connecticut (UConn)l True North Evaluation, Boston University and the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Designing and Testing an Equity-Oriented Leadership Development Intervention

Funded by the William T. Grant Foundation, Lyle Spencer Foundation, and Bezos Family Foundation, this C2 Research Practice Partnership project is supporting the design and testing of, through quasi experimental design (QED), an equity-oriented school leader development intervention that seeks to impact racialized student achievement disparities in Chicago Public Schools.

Designing and Examining a Multi-element Development Experience for Priority and Progress Principals in Chicago Public Schools

Funded by the Chicago Public Education Fund, CUEL in collaboration with Chicago-based WISE Leadership Consulting Center is designing and studying a multi-year, multi-element learning experience called the Malott Fellows program for Chicago Public School (CPS) principals who are leading CPS Priority or Progress Schools. The experience engages principals each month in a full day Learning Lab that is complemented by individualized, high-dose leadership coaching.

Examining the Coaching of Principals as Early Childhood Leaders

Funded by the Children’s First Fund and the Finnegan Family Foundation, and beginning Spring 2022, Cosner and a team of CUEL-researchers are examining the coaching of principals as early childhood leaders. Findings from their research will be used to evaluate and redesign an existing leadership coaching intervention in Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

Examining Research Practice Partnerships That Support Organizational Capacity Development for the Improvement of K-8 Mathematics Instruction and Student Learning, NSF-Funded CASPIR PROJECT

Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and beginning Summer 2019 and continuing through 2024, the Center for Urban Education Leadership in partnership with Learning Science Research Institute (LSRI) has established research practice partnerships with four school districts in Illinois. Each of these partnerships are enacting and testing a multi-level (district, school) learning design to cultivate the kinds of organizational capacities of consequence for the improvement of mathematics teaching and student learning. These learning designs are being tested using a cluster randomized trial. Publications from this project appear below.

De Voto, C., Pitvorec, K., & Castro Superfine, A. (in press). Building a scalable model for effective networked improvement across schools: The case of district math leadership teams. In J. Eckert & B. Carpenter (Eds.), Catalytic improvement communities. Information Age.

Superfine, B. M., De Voto, C., Castro Superfine, A., Cosner, S., & Han, A. (2023). How research-practice partnerships learn to develop goals for math and identify local problems of practice. In E. Reynolds & S. Hayes (Eds.), Continuous improvement: A leadership process for school improvement (pp. 315-335). Information Age. Access information on this book here.

De Voto, C., Superfine, B. M., & DeWit, M. (2023). Navigating policy and local context in times of crisis: District and school administrator responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Educational Administration Quarterly, 59(2), 339-383. Access this article here.

De Voto, C., & Superfine, B. M. (2023). The crisis you can’t plan for K-12 leader responses and organizational preparedness during COVID-19 (special issue). School Leadership & Management (online). Access this article here.

Examining the Clinical Setting, Mentor Principals, and Leadership Coaches as Learning Resources for Aspiring and Practicing School Leaders

Funded by the US Department of Education and the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation and using a variety of conceptual tools, various members of the CUEL team have examined the clinical setting, mentor principals, and leadership coaches as learning resources that support aspiring and practicing school leader development. Publications include:

Cosner, S., & De Voto, C. (2023). Strengthening the developmental opportunity of the clinical experience in principal preparation: Leadership coach as broker and third-party influencer. Educational Administration Quarterly, 59(1), 3-39. Access the article here.

Cosner, S. (2020). A deeper look into next generation active learning designs for educational leader preparation. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 15(3), 167-173. Access the article here.

Cosner., S., De Voto, C., & Andry Rah’man, A. (2018). Harnessing the school context as a learning resource in school leader development. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 13(3), 238-255. Access this article here.

Cosner, S., Walker, L., Swanson J., Hebert, M., & Whalen, S. (2018). Examining the architecture of leadership coaching: Considering developmental affordances from multifarious structuring. Journal of Educational Administration, 56(3), 364-380. Access this article here.



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.

First phase publications from this work include the following:

Richard, M. & Cosner, S. (2023). Preparing equity-oriented school leaders: One program’s improvement work toward preparation for equity. In D. Fowler (Ed.), Equity and Access: An Analysis of Educational Leadership Preparation, Policy, and Practice. Information Age Publishing. Access information on this book here.

Salisbury, J., Richard, M., & Cosner, S. (2021). (Re)connecting schools and communities: Leader activism as a mechanism to disrupt neoliberalism. In A.D. Welton & S. Diem (Eds.), Strengthening anti-racist educational leaders: Advocating for racial equity in turbulent times. Bloomsbury. Access information on this book here.

Richard, M., Salisbury, J., & Cosner, S. (2021). Social justice leadership in educational market contexts. In C.A. Mullen (Ed.), Handbook of social justice interventions in education (pp. 415-439). Berlin: Springer Nature. Access information on this book here.

Richard, M. (2021). Socially just school leadership: Putting theory into practice. Principal Leadership, (Role Call, October 2021), 22(10). Access this article here.

Richard, M. (2021). Relationships as assets, relationships as barriers: Social justice leaders’ use of relationships in their work. In C.A. Mullen (Ed.), Handbook of social justice interventions in education. Springer Nature. Access this book chapter here.

Salisbury, J., Richard, M., & Cosner, S. (2021). Merging schools and communities: Engaging in activist leadership beyond your school walls. In J. Brooks, T. Watson, & A. Heffernan (Eds.), The school leadership survival guide: What to do when things go wrong, how to learn from mistakes, and why you should prepare for the worst (pp. 131-153). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing. Access information on this book here.

Richard, M., Salisbury, J., & Cosner, S. (2020). The school-community connection: Social justice leaders’ community activism to promote justice for students. International Journal of Leadership in Education. Access this article here. 

Salisbury, J., & Richard, M. (2021). Anti-racist activist leadership. In A.D. Welton, S. Diem, & D. R. Owens (Eds.), Strengthening anti-racist leaders: Advocating for racial justice in turbulent times (pp. 121-132)NY: Bloomsbury. Access information on this book here.

Past Research and Evaluation Studies


Funded by the Qatar Foundation and beginning Spring 2019, Cosner has been leading an international research team that is examining national school leader development contexts and programs/approaches in five developing countries in the Global South: India, South Africa, Morocco, Kenya, & Lebanon. The goal of this research is to learn about these educational contexts and existing development programs, broadly publish research findings, and draw on findings to make and disseminate recommendations that will inform international leadership development investments and policies. The first report from this research, completed by CUEL’s Meagan Richard, examines school leader development in Lebanon. Read more about this research project here and here.

Richard, M. (2021). The Ta’theer Program: NGOs Supporting School Leadership Development in Lebanon. Doha, Qatar: WISE, Qatar Foundation. Access this report here.


Funded by the Qatar Foundation, a team of researchers from the Center for Urban Education Leadership led by CUEL’s Director Shelby Cosner spent 2021 examining 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. In doing so, CUEL recognized a growing global trend that has positioned “intermediary organizations,” and particularly non-system intermediary organizations, or those not involved in the formal governmental education system, 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 a primary and proximal conduit of external leadership resources to schools. Examining the ecosystem from the vantage point of these organizations has potential 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.


Funded by the Fry and Crown Foundations and undertaken from Summer 2019 to early Fall 2020, this study used organizational learning and continuous improvement as tools to conceptually frame this study. Whalen led this investigation into the leadership practices associated with, impacts of, and challenges encountered from a “big city” Chief Executive Officer’s continuous improvement approach to system-level leadership. Read the executive study here. Read the full report here. Read additional background about this work here. 

Examining Collaborative Data Practices by Teacher Teams and Leadership for Collaborative Data Practices

Funded by Chicago Community Trust, Cosner in collaboration with Susan Goldman (subject matter learning, instruction, assessment) and Taffy Rafael (literacy), examined grade-level collaborative data use and the administrative and teacher leadership supports of data use in urban elementary schools.

Cosner, S. (2014b). Strengthening collaborative data practices in schools: The need to cultivate developmental perspectives and diagnostic approaches. In A. Bowers, A. Shoho, & B. Barnett (Eds.), Using data in schools to inform leadership and decision making (67-93). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing. Access information on this book here.

Cosner, S. (2014a). Cultivating collaborative data practices as a schoolwide improvement strategy: A phase-based model of school Leadership supports. Journal of School Leadership, 24(4), 692-724. Access this article here.

Cosner, S. (2012). Leading the on-going development of collaborative data practices: Advancing a schema for diagnosis and intervention. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 11(1), 26-65. Access this article here.

Cosner, S. (2011). Supporting the initiation and early development of evidence- based grade-level collaboration in urban elementary schools: Key roles and strategies of principals and literacy coordinators. Urban Education, 46(4), 786-827. Access this article here.

Cosner, S. (2011). Teacher learning, instructional considerations, and principal communication: Lessons from a longitudinal study of collaborative date use by teachers. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 39(5), 568-589. Access this article here.

Evaluating Start Early’s Professional Development Initiative

Beginning in fall 2011 CUEL conducted a three year evaluation of Start Early’s (formerly, the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s) new Professional Development Initiative (PDI), with funding from the US Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) Initiative (See Executive Summary). The project expanded our capacity to study education leadership in early childhood settings and led to a scale-up of PDI across Illinois. Read more about this study here.

Investigating Effective Principal Practices

With funding from Chicago’s Fry Foundation as well as the U.S. Department of Education, CUEL developed a series of case studies and documentary research to inform the preparation of school leaders in Chicago and across the country. Read more about this research program here.