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Research and Evaluation

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/educational leadership as well as for practitioners and policy makers.  

Current Research

Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and beginning Summer 2019, Cosner and an interdisciplinary team of UIC-researchers (CUEL, College of Education, Learning Sciences Research institute) are enacting and testing a multi-level (district, school) intervention designed to develop the kinds of organizational capacities of consequence for the improvement of mathematics teaching and student learning.

Examining National School Leader Development Contexts and Programs/Approaches in the Global East and South
Funded by the Qatar Foundation and beginning Spring 2019, Cosner is leading an international research team that is examining national school leader development contexts and programs/approaches in five developing countries in the Global East and 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.  Read more


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.


Funded by the US Department of Education the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, and the EdPrepLab and using tools, routines, and social networks, and learning processes as anchoring conceptual frames, Cosner, Whalen, and team are examining the design and impact of leadership coach tools, data systems, and routines on clinical experiences and on leadership coaching practices and outcomes.


First phase publications from this work include the following:

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.


Funded by the Fry Foundation, Whalen is currently leading an investigation into the distributed leadership capacity development work of school leaders.


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., Salisbury, J. & Cosner, S (in press). The school-community connection: Socially-just school leaders’ motivations for community activism. International Journal of Leadership in Education.

Salisbury, J. & Richard, M. (in press). (Re)connecting schools and communities: Leader activism disrupting racism. In Welton, A. & Diem, S. (Eds.), Developing anti-racist leaders. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Richard M.,Cosner, S., & Salisbury, J. (in press). Social justice leadership in market contexts. In C. Mullen (Ed.), Handbook of social justice interventions in education. New York: Springer.

Salisbury, J., Richard, M., & Cosner, S. (2020). 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. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.





Key Past Research and Evaluation
Examining Affordances of Active Learning Leader Development Designs

Funded by the US Department of Education and using situated learning theory, Cosner and team examined the situational learning resources harnessed through an active learning leader development design and identified authentic leadership considerations and actions that are enabled.

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.


Examining Aspiring and Practicing School Leader Coaching

Funded by the US Department of Education and the Fry Foundation and both situational learning and social network theories, Cosner and team examined the design and impact of leadership coach structuring on leadership coaching practices and outcomes.

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.


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. (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.

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.

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.

Cosner, S. (2014). 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.

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.


Investigating Effective Principal Practices

With funding from Chicago’s Fry Foundation as well as the U.S. Department of Education, CUEL has sustained a program of case study and documentary research to inform the preparation of school leaders in Chicago and across the country.

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Evaluating the Ounce’s Professional Development Initiative

Beginning in fall 2011 CUEL conducted a three year evaluation of 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.

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Research Dissemination

Center staff 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 2020:

By year

By topic