Spotlight on Chicago and the Region—AERA 2023 Annual Meeting
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Spotlight on Chicago and the Region Series

All times are in Central Time.

Chicagoland Youth Showcase and Discussion
Thursday, April 13, 4:00 to 6:10 pm
Hyatt Regency Chicago, Michigan 1 ABC

Chairs: Nichole D. Pinkard (Northwestern University), Yolanda J. Majors (Hurston Institute For Learning & Development)

The Showcase will include select youth, and mentors representing MAPSCorps, STEAMbassadors, My Chi My Future and other affiliated initiatives. In addition, research representing landscape analysis will be on display in the form of student lead posters. The session will be emceed by a group of Digital Youth Network alums who are professional educators and artists.

Erin Higgins James A. Griffin
Evan K. Heit


How a City Learned to Improve Its Schools: Chicago's Story
Thursday, April 13, 2:50 to 4:20 pm
Hyatt Regency Chicago, East Tower - Ballroom Level - Grand Hall I

Chair: Penny B. Sebring (University of Chicago) 
Presenters: Anthony S. Bryk (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching), Sharon Greenberg (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching), Timothy Knowles (Urban Education Institute, University of Chicago), Al Bertani (University of Illinois at Chicago), Steven E. Tozer (University of Illinois at Chicago)

It is fitting that Chicago will host the place based AERA 2023 meeting as Chicago has experienced significant and historic progress in student outcomes over two decades (pre-pandemic). Through a joint effort of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (Consortium), we propose a Spotlight on Chicago Symposium based on our forthcoming book How A City Learned to Improve Its Schools (Harvard Education Press). Our book is in essence an account of consequential education research—we have a strong evidentiary claim that the work of the Consortium had large-scale positive consequences on the evolution of student outcomes in Chicago. So as this year’s AERA encourages expansive thinking about this issue to better inform future work, which we take to be Rich Milner’s hope, the “Chicago case” provides much grist for understanding how research-informed, broad-based changes can evolve within large public school systems. Central to this account is the work of the Consortium and the distinctive social organization for conducting the work—stakeholder agenda settings, ongoing engagement of a diverse steering committee, and use of multiple methods deliberately designed to bring diverse voices into explanations. Then there is the social learning architecture, or how this knowledge comes to be more broadly shared and viewed as authoritative across the city (at least part of what Rich means by the phrase “in pursuit of truth”).

There also were citizen-researcher roles taken on by many, who engaged in the direct work of improvement out in schools, ongoing professional learning around instructional improvement, roles within the Central Office, and engagements with organizational boards and funders. This is a design for the social fabric of a civic learning enterprise. This is the “how” in how a city came to learn to improve its schools. Whatever new and more ambitious aspiration may arise for schooling in the future, education leaders would be well served to interrogate this proof case of large-scale change wrought through a vitalized school system and its citizenry.

The story begins In 1987 when Chicago was declared the worst public school system in America; 30 years later, research documents it as one of the most improved school systems anywhere. Our account explores how an extraordinary community of institutions and individuals made this happen. Participants came from every walk of life—advocacy groups, the business and philanthropic communities and the media, citywide educational organizations and the academy, local and national foundations, and included parents, community members and educators from local school communities.

Kristen L. Huff Michael C. Rodriguez
Doris Zahner Cara Cahalan Laitusis
Rochelle S. Michel Guillermo Solano-Flores


How Research Can Help Develop a New Accountability System for Chicago Public Schools
Friday, April 14, 8:00 to 9:30 am
Hyatt Regency Chicago, East Tower - Ballroom Level - Grand Hall J

Chair: John Q. Easton (University of Chicago) 
Discussants: Kirabo Jackson (Northwestern University), Tonya E. Wolford (School District of Philadelphia)
Presenters: Elizabeth Todd-Breland (University of Illinois at Chicago), Bogdana Chkoumbova (Chicago Public Schools), Shanette C Porter (University of Chicago Consortium), Sebastian Kiguel (Northwestern University)

In response to widespread criticism of the School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP) in effect in Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Board of Education in 2019 mandated that CPS staff create a new, more equitable system to judge schools. SQRP was perceived as punitive by many school principals, teachers, and parents. In 2014, SQRP ratings were considered in decisions to close 48 schools in the district, leading to great discontent in many predominantly Black neighborhoods, primarily on the south and west sides of the city. In April 2022, the Board of Education passed a resolution stipulating guiding principles for the new accountability system. Along with CPS staff, an expert consulting firm, and a diverse advisory committee, progress in being made toward designing this new system.

The advisory council, Board of Education, and CPS staff are all motivated to create an evidence- based accountability system that is non-punitive and will promote equity across schools. Given the large body of research about CPS generated at the UChicago Consortium and other institutions, we propose bringing together policy makers and researchers to discuss how to judge and measure school quality in an unbiased way. The Consortium has produced and published a considerable body of evidence on school improvement, and our Northwestern team has developed a novel school effectiveness indicator that has vast implications for the meaning of school quality. Among other issues, we will consider strong anti-test sentiments expressed by parents and questions other means of measuring student learning. I can't think of a more compelling issue for examining how research can lead to truth, especially how researchers work together with policy makers and practitioners in a large urban school district.

Thao Thu Vo Susan Lyons
Ye Tong


Learning From Chicago's Decentralized, School-Based Decision Making Regarding the Role of Police in Schools
Saturday, April 15, 2:50 to 4:20 pm
Hyatt Regency Chicago, East Tower - Ballroom Level - Grand Hall J

Chair: Micere Keels (University of Chicago)
Presenters: Elizabeth Todd-Breland (University of Illinois at Chicago), Louis Mercer (University of Illinois at Chicago), Uma Blanchard (University of Chicago), Alex Koenig (University of Chicago)

This session will explore the ongoing efforts to reform school safety in Chicago Public Schools.

Nationwide protests in the Summer of 2020 prompted school districts across the country to reassess their relationship with police. Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) decentralized process of School Resource Officer (SRO) removal stands in contrast to the centralized process of other large districts. CPS implemented a Whole School Safety planning process (WSS) that asked each high school to consider the holistic safety impacts of SROs and create a plan for whether and how SROs would be used at the school. WSS plans were then discussed and voted on by Local School Councils, letting each community determine its own approach to safety. During the session a range of stakeholders will aid in unpacking how a “community engaged” decision making process created the unintended outcome of increasing the racial and ethnic disparities in school-based contact with police and access to social and emotional support.

This session will address questions of local control, safety possibilities in the wake of policing, and the role of political historical context in school reform efforts. From multiple perspectives the panel will explore the following questions:

  • What are the benefits and challenges of a decentralized decision-making process?
  • What types of relationships and infrastructures need to exist in order to support a genuine process of local deliberation?
  • When individual schools are given the freedom to articulate their own challenges and identify local solutions, what type of creative solutions emerge?
  • How do school actors’ interpretations of “safety” and “support” entail divergent solutions?
  • How does the historical context of the bureaucratic and political relationship between the Chicago Police Department and Chicago Public Schools shape a process like Whole School Safety?
  • How does historical experience craft what possibilities schools imagine for the safety of their students?

This session enters the conversation on school policing from a political-historical perspective. By tracing how grassroots political action were translated into district policies we explore factors that can facilitate or hinder the extent to which equitable intentions lead to equitable outcomes. By seeking to understand the multiple realities of stakeholders involved we push the analysis of an educational policy beyond a normative approach focused narrowly on outcomes. This session’s discussion between activists and an interdisciplinary group of researchers allows us to explore multiple levels of Chicago’s efforts to remove police from schools. This analysis includes Chicago’s rich history of activism around schools, political relationships between intertwined bureaucracies and the experiences of those implementing change.

Whole School Safety asked school communities to define safety for themselves and to build towards their own vision and version of safety. At the same time CPS maintains a newly articulated institutional position that SROs should eventually be phased out in the interest of safety. Evidence from school planning meetings will be leveraged to interrogate the ways that truth is contested, particularly when discussing subjective feelings of safety. Panelists will cover the variety of positions and truths that stakeholders articulate in regards to questions of safety, highlighting the tensions that various school actors must hold in order to successfully carry out a collaborative and democratic decision-making process.

Attendees will hear from grassroots changemakers like student groups and parent advocacy organizations as well as the various institutional actors shaping the Whole School Safety process. These stakeholders will highlight effective strategies as well as the tensions of going through a community-controlled change process. In addition to these stakeholder perspectives, evidence from over 50 hours of ethnographic data from Local School Councils meetings discussing the decision to remove SROs, school demographic data, and neighborhood crime data will be shared. Attendees will walk away with an appreciation of the opportunities and challenges associated with Chicago’s local school governance, as well as a wealth of perspectives on the role of police in schools.

Opportunity Landscaping: Equitizing Access to Healthy Learning Lifestyles Through the Collective Reimagining and Use of Civic Spaces, Policies, and Resources
Thursday, April 13, 11:40 am to 1:10 pm
Hyatt Regency Chicago, East Tower- Ballroom Level - Grand Hall GH

Chair: Nichole D. Pinkard (Northwestern University) 
Discussant: Carol D. Lee (Northwestern University) 
Moderator: Yolanda J. Majors (Hurston Institute For Learning & Development)
Presenters: Sybil Madison-Boyd (Digital Youth Network), Shawn Jackson (Truman College), Nia Abdullah

The communities in which we live and learn are the product of historical decisions about race and ethnicity made by politicians, elected officials, and others with power and money. For example, in Chicago, during the Great Migration, the Chicago Real Estate Board set up a committee that determined where Black residents could and could not live. This redlining funneled money and resources away from areas identified as "bad investments," which were communities that were non-white, and toward white communities deemed to be a "better investment." In the 1970s, desegregation mandates resulted in new magnet and selective enrollment schools open to anyone but required young people to travel far from their homes to attend. Today, boundaries such as Wards and neighborhood school districts, continue to be drawn and redrawn—sometimes with good intentions—in ways that fracture communities' imprints and continue today's modes of being, creating an inequitable present that is not authentic to the needs and desires of the communities in those places.

In this session, Dr. Nichole Pinkard will put forth, the concept of Opportunity Landscape as a sociotechnical approach to working with civic and community leaders to develop, implement, and codify an integrated place-based model for geospatially equitizing access to learning opportunities that can power community-wide engagement in healthy learning and living lifestyles. In her presentation, Dr. Pinkard will explore how by using historical geospatial modeling of the allocation of learning resources (e.g., parks, libraries, schools, community centers) and related programming can support communities in owning their “truth” of how the historical impact of redlining, green-lining, and school desegregation continues to disproportionally afford and constrain access to the essential learning and leisure opportunities necessary to sustain long-term healthy learning and leisure lifestyles for families, especially those living in previously Redlined communities.

Following Dr. Pinkard’s introduction of opportunity landscaping framework, a panel of five critical stakeholders will be convened to ground the framework in the daily realities of equitizing access to STEAM learning opportunities for youth living in historically under resourced communities. Each Stakeholder will provide a five-minute overview of their work and its connection to the opportunity landscape framework. Following the introduction, Yolanda Majors, will lead a discussion with the stakeholders

After the panel, Carol Lee, past president of AERA and lifetime Chicago resident, educator, researcher, parent, and activist will give a 10-minute reflection on the opportunity landscaping framework as an exemplar of a systemic approach to community engaged research practice partnerships with a focus on the opportunity to deepen our understanding of community by layering our work together.


Toward Equity-Centered, Vision-Aligned Research: Transparency and Accessibility in Chicago Public Schools
Friday, April 14, 11:40 am to 1:10 pm
Hyatt Regency Chicago, East Tower - Ballroom Level - Grand Hall GH

Presenters: Sarah Dickson (Chicago Public Schools), Adam Corson (Chicago Public Schools), Samhitha Krishnan (Chicago Public Schools), Andy Rasmussen (Guava Lovers LLC) 

In this session, Chicago Public Schools and our partners demonstrate a reshaping of research accessibility. Namely who is research conducted by, for and with? Equity-Centered, Vision-Aligned Research is a key lever in the theory of change proposed by the district’s External Research team, whose vision advocates for radical inclusivity as a key measure in the pursuit of truth in research. By including the voices of school-based community members along with our research partners, we hope to create a robust and transformative understanding of how district data can be used to evaluate and understand the varied social contexts of Chicago Public Schools when it is conducted with and for our communities.