February 21, 2006

Social Sciences Division creates new Committee on Education

The Division of the Social Sciences officially approved the Committee on Education two weeks ago, making it the first of its kind in terms of research breadth to address the department’s goals for increased interdisciplinary studies.

The faculty roster includes professors of economics, psychology, public policy, human development, math, social service administration, and sociology.

“Normally these people wouldn’t talk to each other,” said Stephen Raudenbush, professor of sociology and chair of the committee.

Now these academic minds will not only talk to each other; they will influence one another’s research, share knowledge with their newest batch of fellowship recipients, and coalesce their findings for an eventual monograph to be distributed widely nationwide—all to improve the quality of public education in the country at large, according to Raudenbush.

Although the University’s Department of Education officially closed on June 30, 2001, resources and efforts have not stopped flowing to the study and improvement of public education. With the Center for Urban School Improvement (USI) and the Consortium of Chicago School Research (CCSR) in place since 1988 and 1990, respectively, along with two charter schools and the Urban Teachers Education Program (UTEP), the Committee on Education officially commenced in the spring of 2005.

Committee officials noted that the University’s involvement in education is part of a nationwide trend.

“The interest in scholarship and education has really risen in higher education around the country,” Raudenbush said.

Large research universities have also begun picking up where education schools have left off.

“There’s a national interest,” said John Mark Hansen, dean of social sciences. “It is aided by a sense that what is needed to solve it is new ideas, and they’re not coming out of education schools.”

Focusing on a research-based framework, the University is establishing a unique and perhaps improved approach to education scholarship, according to some administrators.

“The poor quality of American schooling, particularly for the least advantaged in our society, puts our country at serious risk,” said Timothy Knowles, director of USI.

With the bulk of research concentrated in the South Side, especially the University’s trio of charter schools, the committee will have an unsurpassable body of data on the impact of their efforts at improvement, according to Raudenbush. With the institutions so firmly embedded, he said, committee members can now wholly concentrate their efforts on data collection and analysis.

According to department statistics, UTEP will have graduated enough classes of teachers in five years for a demonstrable effect to be charted. North Kenwood, Oakland, Donoghue, and the forthcoming charter high school will have been in existence for 23 combined years. The statistics indicate that the CCSR will have 21 years of test results, censuses, and a variety of other data concerning Chicago Public Schools.

The committee has already garnered nationwide interest, receiving grants from both the MacArthur and Gates Foundations, as well as several million-dollar gifts from individual donors, some of whom have no affiliation with the University.

The widespread support is credited in large part to the committee’s perseverance and commitment.

“I am unaware of another university that is undertaking work with the scope, ambition, and coherence of the work here,” Knowles said.

Raudenbush echoed Knowles’ sentiments on the Committee’s unique accomplishments.

“It all sounds obvious, but it’s just not being done anywhere else,” he said.