Hometown Solutions for National Issues

IPR faculty collaborate with Evanston organizations on policy research projects

Evanston Township High School

IPR faculty are conducting an ongoing study of instruction at Evanston Township High School (above).

IPR faculty lead and conduct policy-relevant research in sites throughout the United States and abroad, but they also work on innovative projects that test and evaluate important social policies for their home community of Evanston, Illinois.

“In many ways, Evanston provides an ideal research site for IPR researchers,” said IPR Director David Figlio, in talking about the Institute’s commitment to its community. “It is a diverse community that shares many of the problems of larger cities, including its next-door neighbor Chicago, in addition to the particular concerns of suburban agglomerations.”

One Solution to Help Two Generations: An Evanston Pilot Project

IPR developmental psychologist Lindsay Chase-Lansdale recently partnered with the Evanston Community Foundation (ECF), receiving a $100,000 grant from Ascend at the Aspen Institute to jump-start an innovative two-generation education initiative for low-income parents and their young children.

Lindsay Chase-Lansdale
Lindsay Chase-Lansdale (center) speaks about two-generation
parent-child education and work solutions at an Ascend event.

Designed to help members of low-income Evanston families further their education and careers, the two-generation pilot program will provide early childhood education for children as well as education, training, and employment opportunities for their parents. It draws upon award-winning research from Chase-Lansdale and her research team and also from ECF’s ongoing kindergarten-to-workforce readiness initiative, “Every Child Ready for Kindergarten, Every Youth Ready for Work.”

“We are seeking to develop a pilot program in Evanston because of its engaged community and its socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic diversity,” Chase-Lansdale said. “ECF is an ideal partner because of its longstanding history of drawing upon Evanston’s multitude of voices to develop a vision of social justice.”

The foundation, headed by president and CEO Sara Schastok, will provide leadership and program implementation support for the Evanston pilot project, and Northwestern will direct an accompanying research study, led by Chase-Lansdale and Teresa Eckrich Sommer, an IPR senior research scientist. After a year, both ECF and Northwestern will develop a funding and partnership strategy and a plan for potential expansion. 

“This partnership is a win-win for Northwestern and for Evanston,” said Eugene S. Sunshine, senior vice president for business and finance at Northwestern. “We are always pleased when our exceptional teaching and research resources align with community needs, and we are especially honored to partner with an Evanston organization that has been making a difference in the community for many years.”

For more information about this project, read the press release here.

Expanding Opportunities for Low-Income Students at ETHS

In another project, IPR faculty are collaborating with K–12 and university administrators from around the nation to collaborate on issues related to encouraging more disadvantaged and low-income youth to enroll in selective colleges and helping them to succeed once they attend. The project got its start with a workshop, convened by higher education economist and Northwestern president and professor Morton Schapiro and Evanston Township High School (ETHS) Superintendent Eric Witherspoon at Northwestern last year.

Organized by IPR, the two-day workshop emphasized the importance of research in informing and evaluating efforts to prepare minority and low-income students for selective colleges. IPR faculty Kirabo Jackson, James Rosenbaum, Anthony Chen, Jonathan Guryan, Jennifer Richeson, and Mesmin Destin presented their related research. The spoke about their findings on affirmative action programs, understanding relations between students of different races, pay-for-performance programs in high school, teacher quality and matching, and high-school-to-college transitions.

Morton Schapiro
Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro
discusses his research on the economics of higher
education during a workshop sponsored by IPR.

Figlio, who moderated the workshop, also discussed an ongoing, real-time evaluation of an instructional revision at ETHS that he is conducting with IPR researchers Thomas D. Cook, a social psychologist, and Charles Whitaker in journalism, in addition to colleagues from the American Institutes for Research and Harvard University. The high school, which has a very ethnically and socially diverse student body, revamped its freshman honors course in the humanities in 2011 and in biology in 2012. Previously, honors classes were composed of mostly white students from affluent backgrounds.

To expand honors course offerings—and eventually Advanced Placement courses—to a more economically and racially diverse mix of students, district administrators, based on Figlio’s advice, overhauled the two core classes to allow for three levels of students. The top 5 percent, as measured by reading test scores, were placed in an honors-only class; those who scored the lowest were placed in classes where they received additional instruction. The majority of students who fell between the two were enrolled in “mixed” classes, where they could either earn honors credit or regular credit in the class. Since the new model takes account of the quality of student work in the classes, students have to pass benchmark assessments each semester. The curriculum was also aligned to AP, ACT, and Common Core State Standards guidelines.

The researchers will look at wide variety of short and long-term outcomes for the students, including student and parent satisfaction, student effort and performance, college attendance, and college completion, in addition to racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic data. They will examine five cohorts of students, three from before 2011 and the revised course structure and two after. Funding has been provided by the U.S. Department of Education and the Spencer Foundation.

“This mixed-class model has not been tried anywhere before,” said Figlio, who has a daughter who currently attends ETHS and is part of the study. “It provides ETHS with a way to break out of a more rigid course system and open opportunities to more students. The preliminary data show promise, and if the long-term results—which include college graduation and completion rates—pan out as well, we think it is a model that could serve schools across the nation as well.”

IPR Director David Figlio is Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy and of Economics. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale is Associate Provost for Faculty at Northwestern, Frances Willard Professor of Human Development and Social Policy, and an IPR fellow.

Photo credits: Header by Evangeline Semark, second from top by D. Bayer, bottom by P. Reese