Understanding children’s journeys through early childhood programs and services
Disparities in cognitive skills emerge in children as young as nine months old and widen during later years. At kindergarten entry, sizable school readiness gaps exist. Illinois children—particularly children living in adverse environments—have shown inadequate levels of school readiness. Through mapping the journeys children from birth to eight years old take through Illinois early childhood programs and services and identifying the effectiveness of different pathways, IWERC provides important evidence for early childhood interventions and policies aiming to promote equality of opportunity.
Maintaining a diverse, high-quality early childhood and K-12 workforce
Approximately 130,000 full-time teachers and administrators are employed in Illinois public schools, comprising a workforce responsible for supporting the positive, holistic development of 1.9 million youth across the state. In 2021, roughly 87% of that teacher workforce was retained. Although teacher retention has remained stable for the past 5 years, an educator shortage disproportionately exists in certain subject areas, such as special education and bilingual/English as a Second Language; educator demographics, such as race; and geographic areas, including rural and urban districts. By focusing our research on those areas where shortages are pronounced, IWERC aims to explore the factors that contribute to the development and retention of diverse, high-quality teachers.
Exploring the diverse routes from high school to work
Student pathways after high school are seldom linear. Many young adults transition between various higher educational institutions, training programs, and jobs a number of times before arriving at a long-term career. This study will describe pathways that Illinois high school graduates take to work, including pathways through four-year colleges, community colleges, certificate programs, and/or work-based learning experiences. After mapping these pathways, we will analyze how they relate to education and employment outcomes. By understanding the nature of Illinoisan student trajectories from high school to work, we can identify opportunities for supporting more students in attaining their education and career goals.
Trauma-informed responses to post-pandemic schooling
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois educators and policymakers have taken an increased interest in the effects of trauma on students and educators. In March 2021, the Illinois General Assembly passed House Bill 2170, which, among many other things, called for specific attention to the effects of trauma on students. Given this interest in how trauma intersects with educational experience, IWERC was asked to write “research briefs” on trauma and its implications for educational institutions in the state. IWERC is producing briefs that are Illinois-specific, rooted in rigorous scholarly research, focused on target populations that are more likely to experience trauma and may require distinct approaches, and pithy and actionable for educators, educational institutions, and others.
Strategies that cultivate effective schools for different purposes and learners
The concept of effective schools is broad and largely depends on the definition given by scholars and practitioners and on the measures being used to evaluate schools. In this study, we present a systematic review of the literature on effective schools to provide context for a comparison exercise between three different frameworks of effective schools in the state of Illinois: the 5Essentials, the Illinois Report Card, and the U.S. News Ranking of high-quality high schools. By focusing on three different frameworks, we highlight two different problematics concerning the current use of frameworks of effective schools (1) that results of the classification of effective schools varies depending on the framework being used; and (2) that many components across frameworks correspond to measures related to processes and inputs in addition to measuring outcomes. We summarize some of the problematics related to the measurement of effective schools and propose recommendations for educators and researchers to consider when studying issues related to effective schools.
Illinois demographics and access/opportunity
Where one lives matters. While Chicago has been repeatedly studied and used as a case study for neighborhood typology, Illinois has not. IWERC is proposing a series of studies that will (1) build a general map of Illinois that is characterized by several demographic variables collected from Census tract data and (2) build several specialty maps that highlight areas in Illinois that need support in improving equitable access to essential programs that better the lives of Illinois residents and advance the state’s social services and technology, education, and workforce initiatives.
A Research-Practice Partnership to Understand Community Perspectives of Education and the Workforce
This project was designed to gather opinions, experiences, and expectations related to education and the workforce of individuals across different communities in Illinois. We will gather data concerning the outcomes of education (including the workforce), teaching as a profession, effective schools, and the use of educational research. To start, several communities in Illinois were strategically selected and purposefully sampled based on their geography and demographic diversity. Our study will allow researchers to further our understanding of education and workforce opinions and experiences of individuals not traditionally included in research studies.
Research on computer science education in the state
Access to technology careers is an urgent equity issue. Technology jobs are more remunerative and recession-proof than other occupations, but many minoritized populations (including women, Latinx, and Black workers) are starkly underrepresented in these professions. This project includes a pair of studies aimed at understanding how to promote success in computer science (CS) education for minoritized learners in Illinois. These studies would examine the current K-12 infrastructure for starting minoritized learners on CS pathways, as well as individual-level factors that encourage or discourage minoritized learners from persisting in CS in post-secondary education or alternative pathways.
Research on the Illinois Educator Prep Profiles
IWERC is analyzing data from the Illinois Educator Preparation Profiles (IEPP) system housed at ISBE. The IEPP reports scores for specific teacher preparation programs (e.g., elementary ed, math ed) at higher education institutions across the state. Analyzing IEPP data will shed light on how teacher preparation programs shape teachers’ career trajectories. As such, this work aligns with IWERC’s core project on maintaining a diverse, high-quality early childhood and K-12 workforce.