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The Discovery Partners Institute has launched a new education and workforce research center, IWERC, with $3.9 million from some of the city’s most influential philanthropists and foundations.

IWERC stands for the Illinois Workforce and Education Research Collaborative. It will identify the questions most important to Illinois policy and education leaders, and then analyze appropriate data and share findings so that more students succeed.

“We want to provide state education leaders with actionable evidence to help them make more informed decisions,” said IWERC board co-chair John Q. Easton, former executive director of the Consortium on School Research at the University of Chicago. “Thanks to efforts by many over the last few years, the data we need to do that are now available, and we have evidence that better research and analysis can improve education and job-readiness.”

For instance, after University of Chicago researchers identified the freshman year as make-or-break for many Chicago Public School students, the district encouraged and incentivized high schools to provide freshmen with extra support. The program, known as Freshmen On-Track, has been credited with improvements in the district’s graduation rate that far exceed the national average.

IWERC will analyze public data on students from early childhood through college. The group is working on a data-sharing agreement to be able to anonymously track students’ salaries once they leave school.

IWERC’s goals complement DPI’s ambitions to improve education and training for in-demand tech jobs as well as conduct applied research. IWERC sits at the center of both initiatives; it conducts research on job-readiness.

Further, given the information being analyzed is owned and controlled by state and local governments, IWERC’s leadership wanted to partner with a public institution to make it easier to share that data.

“A lot of aspects of our education and job-readiness systems sort-of work — they work for some but not all,” said Bill Jackson, the executive director of DPI. “Both DPI and IWERC share the conviction that Illinois must do better for everyone; that the status quo, while adequate, is simply not enough to power us to compete with the world. I want to thank the visionary early-stage donors who are thus enabling this important research.”

“IWERC will utilize statewide student data to help answer critical and vexing questions tied to education and job readiness in the state of Illinois that will help shape and inform policy,” said Illinois Deputy Governor Jesse Ruiz. “I commend DPI and IWERC leaders and funders for stepping up to advance this important work.”

IWERC’s initial funders include the Joyce Foundation; the Steans Family Foundation; the Pritzker Traubert Foundation; the Spencer Foundation; and two anonymous donors.

DPI also has launched a search for the director of IWERC, who will report to Jackson. The job description can be found here. The application deadline is June 15, 2020. It is expected the position will be filled by early Fall.

About DPI
The Discovery Partners Institute empowers people to jumpstart their tech careers or companies in Chicago. Led by the University of Illinois System in partnership with top research universities, it does two things: tech talent development and applied R&D. DPI prepares students and workers to step into high-demand tech jobs. It also builds research teams and matches them with new funding. With state investment and a new innovation district in development, DPI has the resources to attract, develop and leverage the most ambitious people and companies the region has to offer — and keep them here.