Press Releases

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New Research Alliance for NYC Schools

Three years of work based at the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) have resulted in the creation of a Research Alliance for New York City Schools. The new Alliance, to be housed at New York University (NYU) beginning next month, was announced at a press conference held today at NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

“The SSRC is proud to have played a central role in this major initiative to improve public schools in the city where we are headquartered,” said SSRC President Craig Calhoun. “Providing support to incubate this project was a good fit with the Council's overall mission. We have a long history of facilitating large, collaborative projects and a proven record in bringing people and institutions together to get important civic ventures off the ground. We are also very interested in the project's goal of generating critical knowledge about K–12 and postsecondary education and of using that knowledge to shape the city's educational policies, programs and investments.”

The project was initiated and directed by Richard Arum, director of the SSRC's educational research program and a professor of sociology and education at NYU. Three years ago, he and project coordinator Abby Larson brought together researchers from NYU, Columbia University's Teachers College, City University of New York, and several other major research universities to develop a vision for a nonpartisan research consortium on the city's schools as a new “public good” for the city, based on the model provided by the Consortium for Chicago School Research (CCSR). They also reached out to the New York City teachers union as well as major New York City school reform and community organizations.

“We wanted to make the case that rigorous and relevant social science research should serve as the foundation for the city's school improvement efforts,” Arum said. “As Jim Kemple assumes leadership of this project at NYU, we look forward to seeing continued progress in bringing together researchers, stakeholders and diverse community interests to define and pursue a research agenda that will support sustained educational reform and school improvement.”

The SSRC-led project received the city's official blessing in 2006, when Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, along with other city leaders, endorsed its proposal for a Research Partnership for New York City Schools (the initiative was renamed last year to the “Research Alliance for New York City Schools”).

During the project's incubation phase, Arum and Larson secured planning grants from a number of New York City-based and national foundations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Wallace Foundation and the New York Community Trust. (Go to list of funders.)

They held a major conference a year ago, introducing the project to a wider audience. Several speakers delivered papers commissioned by the SSRC attesting to the value of applied research in educational reform. Topics ranged from “lessons learned” from the Chicago consortium's 17-year history, to an analysis of the current distribution of spending across schools in New York City, to patterns of attrition and retention among teachers in the city's elementary and middle schools.

During the project's final phase, Arum and Larson worked on developing a template for the Research Alliance's organizational structure and successfully secured $3.5 million in grants from philanthropic sources to provide support for the endeavor going forward. They set up a research advisory board of leading educational researchers, as well as a governance board made up of prominent New Yorkers who are actively involved in public education issues. Several members of governance board were present at the announcement today, including Chancellor Joel Klein; Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers; and co-chairs William Bowen and Kathryn Wylde. Also present was James Kemple, who served on the project's research advisory board. A former teacher and leading expert on the city's K–12 educational policy, Kemple will serve as the Research Alliance's first executive director.

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