The Role of the Committee on Education

Interdisciplinary Interchange

Leading social and behavioral scientists at the University have long pursued questions of fundamental importance to education. The questions are broad in scope, for example: How do children learn to speak, to read, and to reason mathematically? How can classroom instruction promote such learning? How can school organization support such instruction? How does the political economy of a school system affects its productivity? Taken in isolation, each question is important for understanding human development and society. But the answers emerging in each domain of research have implications for inquiry in the other domains. The Committee enables scholars throughout the University to explore these implications, deepening the work in each domain, uncovering new questions, and intensifying interdisciplinary scholarship in education.

More specifically, the Committee sponsors an ongoing workshop on Education; administers training grants in educational research; and fosters connections among education-related programs in existing departments and schools, including SSA’s Community Schools Program, the Urban Teacher Education Program, and courses in educational psychology, educational sociology, economics of education, social work, and educational policy.

Interplay Between Researchers and Practitioners

A crucial resource for the Committee’s work is the University’s Urban Education Institute (UEI), perhaps the most ambitious attempt by a leading university to collaborate with educators in improving urban schools. In the charter schools UEI controls, the University puts to test its best ideas about how children learn, about how school and classroom organization can support learning, about the incentives and management practices that best support effective practice, and about how schools can contribute to children’s social development through effective social services. Beyond its own charter schools, in a broader network of schools involved in the Urban School Improvement Network, UEI tests its understanding of how the professional development of incumbent teachers can improve their practice. In its Urban Teacher Education Program, UEI tests its knowledge of how best to prepare new teachers.

Indeed, UEI has developed a distinctive “Chicago Model” for urban schooling. The model simultaneously draws on and tests the best ideas about teaching, learning, school organization, school governance, teacher preparation, and social service provision.

Clearly, the breadth of knowledge required for UEI to succeed matches the breadth of inquiry characterizing education research across the disciplines at the University. The Committee therefore strives not only to facilitate interactions among University faculty but also to promote intense and sustained interaction between scholars and practitioners. Viewed from the standpoint of UEI, the Committee is an invaluable resource, providing a stream of new findings and insights from research that can be of use in practice. From the standpoint of the Committee, however, the UEI is a key resource because UEI’s efforts to improve practice reveal the limitations of accepted ideas and approaches while generating new questions and fresh insights from which academic research can benefit.

Effective educational practice is based on concerted action in the face of uncertainty. It requires loyalty, solidarity, and commitment in pursuit of common goals. Science, on the other hand, thrives on skepticism and the critical reappraisal of assumptions. The Committee aims to manage a creative interplay between these perspectives in order to advance scholarship on schooling while supporting UEI’s commitment to reflective practice. A vigorous fund-raising effort, including a major endowment component, supports the practical work and the scholarship, insuring that the interplay between them will be sustained for many decades to come.