Inquiry Magazine Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy


SESP Junior Wins Around-the-World Research Grant

Jonathan McBride

Jonathan McBride, a junior majoring in social policy, received the 2015 Circumnavigators Travel-Study Grant. He will investigate the response of universities around the world to sexual assault by visiting Brazil, the Netherlands, Egypt, South Africa and Australia this summer.

McBride says, “I hope that … we can elucidate some of the best and worst policies surrounding sexual assault.” Each year a Northwestern student is awarded a grant of $9,000, funded by the University and the Chicago Chapter of the Circumnavigators Club, to research an important topic in at least five countries on three continents.

Summer Reading Improves Skills

Summer Reading Improves Skills

If kids read more over the summer, will their reading skills grow? Research by SESP associate professor Jonathan Guryan found that reading books over the summer boosted children’s reading skills — and that the quality of reading was even more important than the number of books read.

Reading skills differ widely by family income, and gaps increase over the summer. To understand the impact of summer reading, Guryan and two colleagues conducted a randomized experiment with 11,000 second and third graders at 59 North Carolina public schools. They tracked a program called Project READS, which encouraged the children to read over the summer by mailing them 10 books, one a week.

“Reading more books generates increases in reading comprehension skills, particularly when students read carefully enough to be able to answer basic questions about the books they read,” the researchers say.

Head Start Benefits Low-Income Parents

Head Start programs may help low-income parents improve their educational status, according to a new study by Northwestern University researchers Terri Sabol and Lindsay Chase-Lansdale. Their study is one of the first to examine whether a child’s participation in the federal program benefits mothers and fathers — especially their educational attainment and employment.

While research on the nation’s largest preschool program typically focuses on children, the SESP researchers looked at the parents’ stories. They found that parents of three-year-olds in Head Start had greater increases in educational attainment by the time their children reached kindergarten than parents in the control group.

SESP Launches Certificate of Advanced Studies for Teachers

SESP Launches Certificate of Advanced Studies for Teachers
Photo by: Ray Whitehouse

As the teaching profession is rapidly changing, SESP is offering a new Certificate of Advanced Study to provide teachers with skills for guiding students in the 21st century. Through a sequence of four courses, teachers may earn a certificate in a specialty area.

Participants focus on one of these areas: instructional coaching, the gifted, next generation science teaching or (coming in 2016) computational thinking.

“Teachers are able to apply this learning to their work with students immediately, while also developing their own long-term skills as educators,” says Timothy Dohrer, director of the Master of Science in Education Program. Faculty are national experts in the specialty area who draw on cutting-edge research and deep experience in student and teacher learning. More information is available at

SESP Leaders Urge Investment in Early Childhood Education
Photo by: Andrew Campbell

SESP Leaders Urge Investment in Early Childhood Education

“Compelling scientific evidence confirms the benefits of early childhood education,” says Terri Sabol, a SESP assistant professor whose research focuses on the topic. Sabol was one of the SESP faculty members who recently signed an open letter urging policy makers to increase investment in high-quality early childhood education.

More than 500 leading researchers from across the nation participated, including SESP dean Penelope Peterson and faculty members Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Terri Sabol and Sandra Waxman. Their petition summarizes evidence from research in psychology, education, human development and economics showing the returns of investment in high-quality early childhood education.

Organizational Change Students Collaborate with Companies, Nonprofits

Organizational Change Students Collaborate with Companies, Nonprofits

For the Learning and Organizational Change master’s program (MSLOC), collaborations with companies and nonprofits fuel learning. Students benefit from real-world challenges, and organizations welcome the fresh input from knowledgeable students.

Recently the MSLOC program worked with Leo Burnett advertising agency to examine diversity in creative talent at the agency. In another unique educational experience, master’s students assisted Lurie Children’s Hospital on a project to redesign onboarding of new managers and leaders. Graduate students also worked with YMCA of the USA to help tell the Y’s story through staff and volunteers.

“The projects are valuable to students because they get a fair amount of client exposure and have to grapple with problems with ‘no easy answer.’ We also push the envelope with students in trying to apply what they’ve learned to be innovative,” says faculty member Ryan Smerek. “For the clients, the benefit is not just the final deliverable, but the interactions and questions from the students throughout the presentations and dialogue.”

Northwestern Trains and Supports Top Principals
Photo by: Jim Prisching

Northwestern Trains and Supports Top Principals

In an effort to bolster talented principals, Northwestern University is providing leadership training and executive coaching to top educators from Chicago Public Schools. The Chicago Public Schools Principal Fellowship program, which began in the fall, is a three-year partnership between Chicago Public Schools and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and School of Education and Social Policy.

In an effort to challenge and invigorate already-successful principals, Northwestern is providing expertise, performance assessments and coaching. The yearlong program uses cutting-edge leadership development techniques, says SESP professor James Spillane, a key architect of the program. Spillane’s research on distributed leadership serves as a central theme.