Our History

Our History

The School of Education and Social Policy began as a traditional school of education and has transformed over the years into a world-class college of learning and leadership with an expanded mission, innovative programs, and far-reaching impact. Originally focused primarily on school-based learning and teacher training, SESP now rigorously tackles new education and large societal problems such as developing lifelong learners; using new technologies to foster learning; improving the lives of children in poverty; and creating equitable opportunities for all.

1850 - 1899

  • 1851 - Northwestern University is founded with Old College its first and only building.

  • 1888 - Northwestern offers education courses for the first time.


  • 1906 - Department of Education begins in the College of Liberal Arts.

  • 1926 - Separate School of Education opens, expanding to a four-year program.

  • 1941-51 - EdD degree is offered, emphasizing research. Music and speech education move to the respective schools.

  • 1953-63 - The School expands as a traditional school of education with more faculty; programs in home economics, health, gifted education; and a master’s in teaching. The National High School Institute is founded and administered by the School.

  • 1963-78 - With Dean B. J. Chandler, a new curriculum, Tutorial Clinical Program, replaces methods courses. Upward Bound brings inner-city high school students to campus in the summer.

  • 1969 - Center for the Teaching Professions begins, directed by B. Claude Mathis.


  • 1972 - Old College is struck by lightning, and the School moves to Arthur Andersen Hall.

  • 1979-1992 - Under Dean David Wiley, innovative programs are established similar to today's, with undergraduate concentrations in human development and social policy, teacher education, administration and policy studies, and counseling psychology.

  • 1981 - The groundbreaking Human Development and Social Policy (HDSP) PhD program is founded by Bernice L. Neugarten, highlighting the contributions of psychology, sociology and economics toward understanding human development over the life course and how it is shaped by policies and practices of social institutions.

  • 1982 - The Center for Talent Development originates as the Midwest Talent Search, becoming the Center for Talent Development in 1984.

  • 1986 - The School is renamed the School of Education and Social Policy; new HDSP faculty join the School.

  • 1989 - The interdisciplinary Learning Sciences program begins, seeking to understand learning and teaching environments and design learning innovations, eventually becoming a model for similar programs at other universities.


  • 1991 - Learning Sciences develops as a PhD program.

  • 1993 - The School moves to Walter Annenberg Hall, a new building constructed especially to house the School.

  • 1994 and 1996 - Refocusing on strengths, the School closes the Educational Processes Doctoral Program and Counseling Psychology doctoral programs.

  • 1996 - The Urban/Suburban Northwestern Consortium is established, facilitating collaborative relationships that promote educational excellence in city and suburban schools.


  • 1997-2017 - During Penelope Peterson’s 20-year deanship, SESP cemented itself as one of the world's most eminent school in its domain areas. The School advanced its identity as interdisciplinary and research-based, and new partnerships, initiatives, faculty, and research grants strengthened the School.

  • 1998 - Partnering with the Golden Apple Foundation and Inner-City Teaching Corps, the NU-Teach alternative route to teacher certification is established to strengthen Chicago schools. Also, the Leadership Academy and Urban Network for Chicago collaboration is established to deepen the leadership skills of aspiring principals.

  • 1999 - The Tarry Center opens on the third floor of Annenberg Hall with extensive cutting-edge technology to support the invention of improved methodologies for teaching and learning.

  • 2000 - SESP establishes Project Excite to promote readiness for advance coursework and college. It is renamed Northwestern Academy-Evanston in 2018. 

  • 2000 - The Service Learning and Civic Education programs build on the spirit of volunteerism at Northwestern, adding an academic component.

  • 2002 - The Master's in Learning and Organizational Change program is established to prepare leaders to understand how to improve the effectiveness of organizations.

  • 2002 - Master’s programs in Family Therapy and Counseling move out of the School into the Family Institute.

  • 2002 - U.S. News & World Reports ranks SESP among the top ten schools of education in the nation. SESP has ranked in the top ten in nearly every year since.

  • 2004 - The School wins the highly-competitive Institute for Education Sciences predoctoral training grant to establish the Multidisciplinary Program in Education Sciences. SESP’s training grant has been renewed three additional times, most recently in 2020; no institution in the nation has won this training grant more often.

  • 2005 - Under the leadership of Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Cells to Society: The Center on Social Disparities and Health, part of the Institute for Policy Research, is created to work on social inequalities in health and education.

  • 2009 - SESP establishes the Baxter Center for Science Education in conjunction with Lindblom Math and Science Academy (and later also Round Lake High School) and the Baxter International Foundation to promote student success in STEM education and career pathways. Since 2009, the Baxter Center has trained over 1,000 teachers, with nearly 300 schools reached as of 2020. 

  • 2013 - Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools is established.

  • 2016 - The first-of-its-kind undergraduate program in Learning Sciences admits its first students. At the graduate level, SESP launches the nation's first join learning sciences/computer science doctoral program.

  • 2017 - David Figlio is named SESP dean. He joins retiring dean Penelope Peterson as an elected member of the National Academy of Education. Northwestern President Morton Schapiro is also elected to the National Academy of Education in the same year.

  • 2018 - SESP establishes the Center for Excellence In Computer Science in collaboration with Apple and Chicago Public Schools.

  • 2018 - SESP establishes the Office of Community Education Partnerships to bring together our research, teaching, and service missions to improve learning and well-being in our home communities of Evanston and Chicago, and beyond. The Northwestern-Evanston Education Research Alliance is formalized.

  • 2018 - Larry Hedges wins the second Yidan Prize for Research, the world’s largest education prize. Northwestern hosts the 2019 Yidan Prize: Americas symposium.

  • 2019 - SESP launches a first-of-its-kind dual degree program in which students earn a Northwestern MS in Social and Economic Policy and a MSc in Applied Economics from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The first students, who will take Northwestern courses in both Evanston and Hong Kong, matriculate in Fall 2021.

  • 2020 - SESP launches the uniquely-designed platform at the heart of Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s signature My CHI. My Future initiative.

  • 2020 - Professors Cynthia Coburn and Kirabo Jackson are elected to the National Academy of Education.

2021 - Professors Megan Bang, Jonathan Guryan, and Brian Reiser are elected to the National Academy of Education, giving SESP eight elected members since 2017. Overall, SESP now has 15 members, including Cynthia Coburn, Kirabo Jackson, Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Allan Collins, Carol Lee, David Figlio, Larry Hedges, Douglas Medin, Penelope Peterson, Morton Schapiro, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, and James Spillane.