Inquiry Magazine Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy


Kirabo Jackson Clarifies Teachers’ Impact
Kirabo Jackson Clarifies Teachers Impact
Photo by Victoria Sprung

Many experts question the value of tests alone to assess a teacher’s impact. A new study by assistant professor Kirabo Jackson adds weight to this view by showing that teachers build students’ skills in key areas untouched by tests.

Jackson’s research is the first to show that teachers shape crucial behavioral skills, such as self-restraint and motivation, along with cognitive abilities. These noncognitive skills affect a student’s later success in getting into college, earning income and avoiding criminal behavior, according to Jackson’s study. In fact, noncognitive skills are especially important at low income levels.

“Variations in noncognitive outcomes may be more determinant of adult outcomes than test scores,” states Jackson, an economist. His research was reported by the National Bureau of Economic Research, where he has been a faculty research fellow since 2009.

“Many of the most effective teachers will not be identified based on test score-based measures,” Jackson says. He estimates a teacher’s impact to be almost three times larger than test scores predict.

Students in SESP Philanthropy Course to Give Away $100,000

Students taking a new School of Education and Social Policy (SESP) course this spring are not only examining the history and practice of philanthropic giving. They are also giving away $100,000 to nonprofit organizations that impact children and adults.

Learning Philanthropy: Engaging in the Study and Practice of Giving is taught by SESP dean Penelope Peterson and Lauren Young, director emerita of the Spencer Foundation. Students learn the role of philanthropy in the United States, including its history, social and cultural meanings, motivations and effects.

To apply what they learn, students have the unique opportunity of deciding how and why to donate a sum of money to nonprofit organizations that benefit people. In the process, they will confront the policies, politics and practices that influence giving decisions. This laboratory component of the course is made possible by the Once Upon a Time Foundation.

Tree of Life Exhibit Opens at Four Museums

Tree of Life Exhibit

Four science museums across the United States are featuring an innovative exhibit developed by SESP assistant professor Michael Horn and his colleagues. The Life on Earth installation invites discovery about evolution and the history of life on Earth.

By late spring the exhibit will be on view at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, California Academy of Sciences, University of Nebraska State Museum and Harvard Museum of Natural History. Life on Earth allows museum visitors to view, touch and explore visualizations of more than 70,000 related species through several hands-on activities.

“For the first time, we’re enabling visitors to explore the entire tree of life in one interactive exhibit. You can take an awe-inspiring journey from the very earliest organisms that appeared on Earth some 3.5 billion years ago to the remarkable diversity of species that we see today,” says Horn. To improve museum visitors’ understanding of evolution, Life on Earth uses tabletop technology, which invites collaboration among family and friends.

SESP Unveils New Strategic Plan

SESP Unveils New Strategic Plan

A global outlook, education leaders and innovative designs — these are some of the emphases in a new strategic plan that states the vision and direction for the School of Education and Social Policy over the next five years.

With the overall goal of improving people’s lives, the School will focus on six strategies. These are to develop a global perspective, prepare a new generation of education leaders, lead a bold rethinking of designing for learning, create innovative interventions to improve human lives, shape and evaluate policies designed for impact, and foster an engaged learning community.

“As part of a global community, we find the challenges to promote learning and development greater than ever,” says dean Penelope Peterson. “We pioneer in making things better. … We will draw on the strengths of our faculty and the talents of our entire community.” The SESP strategic plan and vision video are highlighted on the SESP website at

Fuse Drop-In Program Expands in Chicago

Fuse Drop-In Program Expands in Chicago

Programming robots, creating phone apps and creating fashion lines — the Fuse drop-in program ignites young people’s interest in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) with “cool” hands-on activities such as these. The Office of STEM Education Partnerships continues to expand Fuse and is now offering the informal learning program at two Chicago Public Library sites.

Fuse meets at libraries, schools and youth centers, where students can drop by for STEAM “challenges.” A $350,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation allows development of brand-new challenges, including activities in fashion design, and new studios at the Chicago Public Library main branch and Humboldt Park Library.

The Fuse program builds students’ skills by combining highly motivating activities with the kind of leveling-up platform used in video games. Teens choose activities that interest them and work in groups or individually. Students are now participating at seven sites in the Chicago area.

James Rosenbaum’s Research Helps Steer Colleges

James Rosenbaum’s Research Helps Steer Colleges Photo courtesy of New Community College at CUNY

Research by professor James Rosenbaum is having impact well beyond the confines of academia. His work is evident in a new community college in New York, as well as a nationwide movement to increase college completion rates.

The City University of New York designed its new college based on ideas in Rosenbaum’s book After Admission, co-authored with Ann Person (PhD07) and Regina Deil-Amen. This book reports the success of for-profit colleges with techniques including a supportive environment, careful advising and structured plans to keep students on track. Rosenbaum is a member of the advisory council for the New Community College.

A national reform organization called Complete College America is also relying on Rosenbaum’s research to meet its goals. So far, the organization has enlisted 29 U.S. governors to pursue policies for improving college completion, and Rosenbaum has presented at two conferences for state policymakers. Higher education officials and staff from the governors’ offices learned of Rosenbaum’s research findings on strategies such as ensuring college readiness and developing pathways into the labor market.