Dr. James Connell founded IRRE in 1988 at the University of Rochester where he was a professor in education and psychology. Since that time, basic research on what engages students and educators in their work and the lessons of our experience have animated and guided our work. Our history includes uplifting successes benefitting thousands of students and the inevitable disappointments that come with pursuing transformative change. We bring each client everything we have learned and insights from others who have studied our work.
As IRRE approaches our fourth decade, we recommit to using what we know to give our clients their best chance to make a difference in the lives of the children and youth in their communities.
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Beginning in 1981 and continuing today, the Human Motivation Research Group at the University of Rochester has generated the highest quality research on what Dr. Edward Deci, the group’s founder, describes as “why we do what we do”. A central focus of this world-renowned research team has been the study of developmental, motivational and organizational factors that contribute to young peoples’educational success – where success is defined not only as educational advancement but a sustained and vital engagement in the learning process. Dr. James Connell, IRRE’s co-founder and current president, was an original member of this group.
IRRE began in 1989 as a research project based at the University of Rochester developed by Dr. Connell and Dr. Louisa Pierson, one of his students. With the support of a Faculty Scholar award from the William T. Grant Foundation, they brought educators from a single urban elementary school to the University to examine what research on student motivation had to say about how schools were structured, and how strengthening relationships between adults (at home and at school) and students could result in stronger academic engagement.
The promising results from this project led to an expansion to middle and high schools through a three-year grant from the William T. Grant Foundation and to the development of the “critical features” of First Things First. In 1995, Dr. Connell and his colleagues from the Aspen Institute had just completed their first edited volume on the “theory of change” approach to planning and evaluating comprehensive community initiatives. Dr. Connell was invited to Kansas City (Missouri and Kansas) to conduct a Roundtable sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation where a theory of change approach applied to education reform was the topic. This Roundtable led to a partnership with the Kauffman Foundation and the Kansas City Kansas School District that was to last almost a decade. This partnership resulted in the first district-wide, single-model, comprehensive school reform in the nation – where the critical features of First Things First were implemented in 30+ elementary, middle and high schools in this urban community over a five-year period. The results were dramatic. Two independent, longitudinal evaluations reported major gains district-wide in achievement scores, attendance, graduation rates and student engagement.
The success of the partnership with Kansas City Kansas led to IRRE receiving significant investments from the US Department of Education and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the expansion of First Things First to districts nationwide including rural and urban districts. Dr. Connell continued to act as an advisor to national foundations and state and federal agencies on education reform and youth development issues and work with these and other partners to develop theories of change to guide their investments in education, community change and youth development. Dr. Julie Broom began her leadership and guidance of IRRE’s work on improving instruction during this period. Throughout this period, IRRE’s research staff were developing metrics and methodologies for assessing both the implementation and outcomes of the First Things First program – some of which have been adopted by other national research projects and some are still in use by IRRE today.
In 2008, IRRE’s research partners from four Universities received the first federal grant of its size to study instructional improvement in high schools using a School Randomized Trials design. Led by Dr. Julie Broom, this project represented a departure from IRRE’s exclusive implementation of the comprehensive First Things First model toward a tighter focus on the instructional elements of the program. Every Classroom Every Day resulted in positive impacts of what we now call “Curriculum and Instructional Benchmarking” on math achievement in a two-year intervention with 10 comprehensive high schools serving economically disadvantaged students.
Curriculum and Instructional Benchmarking is now the centerpiece of IRRE’s Field Services division. This multi-tiered program incorporates opportunities for districts and schools to: take a research-based and data-driven approach to the introduction of Common Core State Standards; make the required instructional changes to ensure students’ active engagement in the learning of these new standards; and build teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogical repertoire and their instructional leaders’ capacity to ensure successful implementation. Metrics and ongoing reporting of results on implementation and outcomes of these activities are part of the Curriculum and Instructional Benchmarking program.
In 2011, IRRE differentiated its Measurement Services division beginning with a partnership with the Skillman Foundation in Detroit. This partnership began with an analytic review by IRRE of the foundation’s ongoing 10-year, $120M investment in six Detroit neighborhoods to improve the lives of children and youth living there. This work has since evolved into a thriving partnership with theories of change being developed for multiple strands of this initiative – education, safety, youth development and community leadership; metrics and results being produced to guide the initiative and programmatic strategies formulated in response to these results. Since 2011, IRRE has developed partnerships with several state departments of education as well as other private foundations with major investments in children and youth outcomes in economically disadvantaged urban and rural communities. Several of the work products applied and refined as part of these partnerships – including IRRE’s Education Quality Information System (EQIS).
IRRE’s Field Services division continues to partner with urban and rural school districts to implement our Curriculum and Instructional Benchmarking, Effective Practices in the Classroom and Instructional Leadership supports. Our most recent partner is with Oakland Intermediate School District in Michigan as part of our effort to engage with scale-up partners and build their capacity to take our evidence-proven approaches to larger numbers of schools and districts. [/ultimate_modal]