University of Minnesota
Driven to Discover


All children deserve to learn to their greatest capacity, no matter what barriers they face. The National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) is leading educational innovation for students with significant cognitive disabilities through the National Center and State Collaborative (NCSC), a network of national centers and 19 states.

This fall, all of the state colleges that prepare future literacy teachers introduced revised curriculums that included more coursework and field experience. The revisions coincide with changes to Minnesota Board of Teaching standards for reading, and both developments are a direct result of a multi-year research project led by Deborah Dillon, Guy Bond Chair in Reading.

Reading may be the single most important skill for children to learn—a portal to the world of knowledge. Yet a 2003 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that more than 37 percent of fourth-grade students, 26 percent of eighth-grade students, and 26 percent of twelfth-grade students read below grade level.

Jennifer York-Barr supports teachers learning and working together in teams. While the concept of teachers working together may not sound particularly radical, the reality is that teachers tend to work alone as they teach each day, with little time to compare notes, generate ideas, plan for instruction, or review student progress together with colleagues. York-Barr’s research suggests that while working in teams is not an easy task, it can benefit both teachers and students.

Since 1996, Kyla Wahlstrom and her research team at the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) have led the way in the study of later start times for high school students, beginning with their study of the impact of later start times on educational achievement in two different districts.

By many measures, Minnesota public schools are among the best in the country. But underneath the encouraging statistics lies one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation. On any test, in any grade, and in any subject measured by the state, Minnesota’s students of color score lower than their white peers—a problem that is magnified in urban schools. Lower test scores lead to lower graduation rates and lower rates of college attendance, severely limiting long-term economic opportunities.

Student test results and school status have dominated news coverage of education since No Child Left Behind became law in 2001. Despite the commitment to raising student achievement, many schools continue to lag established goals. Exploring ways to improve outcomes is the focal point of much educational research, from studies of teacher practice, to classroom and test design. But what effect does school leadership have on student achievement?

What makes a good teacher? How can quality teachers help students improve learning and student outcomes? Parents, educators, and policy makers want to know.

The Rational Number Project is wrapping up, but even after 23 years, questions remain. In the world of research that’s good, not bad.

Federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act require schools to demonstrate adequate annual progress from all students, regardless of ability. How to provide that proof for students who often don’t read, aren’t verbal, or who face other hurdles has been a challenge. Educators have struggled for years to find consensus regarding the progress that should be expected of students with significant cognitive disabilities and how to monitor such progress.

Engaged learners are successful learners. But how do teachers ensure that a class of beginning readers become enthusiastic, proficient readers? It may be a matter of asking the right questions.

Before they begin formal education, children gradually learn how to use language to interpret the world around them. Professor Scott McConnell (educational psychology), an affiliate of the Center for Early Education Development (CEED) and Fesler-Lampert Chair in Urban and Regional Affairs, studies language and literacy development in the formative years between birth and age five. Through his ongoing research on skills assessments and interventions, McConnell hopes to get all children ready to read by the time they enter kindergarten.

How can parents and teachers promote the healthy development of young children? With that question in mind, the Early Childhood Research Institute on Measuring Growth and Development was launched by the Universities of Minnesota, Kansas, and Oregon in October 1996. Scott McConnell and the late Mary McEvoy, educational psychology professors, were the Institute’s lead researchers at the U. The Institute has developed a comprehensive, individualized measurement system for tracking the growth and development of children with and without disabilities from birth to age eight. Part of this system are assessments that allow families and teachers to monitor young children’s development and identify, as soon as possible, the need for more intensive intervention.

The positive effects of a college diploma are many—from increased income, professional mobility, and improved quality of life, to good health. Yet for students whose parents’ highest level of education is high school or less, finishing college is a challenge. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s First-Generation Students in Postsecondary Education study, only 24 percent of first-generation college students attain an undergraduate degree, compared to 68 percent of students with at least one parent who attended college.

For 25 years Lee Galda, professor of children’s literature, has been studying what happens when a young reader connects with a book. “What is it about reading that makes it so engaging?” Galda asks. Her curiosity about this began when she was teaching elementary school.

Brothers and fellow professors in the College of Education and Human Development, Roger and David W. Johnson are the nation’s leading researchers on cooperative learning. They head the Cooperative Learning Center which focuses on making classrooms and schools more cooperative places and on teaching cooperative skills—leadership, communication, decision making, trust building, and conflict resolution.

According to the Children’s Defense Fund (2002), one high school student drops out every nine seconds. That’s an astounding statistic and here are a few more dropout facts: Students most likely to drop out come from Hispanic, African-American, Native American, and low-income backgrounds; live in single-parents homes, and attend large urban schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (2002). Dropout rates are highest among students with emotional and behavioral disabilities; half of those students dropped out of school in 1998-99, according to the U.S. Department of Education (2001).

Stan Deno, professor of educational psychology, developed curriculum-based measurement (CBM) in the late 1970s with the goal of giving teachers of children with learning disabilities a simple set of evaluation procedures that would allow them to literally graph a child's academic progress.

Are you unbiased? Treat all people equally? A fair leader? A team player? You might be surprised.
Cryss Brunner, associate professor of educational policy and administration, has created an innovative communication method that gives students an unprecedented view of how their perceptions of their own power and character can differ from the way they present themselves. Ultimately Brunner wants to know if our identity (gender, race, physical characteristics, experiences) gets in the way of interpersonal understanding, true dialogue, and “justice-oriented” interaction.

In the 1990s, many Somali citizens fled their war-torn country and eventually took refuge in large urban communities across the United States—with the largest concentration settling in the Twin Cities. Like immigrant communities before them, they brought unique cultural perspectives, which directly influenced their second language acquisition (SLA). Formal education for many adolescent Somalis had been disrupted by war and displacement. Many of these individuals had little or no print literacy in their native language. This pointed to a gap in SLA research, as associate professor Martha Bigelow (curriculum and instruction) discovered.

Despite Minnesota's constitutional obligation to provide a "uniform" public school system for all, the burden of education has increasingly fallen to school districts. Theirs is a tall order: to ensure that every student, regardless of primary language or ability, meets state and federal learning standards. At the same time, state aid has dropped 13 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars since 2003, and many districts are scrambling to close funding gaps through levy referendums. After years of doing more with less, the financial health of some Minnesota school districts is shaky.

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