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UW-Eau Claire English Professor Helps in Effort
to Redesign Chicago High Schools

RELEASED: Feb. 14, 2006

Carmen Manning
Carmen Manning

EAU CLAIRE — An English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is playing a key role in an innovative initiative to redesign public high schools in Chicago.

Dr. Carmen Manning, assistant professor of English at UW-Eau Claire, and two colleagues from other universities have been hired by the Chicago High School Redesign Initiative to conduct research and lead professional development initiatives for high school teachers in English/language arts, math, science, social studies and technology.

The CHSRI, funded primarily by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is an effort to close large underperforming high schools in Chicago and re-open many of them as small schools. So far, CHSRI has created 23 new small high schools in neighborhoods across the city. Typically, four new small schools are housed within a single existing school building, each with no more than 400 students each in grades 9-12

To date, the Gates Foundation has awarded nearly $20 million to support the high school conversion project. The Gates Foundation grant was matched by a $6 million contribution from a group of local Chicago foundations, and the CHSRI was formed to guide the effort.

"It is a very large grant project, and politically high profile in Chicago and across the nation because of the involvement of the Gates Foundation," Manning said, noting that research has long shown that the large Chicago high schools were ineffective in meeting education goals. "This is an innovative way to think about high school education in Chicago."

Manning and other members of the Lead Investigator Team will evaluate the CHSRI's work and conduct professional development for teachers in the conversion schools, said Manning, who has been involved in various education-related projects in Chicago for 10 years.

While Manning's specialty area of focus is English/language arts, the Lead Investigator Team will research and support teaching and learning in all areas, she said.

"Being hired to do this work is a very big deal for me and my colleagues," Manning said, noting that the team is still in the earliest stages of its work. "We have a real opportunity to influence the national conversation about authentic teaching and learning in schools. Calls of authenticity often lose out these days to the focus on national standards and testing."

Manning's team has been hired to do two things: First, develop and conduct research to investigate the nature of and changes in authentic, rigorous and relevant teaching and learning in the conversion schools; and second, provide ongoing, meaningful professional development for teachers in these schools to support authentic, rigorous and relevant teaching and learning.

"The three Rs — rigor, relevance and relationships — lead to increased achievement and increased graduation rates," Manning said. "Kids stay in school if they have relationships in the school. And rigor and relevance help build relationships between students, between teachers, and between students and their teachers."

The research team will include the high school teachers in all aspects of the project, Manning said. Together they will try to determine what effective assignments might include, and they will evaluate the students' work that results from those assignments, she said.

"This will be a real bottom up approach," Manning said. "We want to look at what kinds of assignments and activities teachers are creating, and then look at the performance of the students as a result of those assignments or activities. We want to know if the assignments and activities are resulting in student learning."

Manning's team began work on the three-year project in January. The team will meet several times this spring and more frequently in the summer, said Manning, who became involved in Chicago schools while attending graduate school at the University of Chicago.

While there are currently no UW-Eau Claire students participating in the project, Manning said her students are benefiting from her involvement because she brings information relating to the initiative into classroom discussions. As a result, UW-Eau Claire education majors are being encouraged to think about urban education in a new way, she said. Over time, she hopes the relationships she builds through the initiative will lead to new opportunities for UW-Eau Claire students, such as student teacher collaborations with Chicago schools.

-30-

JB

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