This issue we spotlight the Center for the Study of Education Policy (CSEP) in the College of Education. CSEP was established in 1970 as the Center for School Finance. For more than two decades, it focused exclusively on school money matters, including issuing the nationally prominent Grapevine Report, which annually details every state’s contributions to higher education. In 1995 the center adopted its current name to reflect a broadened mission to research the education system as a whole.

The center has also become a force in developing education policy in Illinois. CSEP staff sit on many statewide education councils and advisory boards and helped design legislation that overhauled how principals are trained statewide. The center has received a three-year, $12.5 million Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant from the U.S. Department of Education and a nearly $1 million grant to manage the Birth through Third Grade (B-3) Continuity Project in Illinois. The former grant will be used to increase principal effectiveness in performance areas that lead to increases in student achievement, particularly in high-need schools. The latter project helps communities that received federal Preschool Expansion Grant funds to expand their prekindergarten programs transition students successfully into kindergarten and elementary school.

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In the following Q&A, center Director Lynne Haeffele and senior policy analysts and researchers Erika Hunt and Lisa Hood talk about the center’s research and mission.

What is your mission now?

Lynne Haeffele: “We look at every phase of education all the way from pre-K through employment. We’re really looking to work on policy issues that have meaning to practitioners in the field that will actually help students. It’s a very student-focused mission.

“Seamless is a word we use a lot. We are especially interested in the transitions from pre-K to kindergarten and the early grades, eighth grade to high school, high school to college, and college to work.”

Talk about your motto, “research that matters.”

Erika Hunt
Erika Hunt

Erika Hunt: “We do applied research. It’s research that benefits the field because it is just-in-time research. The other thing, too, is we do translation of research to the field. That’s even more important these days when there is so much information out there that it is hard to make sense of it all. I think we are seen as a trusted and credible resource to the field.”

What are some grants you have received?

Hunt: “We are most well-known for a few initiatives: the Birth to Third initiative and the school leadership initiatives. We also do a lot of work with the high school to college transition. We had a $6 million grant from the Wallace Foundation that led to the passage of the principal preparation legislation, and we won the 2014 Frank Newman Award for State Innovation from the Education Commission of the States for that. We also have a $4.6 million Department of Education grant for school leadership. We are working with three universities and three school districts implementing the new changes.”

Haeffele: “I’m going to throw in one more area. A few years ago, we absorbed the National Board Resource Center. That is funded by the Illinois State Board of Education, at more than a million dollars a year. The idea there is to help teachers gain national certification and trying to get groups of teachers within schools to have national certification and qualifications to improve education. That is another key area for us.”

Lisa Hood
Lisa Hood

Lisa Hood: “Another area where we have become well known is in early childhood education. We have received support from the McCormick Foundation since 2008 to integrate early childhood education into our principal preparation reform, redesign early childhood teacher education program standards for Illinois, and study the use of the Danielson Framework for Teaching in pre-K to third grade classrooms after the state’s new teacher evaluation law was passed.”

How does the center interact with the College of Education?

Haeffele: “In general we try to engage as many faculty as appropriate. For example, when the State Board of Education wants a program evaluated, then we will find the appropriate faculty to help with that. We are most closely aligned with the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations. And that has a lot to do with the fact we concentrate on leadership and the school finance people were in that department. It’s a natural fit.

“We also work with other elements of the University. One thing I’m working on is a regional effort to improve the workforce in McLean County. Our Provost’s Office is involved in that. Our School of Information Technology is involved in that. Another center (Illinois Center for Specialized Professional Support) here on campus is involved in that. We try to keep those connections, depending on each project.”

You are researching these issues and helping to implement education policy. How much time do you spend on each?

Haeffele: “It depends on the day and the issue that is hot at the time. Our preference is really to guide groups of people to agree rather than to push a policy onto someone. So we do a lot of facilitation. We do a lot of invitational conferences so that people can get together and hash things out and walk away feeling like they were engaged.”

Hood: “Typically, our work will start out with research; then, we go into policy development and policy implementation. And at some point in time we will need to stop and do more research. There is this cycle of research, policy development, implementation, technical assistance, and back to research. It depends on the workflow and the needs. We are trying to make sure that everything we do is informed by research and data.”

To find the center’s reports and learn more about its work, visit Follow the center on Facebook and Twitter.

Kevin Bersett can be reached at