Who is IRRE?
The Institute for Research and Reform in Education (IRRE) was founded in 1989 and is led by its founder James P. Connell, Ph.D. and Julie Broom, Ed.D. We are a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to improving the lives of children, especially in underserved areas. More than 50 experts in education, administration, youth development, technology, research and evaluation comprise our team of consultants and full-time staff. We engage with foundations, school districts, government agencies, community organizations, collaboratives and individual investors dedicated to educational and social change benefiting children and youth.
IRRE's Core Theory of Change
According to this theory of change, student outcomes are most directly affected by the learning experiences students have in school: how they experience what they’re being taught, how it’s taught, their teachers’ commitment to them as students, and their own capacity, interest, and commitment in doing the work. Students’ learning experiences are shaped by what their teachers and their schools actually do, the instructional practices and school practices that characterize their everyday life in school. The actions of educators, in turn, are influenced by what they’re expected and supported to do: institutional norms and expectations, and the learning opportunities and ongoing supports they receive from peers, school and district administrators, and outside providers to engage in effective practices with their students. These supports for educators are impacted by whether and how the system puts certain conditions in place: focus, coherence, mutual accountability and sustained intense commitment to data-driven improvement. These same conditions also impact whether or not supports educators receive translate into effective practices.
With this “backbone” theory of change in hand, and with quality measures of all its elements in our portfolio, IRRE engages with its education clients to capture their educational goals and plausible pathways to those goals in their own theory of change. Throughout this process, we remain sensitive to their specific local conditions but do not give up what research and experience have taught us are the essential elements of any successful educational improvement effort.
Dr. Julie Broom heads the Field Services division of IRRE. We have partnered with over a hundred elementary, middle and high schools in more than 25 states to develop more personalized, engaging, and rigorous learning environments in schools serving both small and large populations of economically disadvantaged students. In this capacity, IRRE has worked throughout the country in districts as diverse as the chronically impoverished rural Mississippi Delta and Rio Grande Valley in Texas as well as large urban high schools in California, Texas and Michigan (link to map). Our partnerships’ successes and challenges are well-documented in rigorous evaluation studies examining 15 years of this work.
IRRE’s Strategic Consultation and Evaluation division led by Dr. James Connell has worked closely with some of the largest investors and policy making institutions involved in education and youth development. Our former and current clients include the U.S. Department of Education, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and multiple state departments of education and private foundations. IRRE plays various roles in these partnerships – strategic consultant, data infrastructure architect, independent evaluator. The common threads in these relationships are our clients’ interest in pursuing rigorous, practical and impactful approaches to investing their financial and political resources; and IRRE’s capacity to bring effective and efficient planning processes to guide these investments and metrics and analytics to assess their returns all along the way.
How we work
IRRE’s partnerships are longstanding and mutually accountable. They survive changes in leadership at the highest levels in our partners’ organizations. These partnerships are grounded in three fundamental principles: First, we tell our partners the truth as we see it and then work with them to find customized and creative ways to meet the inevitable challenges that meaningful change brings. Second, we help our partners build their capacity to strengthen and sustain the work beyond our intensive involvement in it. Third, we embrace the tensions between the commitment to evidence-based practice, the willingness and need to innovate based on our own insight and experience, and the practical and political constraints our clients face.
What the evidence shows
Independent evaluations and publicly available data demonstrate achievement and graduation improvements in many of our Field Service division’s partner schools — improvements that dramatically exceed gains in comparison schools serving similar populations. Well-known educational economists have cited IRRE’s work with high school reform as the most cost-effective approach to improving graduation rates in communities with many economically disadvantaged families.
Our Strategic Consultation and Evaluation partners cite IRRE’s work in national publications as pivotal in shaping their investments in education and youth development. Collaborative work products from these engagements – theories of change, metrics and evaluation approaches – persist years after IRRE's initial involvement with these clients.
What drives our research
In our commitment to creating and sharing new knowledge for the education field, three central questions guide our efforts: What are the most effective strategies for improving student achievement and commitment in struggling secondary schools? What are the conditions needed to successfully launch and sustain effective strategies over time? How can IRRE’s expertise be transferred to others to transform educational practice on a greater scale?
Our contributions to the field
IRRE continues to generate new knowledge for the fields of education and youth development through its own publications and that of our independent evaluators. Two recent research articles on our measures of instructional quality and our instructional improvement strategies exemplify this field-building role. The first provides compelling evidence about what it takes to capture the “vital signs” of quality instruction in practical and rigorous ways. The second describes IRRE’s effort to engage teachers in the implementation of more rigorous and meaningful academic standards in mathematics and the pedagogy needed to have all students master those standards. Our forthcoming publication, Education Quality: What It Is and How to Measure It, clearly lays out for educational leaders at all levels how to make sure their measures of education quality capture, in actionable ways, what matters to student success.