Decoteau Irby wins Spencer Foundation grant to study impact of equity directors in schools

Dr. Irby headshot

Two education-related researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago have received nearly $1 million combined in grants from the Spencer Foundation in support of their work.

One of the awards, granted through the foundation’s Large Research Grants program, has been presented to Decoteau Irby, UIC associate professor of educational policy studies, for his project exploring school district-level equity leadership and impact.

Irby, who is principal investigator of “Leadership Activity in the Era of the Equity Director: Racial-Historical Contexts, Proliferation, and District Organizational Change,” is backed by a $499,997 grant to examine the impact of administrators, called equity directors, whose primary responsibility is to transform district and school structures and practices to make education more equitable and just for racially, ethnically and linguistically marginalized students.

Working with Ann Ishimaru of the University of Washington and Terrance Green from the University of Texas at Austin, Irby will study three school districts in different regions of the U.S. that expressed a commitment to equity by hiring equity directors and establishing equity offices to organize their district-wide efforts.

Over two academic years, the research partners will collect information through interviews, observations, focus groups and district documents, as well as convene meetings with district staff to collaboratively interpret data, assemble themes and lessons learned, identify key challenges and generate questions for consideration across sites.

“The project will contribute to educational leadership for equity and social justice scholarship by strengthening our understanding of the types of leadership activity systems that are emerging in the era of equity directors,” Irby said. “In particular, the study brings us closer to understanding what equity leadership approaches have the most potential for advancing organizational change that disrupts institutionalized norms of racial and other forms of discrimination.”

The Spencer Foundation was established in 1962 to support education research, fellowship and training programs. The Large Research Grants on Education Program supports education research projects that will contribute to the improvement of education.