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Learning Point Associates Company Profile and History

Learning Point Associates has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the basement of an elementary school in Elmhurst, Illinois, with only four employees. Today, the organization has three locations—Naperville, Illinois; Chicago; and Washington, D.C.—and approximately 150 employees. Following are a current description of the organization as well as a chronological listing of its history.

Current Description of Learning Point Associates

Learning Point Associates is a nonprofit educational organization with more than 20 years of direct experience working with and for educators and policymakers to transform education systems and student learning. Our vision is an education system that works for all learners, and our mission is to deliver the knowledge, strategies, and results to help educators make research-based decisions that produce sustained improvement.

We are known for the work we do:

  • Designing and conducting client-centered evaluations.
  • Analyzing and synthesizing education policy trends and practices.
  • Delivering high-quality professional services directly to our clients.
  • Conducting rigorous and relevant education research and evaluation.

Our work consistently builds the capacity of our clients to be good consumers, practitioners, and advocates for educational excellence.

Our goal is to be client centered, responsive to needs, sensitive to constraints, and driven to high-quality results. Our professional staff of 150 continues to grow as our work expands both nationally and internationally with offices in Naperville, Illinois; Chicago; and Washington, D.C.

Learning Point Associates manages a diversified portfolio of work ranging from direct consulting assignments to major federal contracts and grants. Since 1984, Learning Point Associates has operated the regional educational laboratory serving the Midwest—initially known as the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory® (NCREL®) and now known as REL Midwest.

The national and international reputation of Learning Point Associates is built on a solid foundation of conducting applied research as well as developing and delivering tools, services, and resources that are targeted at current and pressing education issues and challenges. Schools, districts, state departments of education, chief state school officers, governors, and members of Congress consistently call upon Learning Point Associates as a trusted source for research and data from which they can make effective decisions.

Key to our success is the ability to collaborate productively with other organizations as we seek to forge strategic alliances for added value and efficiency. We link and convene agencies and organizations, allowing clients and partners to become networked in ways that pool talents, maximize resources, and support continuous improvement. Internally, Learning Point Associates has established systems of communication, integration, risk management, and coherence that allow for the effective and efficient management of complex projects of varying scopes.

History of Learning Point Associates


Learning Point Associates—originally known as the Educational Laboratory for Economic Development in the Midwest Inc.—came into existence on February 6, 1984, when its articles of incorporation were filed with the Illinois Secretary of State. Soon afterward, work began on a technical proposal to establish a regional educational laboratory serving the North Central region through the U.S. Department of Education.

In crafting the proposal, the chief state school officers of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin, together with higher education representatives of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation and Teacher Education Council of State Colleges and Universities, identified the characteristics and needs of the North Central region. These areas included needs for both urban and rural settings, the demands of a high-technology society, a need to provide professional development, and a general need to improve instruction. The mission of the organization was to bridge the gap between research and practice.

In July 1984, the technical proposal was submitted to the National Institute of Education (NIE), the predecessor agency to what became the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) and is now the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) of the U.S. Department of Education.

On October 1, 1984, NIE awarded a contract totaling $7.4 million for a five-year period to the Educational Laboratory for Economic Development in the Midwest Inc. to create the new North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL). The seven-member interim Board of Directors named Russell Zwoyer as Interim Executive Director. At this time, the organization was located in the basement of Field Elementary School in Elmhurst, Illinois, and had only four employees.

In 1985, the permanent Board of Directors was established and Tom Olson was appointed Executive Director. Jane Arends (formerly NCREL’s Director of Instructional Quality and Equality) was named Executive Director in 1986, followed by Jeri Nowakowski (formerly on the faculty of Northern Illinois University) in 1988.

By this time, OERI had replaced NIE. Because NCREL’s funding was not in alignment with the federal funding cycle, OERI granted NCREL a one-year extension to time the ending of its contract with that of the other regional educational laboratories. By the end of the five-year contract, NCREL employed a staff of 30 and had finalized leasing arrangements for commercial office space in Oak Brook, Illinois, having outgrown its space at Field Elementary School.


Following a successful competition, NCREL was awarded its second OERI contract in December 1990, right on the heels of winning a grant to operate the Midwest Regional Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities (also known as the Midwest Regional Center or MRC). MRC served 10 states until federal funding for the program ceased in 1996.

In 1992, NCREL received a grant to establish the Midwest Consortium for Mathematics and Science Education (also known as the Math and Science Consortium or MSC), which collaborated with other agencies to produce materials and provide technical assistance for schools, teachers, school districts, and administrators.

Continuing under Jeri Nowakowski’s leadership, NCREL focused its work in the areas of curriculum, instruction, and assessment; rural education; urban education; professional development; collaboration; early childhood education; and policy. During this contract period, NCREL gained a reputation in the field as “the technology lab,” initially because of its use of a variety of media in dissemination activities and later because of its work involving educational applications of technology. By the end of the contract in 1995, the number of NCREL staff members had tripled.


NCREL was awarded its third OERI regional educational laboratory contract in 1996 with a designated specialty area in technology. Its mission was to strengthen and support schools and communities so that all students achieve standards of educational excellence. NCREL officially adopted the tagline of “Applying Research and Technology to Education” and included this tagline as part of its logo.

In 1996, NCREL also received a grant from the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) to operate the North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium (NCRTEC). The mission of NCRTEC was to use advanced technologies in elementary, secondary, postsecondary, and adult learning to improve teaching and increase student achievement. In addition, NCREL continued to operate the Midwest Mathematics and Science Consortium.

After a decade of service, Jeri Nowakowski stepped down as Executive Director. Gina Burkhardt, formerly the Deputy Director at the Southeastern Regional Vision for Education (SERVE), assumed leadership in June 1999.

Accomplishments from this period allowed NCREL to move beyond developing products and services to developing interventions. By the end of the contract, NCREL had made arrangements to move again, this time to the Naperville campus of Northern Illinois University, located in west suburban Chicago’s research and development corridor.


The year 2001 brought about a shift in the political tide in Washington, D.C., when George W. Bush was elected to the presidency. The U.S. Department of Education, through IES, granted NCREL its fourth consecutive contract to operate a regional educational laboratory, with a national leadership area of educational technology. NCREL also continued to operate MSC and NCRTEC under separate federal grants. MSC became known as the North Central Eisenhower Mathematics and Science Consortium (NCEMSC).

NCREL’s continuing mission was to improve the performance of all parts and levels of the K–12 educational system from the classroom to the state by making research-based knowledge useful to and usable by educators, policymakers, and the community; integrating research, policy, and practice to help transform schools into high-performing learning communities; and providing regional and national leadership in applying technology to improve student learning.

As the organization continued to grow, management recognized the need to create a larger entity that would reflect expanding capabilities. In 2003, Learning Point Associates was created to build on the strength of the regional educational laboratory, evaluation and policy research services, and technology capabilities, as well as the strong capacity to deliver high-quality professional services. The vision of Learning Point Associates became an education system that works for all learners, and the mission became delivering the knowledge, strategies, and results to help educators make research-based decisions that produce sustained improvement. The new tagline became “Knowledge. Strategies. Results.”

At this time, the organization was structured in a manner to accomplish the mission through three interdependent business units: Research & Development Group, Evaluation & Policy Research Group, and Professional Services Group. The Research & Development Group included NCREL, which carried out its work through three signature areas: Technology, Literacy, and Educational Decision Support Systems. Because implementation of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act became a top priority and challenge for educators and policymakers, Learning Point Associates also focused on providing a regional infrastructure for states striving to meet NCLB requirements.

Learning Point Associates was selected to provide a three-year, comprehensive school improvement effort in the U.S. Virgin Islands beginning in 2003. In addition, the organization received a three-year contract to evaluate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program. The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement was established in 2004, when Learning Point Associates received a $1.5 million contract from the U.S. Department of Education. The Center promotes comprehensive school reform to enhance school improvement efforts and student achievement. At this time, Learning Point Associates opened an office in Washington, D.C.

Also in 2004, Learning Point Associates established the NCLB Implementation Center to help schools and districts build local capacity to understand and implement the legal requirements of the federal NCLB Act. The initial focus of the NCLB Implementation Center was building systemic capacity to ensure all teachers are highly qualified. This focus has expanded to improving teacher and school administrator instructional leadership.

In response to expanding work with an urban-centered focus, Learning Point Associates opened a Chicago office in 2005. This office generated new opportunities to collaborate with Chicago-based clients.

In 2005, the NCEMSC and NCRTEC contracts ended and these federal programs were discontinued. In a new restructuring of federally funded centers, the U.S. Department of Education created the Comprehensive Centers program. It consists of 16 regional comprehensive assistance centers—supporting states in their approaches to reform, restructuring, and other NCLB implementation issues related to school improvement and student performance goals—and five national content centers—focusing on specific content areas such as instruction and teacher quality. Learning Point Associates was awarded the Great Lakes East Comprehensive Assistance Center (serving Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio) as well as the National Comprehensive Center for Teacher Quality. The organization also was selected as a subcontractor on the North Central Comprehensive Assistance Center and the National High School Center.


In early 2006, Learning Point Associates was awarded its second regional comprehensive assistance center: the Great Lakes West Comprehensive Assistance Center (serving Illinois and Wisconsin). In March 2006, for the fifth consecutive time, Learning Point Associates was awarded the contract for the regional educational laboratory serving the North Central region. The U.S. Department of Education redefined the scope of work for the laboratories and assigned them new names. The new regional educational laboratory became REL Midwest.

The year 2006 brought about tremendous growth in the organization. Learning Point Associates hired its 150th employee. The three-year, comprehensive school improvement effort in the U.S. Virgin Islands was completed, and students showed amazing results on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills. The contract to evaluate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program ended, and Learning Point Associates was awarded another three-year contract to continue the evaluation. The New York State Education Department selected Learning Point Associates to audit the English language arts curriculum in several districts in corrective action and was so pleased with the results that they invited the organization back to work with another group of districts.

Currently, Learning Point Associates is leading the efforts to develop a website and online clearinghouse of educator compensation reform strategies as part of a five-year contract to create the national Center for Educator Compensation Reform. The contract was awarded to Maryland-based research group Westat along with partner organizations Learning Point Associates, Synergy Enterprises Inc., the University of Wisconsin, and Vanderbilt University. Along the lines of this teacher compensation work, Learning Point Associates was contracted by the Institute for Tomorrow’s Workforce to recommend bold, innovative strategies to improve Iowa’s education system to help meet the needs of Iowa’s workforce for the 21st century.

At Learning Point Associates, we are proud of the growth of our organization. But more important, we are proud of the results that our clients are seeing. Although our work takes us down many paths, uncovering many education challenges, our vision remains the same: an education system that works for all learners.


Copyright © 2007 Learning Point Associates. All rights reserved.