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Information and Parental Choice

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

As the school year draws to a close around the country, many parents with school choice options for next year made the decision about what school their child will attend months ago.  However, accountability ratings for this school year have yet to be released in many areas.  How do parents use information about school performance to influence decisions on where to send their children to school?  In a paper released in 2009, researcher Michael Henderson seeks to answer this question.  His paper, Information and Exit: Do Accountability Ratings Help Families Choose Schools, reports findings on a study of the relationship between student school transfer and school accountability grades.  One possible explanation Henderson reports is that parents have formed perceptions on school quality prior to the release of accountability ratings.  In Citizen Perceptions of Government Service Quality: Evidence from Public Schools, Harvard researchers found that people’s perceptions of public schools in their neighborhood are generally in line with publicly available accountability information.  The authors’ find conflicting evidence about whether the similarities are due to available accountability information or observations.

If parents do not use accountability ratings to choose a school for their child, then how do they decide?  In the study of parental decision-making, Do Parents Do as They Say?  Choosing Indianapolis Charter Schools, Choice Center researchers found that although parents stated that academics was the primary consideration for choosing a different school, this was not evidenced in the actual choice based on academic achievement and AYP ratings.  This small sample of research seems to indicate that people are aware of the quality of schools in their area but accountability ratings do not seem to influence school attendance choices.  To all the parents out there, what would you consider if you had the ability to choose which school to send your child to next school year?

Principals and Charter Competition

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Many advocates for school choice argue that the competition created by giving parents multiple options of schools for their children will improve education in traditional public schools.  Does the research support this claim?  The latest research brief, How Do Principals Respond to Charter School Competition?, released by the Choice Center examines the factors that contribute to principals’ (including traditional public school, private school, and magnet school leaders) perceptions of competition from charter schools  and the effect this perception has on promoting changes in leadership behavior. 

Areas studied include proximity of charters and the relation to perception of competition, principals’ allocation of time and financial resources in response to perceived and actual competition, and their ability to recruit teachers and students.  The brief also includes a clear and concise description of the key study variables mentioned above as well as policy and research implications.  For more on the findings, check out the full brief!

This brief is based on a paper by Marisa Cannata which is included in our book, School Choice and School Improvement, released in March by Harvard Education Press.  For more information about the book, check out the table of contents and selected appendices or the Harvard Education Press webpage for the book!

Vouchers Proposed in Affluent CO District

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Vouchers are a way of expanding school choice, usually for low-income students and/or students in low performing schools.  However, a new voucher system is under consideration by the Douglas County School Board in Colorado, which seems like an unlikely place for a voucher plan.  Douglas County is an affluent suburb of Denver, with only 8% of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch, as well as high test scores and graduation rates.

The idea came from a task force convened to recommend improvements to the school board, one of which was vouchers.  The Los Angeles Times recently featured an article highlighting the issue, “Colorado school district has wealth, success – and an eye on vouchers”.  As the Douglas County School Board considers a new program that could potentially expand the population of eligible students and change the way voucher programs are designed, it is important to consider what the research says about previous voucher programs.

Check out some of the voucher research by the Choice Center:

School Choice Week – Student Composition and Peers

Friday, January 28th, 2011

As National School Choice Week draws to a close, the final topic of the week is student composition and peer effects.  One of the points often made by opponents of school choice is that the student body of schools of choice has a different make-up than traditional public schools in the area.  Peer effects, the impact of other students at a school on a student’s achievement, should also be considered when examining the effects of school choice on student composition. So, what does the research tell us about these topics?


One concern raised about charter schools has been that they will take the best students and cause traditional public schools to retain the lower-performing students making it harder for them to improve.  This perception is examined in Do Charter Schools “Cream Skim” Students and Increase Racial-Ethnic Segregation? by following students as they moved to charter schools in seven sites around the country.  Similar concerns about vouchers are explored in Do Vouchers Lead to Sorting Under Random Private School Selection? Evidence from the Milwaukee Voucher Program as well as how a voucher program could be designed to limit sorting by ability but students may still be sorted by parental self-selection.  Racial and ability sorting are not the only types of sorting to cause concern.  One that is often overlooked is sorting by gender.  The Gender Gap in  Charter School Attendance finds that charter schools enroll a significantly higher fraction of girls than boys.  The paper goes on to explore possible causes for this.  Sorting of any type may have consequences.  In Magnet Schools and Peers: Effects on Mathematics Achievement, Ballou uses the lottery outcomes for enrollment to measure the effects of peers and finds that peers race and parental income have a substantial impact on achievement.  Sorting  by race, socio-economic status or gender could have a real impact on the peer effects of a school and in turn student achievement.

Do not let the end of National School Choice Week be the end of your research.  Continue to use available research to inform your opinions, and potentially policies and advocacy, on school choice.  Check back often for updates on what is happening in the world of school choice and how it relates to the research done here by the National Center on School Choice.

For more information on racial/ethnic and ability sorting, check out these articles:

White Parents, Diversity and School Choice Policies: Where Good Intentions, Anxiety and Privilege Collide

Parental Choice in the Netherlands: Growing Concerns about Segregation

Charter Schools in North Carolina

School Choice Week – Teachers

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Teachers are one of the most important components of education.  Today, we focus on how school choice and teachers interact.  What impact does school choice have on teachers within schools of choice as well as traditional public schools?

Does school choice diminish the pool of teachers available to traditional public schools?  Are teachers in choice schools more or less qualified than their peers in traditional public schools?  In Charter Schools and the Teacher Job Search in Michigan, teachers are found to have a preference for the type of school (traditional or choice) in which they would like to work, in essence establishing to separate teacher labor markets.  The Qualifications and Classroom Performance of Teachers Moving to Charter Schools reports mixed results on teacher qualifications.  Charter school teachers tend to be more inexperienced and are less likely to be certified.  However, when compared to other movers, teachers moving to charters were more effective in instruction, but this trend does not hold when teachers moving to charter schools are compared with the teachers who stayed in their previous school.    Additional research by the Choice Center on teachers and school choice examines instructional conditions, teacher quality and job preferences.

To read more about teachers and school choice, check out these papers from our archives!

Teams Versus Bureaucracies: Personnel Policy, Wage-Setting, and Teacher Quality in Traditional Public, Charter, and Private Schools

School Choice, School Organization, and Teacher Turnover

Comparing Teacher Characteristics, Job Choices, and Job Preferences by School Type

Instructional Conditions for Schools of Choice

Even more research can be found by searching our publications page!

School Choice Week – State of the Union and Policy/Governance

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Last night, education was one of the main topics in President Obama’s State of the Union Address.  Race to the Top was highlighted as a successful way for the federal government to encourage states to create more rigorous standards of teaching and learning, reforming education at the local and state level.  School choice was expected by many to have a prominent place in the President’s education, but it did not.  As Congress and the President work toward reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or replacing No Child Left Behind as President Obama said in the State of the Union, now is a good time to examine what we know about the impacts of laws on education.

Much of our research on policy and governance deals with charter laws and governance.  However, one research project, School Accountability under No Child Left Behind, specifically examines the impacts of the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  In Achievement Tradeoffs and No Child Left Behind, Ballou and Springer compare the achievement outcomes from high-stakes versus low-stakes years after passage of the bill to determine the impact of the legislation.  Springer also examines the effect of accountability on the distribution of student test scores and whether higher achieving students are harmed by the gains of their lower-performing peers.   As a new reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is considered, it is important to take into account the findings of researchers on the impacts of previous legislation.

For more information on what is known about school choice effects in general, check out our publication page!

School Choice Week – Parents and Choice

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

As National School Choice Week continues, today’s focus is on parents.  How do parents make school decisions?  Why do they choose a specific school or school type?  How do parents gather information about school choice options and how do they use this information?  These are just a few questions that need to be considered when exploring school choice.

The actions and decision-making of parents is an important aspect to consider in the context of various types of school choice.   In a study of mayoral charter schools in Indianapolis, Stein surveyed parents about their reasons for choosing a charter school and then compared the responses to their revealed preferences shown by actual behavior.  The results of this research provide an important insight into the decision-making process of these parents.  Campbell, West and Peterson examine a voucher program and what factors caused parents to move their children to private schools.  How do parents use school quality ratings?  Henderson’s paper seeks to answer this question and finds that these ratings alone do not seem to cause parents to transfer their children but other factors may contribute.  As policymakers and other education stakeholders contemplate school choice, this and other research can inform decisions and design of school choice programs and policies.

Click here to see all our research about parents and school choice.

Policy context and charter laws

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Charter schools and mayoral control are both hot topics in education reform.  Indiana combined these reform strategies when enacting a new charter school law in 2001.  Under the law, the mayor of Indianapolis was granted authorizing authority to charter schools in the Indianapolis Public Schools district, as well as 10 surrounding districts within metro Indianapolis.  The question is often asked “Do charter schools work?”, maybe a better question would be in what context.

The newly published research brief, Taking Charge of Choice: How Charter School Policy Contexts Matter, explores the policy context surrounding the development of this law.  In order to do this, in-depth interviews were conducted with key stakeholders and documents were analyzed relating to the period of charter school law adoption in Indiana. The report describes how diverse elements can come together to create A unique policy environment, focusing on issues of public collective action, trust between institutions, and investment from entities outside the city government.  In Indianapolis, increased civic capacity led to the creation of the Mayor’s Office of Charter Schools to oversee authorization and accountability.

This research brief summarizes a longer report on the context of charter school reform in Indianapolis.  Policymakers and researchers interested in an in-depth account of how a unique charter school policy comes about may want to read the full report here.

Check Out Our Latest Newsletter

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Learn about NCSC’s efforts to reach a broader audience in the center’s latest newsletter.

The newsletter tells about the center’s decision to try new approaches to outreach – including through this blog and the redesigned Web site – and tells how to find us on Facebook and Twitter.

The newsletter also provides brief descriptions of several research briefs released this year as part of the outreach effort. The briefs describe papers by NCSC researchers in language that is accessible to a broad audience and are produced in a format that highlights study questions and results so they are easy to find.  

Other sections of the newsletter describe conference presentations by NCSC researchers and summarize recent news headlines on school choice.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Read the full text of research briefs summarized in the newsletter.

Instructional Conditions in Charter Schools and Students’ Mathematics Achievement Gains

Charter Schools and the Teacher Job Search in Michigan

Choosing Indianapolis Charter Schools: Espoused Versus Revealed Academic Preferences

Teacher Turnover in Charter Schools

The NCSC is funded by a 5 year, $13.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences. Its lead institution is Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. The center is housed on the campus of Peabody College, one of the nation's top graduate schools of education.