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Archive for the ‘charter schools’ Category

Charter Schools and Innovation

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Are charter schools innovative? A new research brief, “School Innovation in District Context: Comparing Traditional Public and Charter Schools” by Courtney Preston, Ellen Goldring, Mark Berends, and Marisa Cannata examine whether the levels and types of innovation differ between charter and traditional public schools. Looking within a district context, the authors also explore the factors that predict a charter school’s propensity toward innovation.

Theoretical claims that charter schools spur innovation lie in two realms: the first stems from market theory and the second from the idea that charter schools have greater autonomy and are free from the bureaucracy that may prevent innovation in traditional public schools.  In this analysis, the authors examine data on practices within schools and find that, overall, charter schools in the sample are not more innovative than traditional public schools. Charter school do appear somewhat more innovative, however, in student grouping structures and staffing policies. Parental involvement and the proportion of students who receive free and reduced-price lunch may be related to a charter school’s level of innovation.

School Choice Bills Prominent in State Legislatures

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

State legislatures across the country have been busy considering various school choice bills.  Just last week, both houses of the Maine state legislature passed a bill to establish a charter school program in that state.  All that remains is for Governor Paul LePage to sign the bill into law for Maine to become the 41st state to pass charter school legislation since 1991.  The Oregon legislature recently passed a package of education bills, including ones to expand virtual charter school enrollment and allow intra-district school choice, on a space available basis.  The most recent Choice Center book, School Choice and School Improvement, includes a chapter dedicated to the effects of intra-district school choice transfers.  You can see the appendix for the chapter here.

Southern states are also in on this trend.  North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue signed a charter school bill this month.  The new law removes the cap on the number of charter schools in the state, which previously stood at 100, and chartering authority continues to be controlled by the State Board of Education.  In Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslam recently signed a bill that removes the cap on the number of charter schools as well as restrictions on student eligibility to attend charter schools.  State legislators play a key role in the school choice debate.  In School Choice Agenda Setting: A National Analysis of Individual State Legislators, researchers Francis Shen and Kenneth Wong explore this role.  To find out what political and policy conditions have been found to facilitate charter reform and growth, see another paper by Wong and Shen, Charter Law and Charter Outcomes: Re-Examining the Charter School Marketplace.

With all of the interest in new charter legislation, research is as important as ever.  Be sure to visit our research publications page for more on what our studies have found.  Particularly relevant to these latest developments is the section on policy and governance.  Check out Differences that Make a Difference: An Examination of the Relationship between Charter Law “Strength” and Student Achievement.

New Book Featured in WP Blog

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Earlier this week, Jay Mathews, an education columnist for the Washington Post, wrote about our latest book, School Choice and School Improvement, in his blog, Class Struggle.  In School choice debate vs. reality, Mathews points out that education and reform in particular is often an emotional debate in which people argue their beliefs whether or not there is a research base to support them.  In the post, Mathews summarizes some of the findings presented in the book, such as the effectiveness of vouchers in D.C. and the effects of charter competition on nearby traditional public schools.  Mathews recognizes that while a person’s opinion may drive the discussion, research should also play an important role understanding what works in education.

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!

Effects of Autonomy in Charter Schools

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Does autonomy lead to better schools?  Greater autonomy is often claimed to be linked to greater innovation, especially in the debate about charter schools.  In a newly released report, the Center on Reinventing Public Education explores the opportunities and challenges of charter schools because of their autonomy.

Inside Charter Schools:  Unlocking Doors to Student Success uses multiple data sources including surveys and case studies to address this issue.  Charter schools are granted more autonomy than traditional public schools in exchange for more accountability, to school authorizers as well as parents and students.  This greater autonomy allows charter school principals and boards to: create their own mission and the curriculum that is best suited to their chosen mission, have more control over hiring policies and staffing, and other focused programs.  However, the presence of autonomy does not insure a good school, it is just an opportunity.  There are also many challenges that arise from this independence.  High staff turnover, limited principal training in enlarged roles and limited support are just some of the challenges confronting these leaders.  Overall, the utilization of autonomy is more important than its simple presence.

For more information, check out the paper!  A brief is also available for this study.

Charter authorizers and student achievement?

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Does the charter school authorizer have an impact on student achievement?  This is a key question in charter policy and law.  Many theories and suggestions for improving education, including charter schools, are difficult to implement.  However, if the type of authorizer has an effect on student achievement within the charter school, lawmakers could use this information to adapt charter laws to improve charter schools in a fairly simple way.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education has released a new paper, Charter School Authorizers and Student Achievement: A Case Study of Ohio, co-authored by Ron Zimmer (along with Brian Gill and Kaitlin Obenauf) who has previously conducted research for the Choice Center.   This research examines whether student achievement levels in charter schools vary by authorizer type.  Ohio is a great site for this research because its charter law allows for multiple authorizers, including local districts, universities, and nonprofit organizations.   The authors found variation of student achievement among types of authorizers.  For more information about the specific findings, check out the paper!

A research brief is also available for this paper.  Find it here.

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 – 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.

School Choice Week – Student Achievement

Monday, January 24th, 2011

January 23rd – 28th is School Choice Week.  During this focus on school choice, take some time and consider what research shows about the impacts of school choice.  Each day this week, this blog will highlight a different aspect of school choice research.

One of the biggest questions to consider when analyzing school choice is: What is the impact on student achievement?  This question spans various types of school choice including magnet schools, charters, and vouchers.  In New York City Charter Schools: Who attends them and how well are they teaching their students?, Hoxby and Murarka report that charter schools have a positive impact on the academic growth of their students.  In a study of charter schools in North Carolina, Bifulco and Ladd report that, on average, charter schools have had a negative impact on student achievement overall.  Another study of charters, this time in Idaho, found mixed results of the effects of charter schools, varying dependent on the type of analysis.  Witte, Cowen, Fleming, and Wolf examined the impact of the Milwaukee Parental Choice (Voucher) Program and found that although the voucher student panel achievement tended to be higher, it was not statistically significant.  In reviewing the literature on magnet schools, Ballou found that the results from studies of the effects on student achievement are also mixed.  This is just a sampling of the research papers available on our website that address student achievement and school choice.

All of these studies and more can be found be visiting the research page of our website!  Take some time this week to become more informed about the research findings concerning 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.

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.