Archive for May, 2010

Springer Named Fellow with George W. Bush Institute

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Matthew G. Springer, a scholar who has performed research on No Child Left Behind through the National Center on School Choice, was named a fellow of the new George W. Bush Institute on Tuesday. Springer, of Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, was chosen for his expertise in performance incentives and education finance and policy as well as his skill at appraising “the success or failure of complicated education reform strategies and practices,” according to a Bush institute press release.
Springer Blog Post
Matthew Springer, second from right, with former President Bush and scholars and
policymakers at the George W. Bush Institute.

Springer’s research with the NCSC includes the examination of theories that schools dealing with the accountability requirements of NCLB would exercise a kind of “educational triage” that produced test score gains among students near the proficiency threshold but disadvantaged others.  (He found that generally they did not in the locations studied.) He also has studied the effects on test score gains of Supplemental Educational Services such as tutoring provided through NCLB. He also co-edited two NCSC books: Charter School Outcomes (2008), with Mark Berends and Herbert J. Walberg; and Handbook of Research on School Choice (2009), with Professors Berends, Walberg and Dale Ballou.

Springer will join other scholars at the Bush institute, including James W. Guthrie, formerly of Vanderbilt, and two other fellows also named Tuesday,  Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas and Michael J. Podgursky of the University of Missouri. All will work on issues related to education reform, with special focus on improving the work of principals as leaders and strengthening middle schools, according to the press release. Each of the three fellows will serve a three-year renewable term.

The institute is affiliated with the George W. Bush Presidential Library, which includes an archive and museum, that is being built at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Read the institute press release here.


Learn more about Springer and his work with the NCSC project School Accountability under No Child Left Behind.

SCOTUS to Hear School Choice Case

Monday, May 24th, 2010

The U.S. Supreme Court decided Monday to hear appeals from litigation seeking to end an Arizona program that provides state income tax breaks for donations to private school tuition vouchers.

The donations are made to organizations that then provide scholarships. The American Civil Liberties Union had challenged the program as unconstitutional because it said many organizations receiving the donations were religiously based and some required students often ended up in religious schools.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the program violated the First Amendment establishment clause and distinguished between the Arizona program and  an Ohio voucher program that the justices held was constitutional in 2002 in the case Zelman v. Simmons-Harris.

The state of Arizona and two scholarship organizations appealed the 9th Circuit ruling in an effort to save the 13-year-old program, noting that the Arizona Supreme Court had ruled that the program complied with the federal Constitution.

Read more from Education Week here and the Associated Press here.


Read about research into voucher programs conducted by the NCSC project Competitive Effects of Vouchers.

Thoughts on School Choice from AERA

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Researchers from the National Center on School Choice engaged in a lively discussion and came away with helpful suggestions during a roundtable session at the recent American Educational Research Association annual meeting in Denver. The discussion centered on new findings from an ongoing NCSC project that looks at how factors inside schools – from leadership and organization to teaching conditions and practices – influence student achievement gains in mathematics. The project, “Opening the Black Box in Choice and Regular Public Schools: A Study of What Makes Schools Work,” compares findings for schools of choice and traditional public schools.

The project involves extensive surveying of teachers on a range of topics, including the instructional climate in their schools, which topics they taught, the cognitive demands of those topics, and characteristics of the school’s leadership. Principals also have been surveyed on topics related to organization and academics. Charter and traditional public schools were matched on demographic characteristics, school size and distance from each other.

Project researchers reported findings from two papers at AERA. The first paper examines differences between charter and public school teachers in instructional practices. The study investigates several aspects of mathematics instruction for the teachers surveyed: breadth and depth, cognitive complexity, and alignment to standards. Using an instrument called the Surveys of Enacted Curriculum, the study asked teachers about the mathematics topics they taught and the cognitive demand expected for each topic.  The survey seeks an intersection between the two aspects of instruction. For example, teachers were asked about their level of emphasis on a range of topics, including multiple-step equations, inequalities, linear equations, lines/slope and intercept, operations on polynomials, and quadratic equations. They were then asked to rate the level of work expected on a scale of increasing complexity: memorize, perform procedures, communicate understanding, solve problems, or conjecture/generalize/prove. The study found few differences, on average, between teachers in charter and traditional public schools in the content, cognitive complexity, and the alignment of their instruction to standards from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

The other paper analyzes the array of professional development that teachers used at their schools and investigates the relationship between these programs and the teachers’ mathematics instruction. Teachers were asked about “core” features of their professional development, including duration of the programs; the content-focus of the professional development; the degree to which the sessions were presented in non-traditional, or reform, formats; whether the sessions included most or all teachers in a teacher’s school or grade level; the degree to which the professional development was consistent with other activities in the school; and whether the sessions included activities that allowed participants to be actively involved in their own learning, such observing demonstrations of teaching techniques. The paper writes that several features of professional development were associated with a reduced use of activities using lower levels of cognitive demand and increased use of activities requiring high levels of cognitive demand.

The session discussant, Andrew Porter of the University of Pennsylvania, reminded the audience that theory holds that charter schools can improve educational quality in two ways: by providing schools that are innovative and/or better; and by creating a competitive environment that will prod traditional public schools to improve. If the latter has occurred in the locations covered by this project, maybe it’s not surprising that more differences did not emerge between charter and traditional public schools, said Porter, who was a co-developer of the Surveys of Enacted Curriculum. He noted that the team will learn more about similarities and differences as they continue to “look under the hood” and analyze the educators’ survey responses to understand what is happening inside the schools. Porter also asked whether the similarities found between the two sectors, on average, might also be due to matching techniques used by the project. Even though the schools are matched mainly on demographics, do these matches still reduce the likelihood of differences in instructional practices?

Read more about Opening the Black Box in Choice and Regular Public Schools: A Study of What Makes Schools Work.

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.