School Choice Week – Teachers

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

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

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

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

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.

Who Will Lead the Charter Schools?

December 14th, 2010

 As the charter movement matures from its youth of experimentation and independence to become a recognized part of the education establishment, charter schools are having to face issues of leadership and succession. A new report from the National Charter School Research Project at the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) found that many charter schools were not prepared for smooth transitions when they had changes in leadership. Well-planned leadership succession, the report writes, is “an essential piece of the reform’s approach to sustainability.”

The report, entitled You’re Leaving? Succession and Sustainability in Charter Schools, found that while leadership turnover rates were about the same in charter and traditional public schools, on average, some features of charter schools can make leadership transitions much trickier. While public school districts often develop pipelines of educators being groomed for leadership roles, independent charter schools don’t have such talent pools to draw on. Also, while charter leaders have the same responsibilities as principals in traditional public schools, they also may have to carry out some duties handled at the public school district level, such as fundraising, government and public relations, and accountability – especially if they are not part of networks or management organizations. Further, charter schools often define themselves through a specific mission or culture making it tricky to find a new leader who “fits” completely. Similarly, one of the hardest transitions can occur when a charter school’s original founder leaves and a new leader must figure out how to assert him- or herself as a leader without upsetting the school’s identity, which may be closely tied to the founder. Still, the CRPE report found that schools experiencing “life-cycle changes” such as a new growth phase often decided to bring in new leaders to direct the changes.

CRPE based its conclusions on surveys of 400 charter school leaders and fieldwork in 24 charter schools in California, Hawaii, and Texas. Highlights from the survey included that 71 percent of charter school leaders said they expected to leave their schools within five years, one-third of schools had no succession plan in place, and schools run by charter management organizations were much more likely to have succession plans than independent schools. The fieldwork at 24 schools produced these findings, among others:

  • 5 schools changed leaders during the study’s two years of fieldwork.
  • 10 schools were still led by their original founders.
  • 12 schools were grooming or considering current staff as possible leaders, taking advantage of their familiarity with the school’s culture and mission.
  • 14 schools had no leadership succession plan and only 5 had fully developed plans that identified and worked with current strengths and weaknesses, identified potential leaders from the staff, and developed job descriptions in case the board decided to recruit from outside.

The report notes that planning for succession often gets lost in the day-to-day pressures of running a school. It concludes with several recommendations including that charter schools should look to nonprofit organizations for examples in successful leadership transitions since they share many characteristics with charter schools; that charter school governing boards need to be more assertive about accountability, oversight, and strategic planning; that authorizers should work with charter schools to ensure that viable succession plans are in place; that current school leaders should mentor potential successors; and that schools should develop plans for both long-term orderly successions and short-term emergency replacements to make sure the school keeps operating if something unexpected happens to the current leader.


Read these papers from NCSC researchers about leadership in schools of choice.

Leadership Practices, School Choice, and Student Achievement Growth

Leadership Practices and School Choice

Interrelationships between Principal Leadership and the Teachers They Serve in Charter and Traditional Public Schools

SmartMoney Cites Choice Center Research

December 11th, 2010

For readers with illusions that charter schools are superior to traditional public schools, SmartMoney magazine published a piece recently that seeks to set the record straight. The piece, posted online Dec. 6, compares charter and traditional public schools on several characteristics, drawing on anecdotes and research. One paper it cites is Teacher Turnover in Charter Schools by David A. Stuit and Thomas M. Smith of Vanderbilt, whose study was conducted through the NCSC. The magazine notes some of their findings – that charter teachers are more likely to leave teaching than peers in traditional public schools, and their departures often arise from dissatisfaction with working conditions. Other findings in the Stuit-Smith paper include:

  • Charter school teachers are also more likely to switch schools than teachers in traditional public schools.
  • Among charter schools, attrition is likelier to be higher in schools started from the ground up than those converted from traditional public schools.
  • Differences in teacher characteristics explain much of the differences in attrition among charter and traditional public school teachers. For example, charter teachers are more likely to be part time and less likely to have state certification – two factors found to contribute to turnover.
  • Charter school teachers are more likely to leave involuntarily, possibly because of staffing action at the school, than are teachers in traditional public schools. The study found little evidence, however, that turnover is higher at charter schools because they exercise greater flexibility in personnel practices.

The SmartMoney piece is entitled “10 Things Charter Schools Won’t Tell You” (although we think they actually might if you ask them nicely). Examples of the charter school secrets it cites include that they don’t produce better academic outcomes, on average, than traditional public schools; that their teachers are less likely to be certified than TPS teachers; that charter schools tend to have lower proportions of students with disabilities; that they sometimes are affiliated with religious groups; that they sometimes use cheesy ploys to recruit students and then have greater freedom to limit enrollments than traditional public schools; and that they often benefit from private money that allows them to provide expensive signature services such as longer school days that make them unlikely prototypes for broad-based reforms.


Check out these papers from the NCSC archives on charter school issues mentioned by SmartMoney.

Instructional Conditions in Charter Schools and Students’ Mathematics Achievement Gains

The Qualifications and Classroom Performance of Teachers Moving to Charter Schools

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

Check Out Our Latest Newsletter

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.


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

Will School Choice Ride the Big Red Wave?

November 8th, 2010

One topic of interest to post-election pundits has been how key education issues will fare after last week’s state and congressional elections. Several news organizations suggest that the Republican sweep may give school choice new prominence in both Congress and state legislatures.

 The Washington Post writes that education reform provides a rare area for possible common ground between the Obama Administration and the new Republican Congress in part because both support charter schools. The Post discusses odds of whether the new Congress will have much appetite for reauthorizing – or revising – No Child Left Behind, with its provisions for charter school options.The newspaper also notes that Race to the Top, the administration’s school reform grant competition that favors charter school expansion, awarded an early, large grant to Tennessee, home state of Lamar Alexander, a leading Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

 Fox News  lists school choice as one of several issues the new Congress might be eager to embrace, building on buzz from the film “Waiting for Superman.” Charter schools are already well established and expanding in many states, but Fox predicts that vouchers will enjoy a resurgence of support among congressional Republicans.

 The Dallas Morning News speculates that the new, more-Republican-than-ever Texas House and Senate may be emboldened to push for issues that have failed in recent years such as allowing school vouchers and lifting the state’s cap on the number of charter schools. Whichever programs gain traction will have to be inexpensive or financed through fees because the state faces a shortfall for the next biennium that could exceed $24 billion.


Check out these publications from the NCSC archives for more information on the politics of charter school laws, No Child Left Behind, and public opinion on school reform.

The Persuadable Public: The 2009 Education Next-PEPG Survey asks if information changes minds

School choice agenda setting: A national analysis of individual state legislators

Responses to No Child Left Behind among Traditional Public Schools and Public Charter Schools

Editors’ Preface, Special Issue on Policy, Politics, and Organization of School Choice

Examining the Success of a Chicago Charter School

October 26th, 2010

As more and more charter schools turn to management organizations to handle their operations, researchers are asking how this approach affects important functions such as resource allocation and student performance, and how these schools differ from other charter and traditional public schools. A new research brief on the NCSC Web site explains a study that examined a successful charter school – Chicago International Charter School (CICS) — whose unusual structure includes several campuses and contracts with multiple education management organizations (EMOs). While CICS has a strong academic record overall, there is variation among the campuses, so the study sought to better understand CICS performance at both the system-wide and campus levels. It focused on resource allocation decisions by the EMOs and management practices by CICS to hold the EMOs accountable. The central research question was: To what extent can fiscal and operational decision-making processes used by Chicago International and its partner EMOs explain student success at the school?

 The research brief also includes a box describing Chicago International, which enrolls more than 8,000 students on campuses across the city. The CICS network has a central office that functions like a mini-school district, providing administrative services across the network. Each EMO is responsible for all activities that occur “within the walls of the school,” such as hiring and training staff, designing curricular maps, maintaining the school environment, and handling family and community relations. The EMO contracts include performance measures to hold the organizations accountable.

The main findings of the study, which is described in the paper Resource Allocation and Performance Management in Charter Schools: Connections to Student Success, were:

  • Student achievement patterns cannot be linked, through statistical analysis, to differences in EMO spending across CICS campuses. One reason for this finding was that annual audits did not provide enough detail to fully understand decisions about allocation of resources. Nonetheless, the analyses did indicate that achievement gains were across the board regardless of student race and special education status.
  • The success of Chicago International can be attributed to a mission-driven approach that focuses on high-quality instruction, insistence on a disciplined environment, and ongoing performance evaluation. Chicago International hires EMOs that share its mission and vision and that are contractually obligated to meet specific goals in statutory compliance, site-based budgeting, curricular design, and student performance. The CICS central office assesses the performance of each campus and EMO continuously, according to these targets.
  • Collaborative processes with EMOs – and the clear delineation of duties between EMOs and the CICS central office – also contribute to CICS success. The EMOs participate in developing their annual performance targets and are invited to verify all data used in their evaluations.

The findings have several implications for policy. The lack of financial detail discovered through the analyses makes clear the need for more comparable financial data as well as a method for reliably comparing charter and traditional school spending decisions. This study also highlights the value of forging performance-based contracts with EMOs that hold them accountable for student outcomes, not educational inputs. Finally, the paper suggests that performance incentives are at least as important for student achievement as levels of funding.

As with all NCSC research briefs, the text is written in lay language and the main points of the research are explained.


To read more about charter schools in Chicago and charter school management check out these papers from the NCSC archives:

Charter School Governance

Renaissance Schools Fund-Supported Schools: Early Outcomes, Challenges, and Opportunities

Findings from the City of Big Shoulders

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.