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.
Posts Tagged ‘student achievement’
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?
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!
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?