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

    What makes schools work? This project is looking at a national sample of charter, magnet, private and regular public schools and analyzing student achievement gains in relation to each school’s curriculum, instruction, and organizational conditions. Student achievement data come from the NWEA’s Growth Research Database, and school data come from a combination of principal and teacher surveys. These data will allow for multi-level modeling of student achievement growth nested within schools; before it concludes, the study aims to nest students within classrooms within schools, as well. There have been many calls for understanding what is going on inside choice schools. But never before has a study gathered the same measures across a wide range of conditions--and linked them to student achievement growth across a number of years--to examine differences between schools of choice and regular public schools. 

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    Data-gathering and analysis from a nationwide sample of several school types is ongoing. In preliminary results of data from charter and traditional schools, charter school teachers report a stronger collective focus on academic achievement than their non-charter school counterparts and indicate their schools have significantly stronger program coherence. However, in areas such as expectations for instruction and using data to focus instruction, non-charter school teachers report higher quality conditions that promote student achievement. In areas such as time on task, charter and non-charter schools do not differ.

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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.