Curriculum Effects of School Choice

    Related to the center’s study on what makes schools work, this project compares charter and regular public schools in terms of student achievement and the classroom environment, and in terms of reading interventions. To investigate student achievement, researchers have administered the Survey of Enacted Curriculum in mathematics to students and teachers in several urban charter and regular public schools in a large Midwestern city.  Their analyses rely on propensity score matching to compare charter school teachers to their traditional public school peers in terms of breadth and depth of instruction, the level of cognitive complexity, and alignment to standards and assessments.  This spring, researchers will administer the SEC in English/Language Arts in a sample of charter schools.  To investigate reading interventions, they are conducting classroom observations. 

    In terms of student achievement and the classroom environment, analyses show that charter and traditional public school teachers differ significantly in their instructional practices. Charter school teachers cover a statistically significant fewer number of mathematics topics, and teach topics in more depth but less breadth than their regular public school peers. Concerning cognitive complexity, charter school teachers’ instructional practices use memorization, demonstrations of understanding, proving and solving, and applying and making connections strategies more often than traditional public school teachers. Finally, early results indicate statistically significant differences between charter and regular public school teachers in aligning their instructional practices to the mathematics portion of the state assessment and the National Council of Teachers in Mathematics (NCTM) standards for math instruction.

    Regarding reading interventions, initial findings suggest small to negligible effects of the variables for producing significant reading gains in choice schools as compared to traditional public schools. Some tentative support was found for reading improvements among specific subgroups of students as well as mixed support for various programs. Additional analyses will probe more deeply into a comparison of effect sizes, demographic information, study rigor, and the overall consistency of findings for each type of school and program.

    Related Publications

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.