As state, district, and school leaders begin work under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to identify and intervene in low-performing schools and among under-achieving groups of students, this report offers action steps and research-backed solutions to guide their work.
Community Schools: Models and Approaches
Al Passarella, Research and Policy Analyst
Alanna Bjorklund-Young, Senior Research and Policy Analyst
It is a sad truism that students from low-income families face daunting environmental barriers, both in and out of school, to academic success. Such factors may include housing insecurity, household unemployment, transportation difficulties, untreated health conditions, and unaddressed emotional and psychological issues (Rothstein, 2010). The premise behind community schools is that schools themselves should help to provide a safety net in these areas, either by offering additional services or by connecting students to larger networks of social support. All the various models of community schools seek to mediate intervening factors, prevent student disengagement, and support student success.
Barriers to Success In and Out of School
The schooling experience is a key determinant not only of academic outcomes but of lifelong attitudes about learning (M. Walsh, Gish, Foley, Theodorakakis, & Rene, 2016). Creating a positive experience often means supporting student development in ways that go beyond a focus on academic issues. This is particularly necessary in the case of minority and low-income urban students, many of whom experience more out-of-school stressors than students who are neither minority nor live in urban, high-poverty areas (Balfanz, Robert, Herzog, Lisa, & MacIver, 2007; Bowen & Bowen, 1999).
The first and perhaps most essential need is to keep underprivileged students in school. Young people at highest risk of disengaging need “a seamless system of wraparound supports for the child, the family, and schools, to target student’s academic and non-academic barriers to learning” (Anderson-Moore et al., 2014, p. 5). Skill development, job training, and extended learning opportunities are what keep students engaged and achieving (Castrechini & London, 2012).
Addressing barriers depends upon matching students to the right supports (Manekin, 2016). As we detail below, many school districts have responded with models and interventions that show some promise. Not all models are equally effective, however, and implementing any of them with fidelity is not easy. This leads us to the central questions of this review: What does research say about preventing student disengagement, re-engaging disconnected students, and improving student outcomes across the board? Do comprehensive community-school models have an empirical advantage over isolated components of support? What do we know about specific community-school models and their effects?
Components of Student Supports That Matter
Research has identified school attendance, behavior, and course performance (the A, B, C’s) as strong predictors of high school completion (Allensworth & Easton, 2005; Balfanz et al., 2007). Given the negative outcomes associated with non-completion of high school, (Allensworth, 2015) student supports should be identified early and intently focused on these areas (Balfanz, 2009; Cauley & Jovanovich, 2006).
Integrated Student Support (ISS) is a broad reform model that addresses these concerns and upon which community school models draw. ISS strategies seek to influence traditional academic measures (e.g. grades, attendance, and test scores) and to reduce the specific barriers to achievement (e.g. access to health service, family economic sustainability) (Anderson-Moore et al., 2014).
A Child Trends (2014) meta-analysis of ISS models found significant, positive impacts in student- or school-level academic measures of student progress, attendance/absenteeism, and academic achievement. No discernible impacts were found on non-academic outcomes such as school attachment, parent-school involvement, and conduct problems.
Two general lessons emerge from the meta-analysis on ISS. First, the most comprehensive ISS models employed five core components that drove academic improvements:
- Comprehensive (social emotional, and academic) needs assessments;
- Coordination and management of social, emotional, and academic supports for students;
- Integration of supports within schools;
- Extensive community partnerships;
- Use of student data to track progress.
These five components are anchors that comprise the community school model. The models that yield the strongest academic outcomes (i.e. City Connects and Communities in Schools) use a two-tiered approach of prevention and response. Tier I support aims at prevention (Anderson-Moore et al., 2014). Examples of Tier I activities include (but are not limited to): early-warning systems that identify academically at-risk students; universal application of social-emotional learning programs; extended learning opportunities; and connection to community based services.
The tools of prevention also enable diagnosis and response. This is where Tier II supports come into play. Tier II supports are more personalized; they are intended for those students who face significant achievement barriers such as youth returning from incarceration or those with intense mental health needs.
Bearing in mind the five core components of community schools (needs assessments, coordination of support, integration of support within schools, extensive community partnerships, and the use of student data to track progress) and the two tiers (prevention and response), we now turn to specific models.
Introduction to Specific Models and Interventions
Researchers have also investigated specific community-school models, each of which deploys several of the five components above and aims to give students the support they need to be academically successful. City Connects and Diplomas Now are whole-school interventions and, as such, come closest to an overall community schools model. Big Picture Leaning and Career Academies, by contrast, attempt to achieve the same ends through the creation of small, intimate learning communities. The models below are stratified by type of intervention (whole-school/small learning communities) and by the strength of the evidence supporting efficacy.
City Connects is a whole-school model that supports low-income students’ needs through individualized services (see below). Since launching in a single K-5 school, City Connects has expanded to 84 locations across eight states, with many locations serving secondary as well as elementary students.
City Connects hires and assigns a School Site Coordinator (SSC) to work within the school. Trained as a licensed school counselor or a social worker, the SSC’s role is to “connect students to a customized set of services through collaboration with families, teachers, school staff, and community agencies” (M. E. Walsh et al., 2014). SSCs work with school administrators and teachers to conduct a Whole School Review. This is where the customization of services begins. Every student in each class is evaluated to determine strengths and needs across four domains: academic performance, social and emotional skills, physical health, and family dynamics (Bowden et al., 2015).
Students identified as requiring more intensive services receive an Individual Student Review (ISR). Led by the SSC, the ISR team—“an existing structure in schools that can include school psychologists, teachers, principals, nurses, and, when appropriate, community agency staff”—develops specific strategies for at-risk students (M. E. Walsh, Madaus, et al., 2014). The SSCs host periodic reviews of students’ progress.
What drives the model is the SSC’s knowledge of, and relationships with, community service providers (Bowden et al., 2015). Being able to quickly identify and leverage supports allows for earlier and deeper interventions. Services are available to all students based on need, with participating students receiving an average of five supports. Supports range in the following levels of intensity:
- Preventive (e.g. tutoring, academic enrichment, summer arts programming);
- Early-intervention (e.g. mentoring and leadership skills programs, routine health care); and
- Intensive (e.g. psychological services, individual family counseling, emergency medical care) (Mary E. Walsh, Kenny, Wieneke, & Harrington, 2008).
Walsh and her colleagues conducted a quasi-experimental evaluation (QED) to test the program’s effect on student achievement. The study used data from 7,500 students over 9 school years (1999-2000 through 2008-2009). Students in participating schools received the full program treatment. Propensity scoring methods were used to match similar students, who did not receive City Connects services, to serve as a control group. Researchers then compared the outcomes of students who received City Connects services to the outcomes of students in the control group, in order to estimate the effect of City Connects.
Walsh et.al. found that City Connects had a positive impact on academic achievement, although the impact was not statistically significant across all grades (3rd-8th) and outcome measures (GPA and MCAS scores in both math and ELA). For example, elementary students showed statistically significant positive effects for participating in City Connects in 3rd-5th grades on ELA GPAs (with effect sizes ranging from 0.22-0.28 SD), only a significant positive effect on math GPAs in 5th grade (effect size of 0.16 SD), and no statically significant effect on MCAS scores in elementary school.
The results for middle school students were more consistent. Students who received City Connect supports showed statistically significant increases in their MCAS scores in both ELA and math in 6th-8th grades, with effect sizes ranging from 0.15-0.33S D in ELA and 0.18-0.45 SD in math. Students also had improved ELA GPAs in 6th and 7th grades (with effect sizes ranging from 0.19-0.35 SD), although the positive effect was not statistically significant in 8th grade. The researchers concluded that “the longer a student was enrolled in a City Connects elementary school, the better his or her middle school outcomes” (M. E. Walsh, Madaus, et al., 2014).
Additional research supports evidence of a lasting effect: a large-scale, quasi-experimental study of the program found that students who attend City Connects schools staring in elementary grades are less likely to drop out, compared to non-City Connects students (City Connects, 2014; M. E. Walsh, Lee-St. John, Raczek, Foley, & Madus, 2014). This was true at each high-school grade level, with a specific emphasis on ninth grade, when the likelihood of dropout is greatest (Manekin, 2016). Both studies support the notion that early identification and intervention of out-of-school barriers can positively impact student achievement initially and over time (Anderson-Moore et al., 2014).
What can districts expect to pay for City Connects? A cost benefit analysis of the program found an average cost of $4,570 per student, of which schools bore roughly 10% (Bowden et al., 2015, p. 27, Table 3). An additional analysis found the program to produce a benefit of $3 for every $1 spent; translating to a net societal benefit of $9,280 per student. One driver of the low costs is the work of the School Site Coordinator. Organizing already-available services and streamlining referrals produces savings simply by eliminating duplication of effort (M. E. Walsh et al., 2014).
Diplomas Now is a comprehensive, whole-school model focused on middle and secondary school. The program’s implementation comes through a partnership between Talent Development Secondary (based at Johns Hopkins University), City Year, and Communities in Schools. The division of labor is as follows:
- Talent Development Secondary provides organizational, instructional, and curricular support to school; organizes students and teachers into small learning communities; provides professional development; and coaches teachers to strengthen pedagogy.
- City Year provides AmeriCorps volunteers who support before- and after-school programs, provide tutoring and mentoring, and assist teachers in classrooms.
- Communities in Schools places site coordinators in schools to focus on students most at risk of disengaging by organizing non-academic services specific to their needs.
MDRC and ICF International conducted a rigorous random assignment evaluation of the impact of Diplomas Now and provided recommendations for implementation. The study used student data from 62 schools (33 middle, 29 high schools) across 11 urban school systems in school years 2011-12 and 2012-13. Thirty-two participating secondary schools were randomly assigned the Diplomas Now model. The remaining schools either continued their existing practices and programs or pursued other reform models (non-DN schools). Five of the schools were among the nation’s largest, with only one school falling outside the top 100. All participating schools were Title-I eligible and served large populations of low-income and minority students (Corrin et al., 2014).
These studies indicate that, in its first year of implementation, Diplomas Now had a positive preventative impact in reducing the percentage of students at risk for disengagement, but no significant impact on other key measures. Specifically, schools which participated in Diploma Now showed a statistically significant increase in the percentage of students who exhibited no early warning indicators. Diplomas Now also showed positive but not statistically significant impacts in attendance, behavior, and course performance.
Diplomas Now showed stronger results amongst middle school students than high school students. For example, the study found statistically significant increases in the percentage of sixth-graders with higher than 90% attendance rates and no early-warning indicators. Schools receiving Diplomas Now saw a 4.1 percentage point increase in students with better than 90% attendance rates and a 5.5 percentage point increase in students with no early warning indicators after two years of implementation. While there were no other statistically significant effects at the middle-school level, the estimated effect sizes across multiple specifications were larger for middle school students than for high school students (Corrin, Sepanik, Rosen, & Shane, 2016).
When researchers surveyed teachers and students in middle and high school on their perceptions of school climate and parental involvement, they found:
“The Diplomas Now model had a positive and statistically significant impact on how strongly teachers agreed that the climate at their school was conducive to teaching and learning, suggesting that by the second year of implementation, the Diplomas Now model was positively affecting teachers’ perceptions of their school environment.”
Students surveyed from the Diplomas Now schools reported greater rates of participation in school-sponsored after-school programs (with effect sizes of 0.11 SD) and better adult-student relationships than the comparison group (with effect sizes of 0.11 SD) (Corrin et al., 2016).
Career Academies is another model that focuses on small, learning communities to achieve student support and achievement. Pioneered in Philadelphia in 1969, Career Academies exists in districts throughout the country, including more than 1,200 Career Academies in nearly 500 California high schools. The most recent cost estimates (2004) for Career Academies are roughly “$600 per pupil more than a district’s average per-pupil expenditure (cost data refer to the California Partnership Academies)” (U.S. DOE, 2015).
The National Career Academy Coalition lists three features of a career academy (U.S. DOE, 2015):
- Small learning communities in which student cohorts share several classes each year and teachers collaborate around student [emotional and social] needs;
- An intensive [academic and vocational] curriculum with a career theme relevant to local industry and economic needs; and
- Develop partnerships with [local] employers, higher education institutions, and the non-profit community.
Career Academies operate as a “school-within-a-school” structure. Each academy has a career theme, such as health care, finance, technology, communications, and public service. Academy-based courses are often scheduled in blocks in the morning, leaving the remainder of the day for traditional academic coursework. Career-themed courses are taught by Academy teachers, who come from a variety academic and vocational disciplines. In most cases, student cohorts work with the same teachers, in both traditional and Academy courses, through the entirety of their high school career. (Kemple & Snipes, 2000).
Researchers at MDRC conducted an RCT evaluation of the Career Academies model, measuring student outcomes at the end of the student’s projected 12th grade year (Kemple & Snipes, 2000). Data from some 1,400 ninth-grade students across six states and the District of Columbia were randomly assigned one of three conditions: enrollment in Career Academies, waitlisted for Career Academies and enrolled elsewhere, and a comparison group that neither enrolled nor were placed on a waitlist. Two additional studies measured the original cohort’s outcomes at four and eight years’ post-graduation (Kemple, 2004; Kemple & Willner, 2008).
The analyses reveal surprising results: Career Academies had much stronger effects on labor market outcomes than academic outcomes. For example, Career Academies did not show a statistically significant increase in the percentage of students who graduated from high school or obtained their GED; there were no discernible effects found for staying in or progressing through school; and Career Academies students did not show increased standardized math or reading test scores (Kemple, 2004; Kemple & Snipes, 2000). However, the program produced statistically significant positive and sustained impacts for men on a variety of labor market outcomes. For example, men who participated in Career Academies earned 11%, or $2,088, a year more than their non-Career Academies peers. In addition, through a combination of increased wages, increased hours worked, and increased job stability, men in the Career Academies treatment group increased their real earnings by 17%, or $3,731, per year (Kemple & Willner, 2008).
These reports also show nuanced effects of the program. Career Academies impacted certain groups more, especially men and those at most risk for dropping out. For example, the increased earnings findings above were just for men; women who participated in Career Academies saw no impact on their labor market outcomes (Kemple, 2004). In addition, for students within the highest risk-level for school dropout, Career Academies produced substantial improvements in high school outcomes (Kemple & Snipes, 2000). For example, students at highest risk of dropping out of high school who participated in Career Academies showed significant improvements in the following areas: they were less likely to drop out of school; they were more likely to complete more credits toward graduation; they were more likely to complete more academic core courses; they were more likely to have taken 3 or more career or vocational courses;and they were more likely to have applied for college. These findings suggest positive effects for those at highest risk of disengaging from school (Kemple & Snipes, 2000).
Big Picture Learning
Big Picture Learning (BPL) does not market itself as a community schools model, but it includes many core components of one. BPL is described as a “blended, student-centered approach to learning.” BPL’s goal is to educate one student at a time through real-world work experiences, both in and out of school. The BPL model stresses the importance of social-emotional learning, workplace and college readiness, and academic mastery (Priest, Rudenstine, Weisstien, & Gerwin, 2012), matching many of the key components list earlier. The first BPL, the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (the “Met”), opened in 1995 in Providence, RI, serving 50 mostly academically at-risk African American and Latino students. Since then, the BPL model has expanded to 65 high schools across the United States and overseas.
Student’s entering BPL schools come from various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds (Littky et al., 2004). The common thread for many BPL students is the disillusionment with traditional learning’s inability to explore their passion (Castleman & Littky, 2007). The premise is that students’ taking control of their education makes a critical difference to their high school completion (Castleman & Littky, 2007). Students entering BPL schools are placed into a 10-15 student cohort called an advisory. Each advisory works with one teacher (called a lead advisor) who guides them through high school, and an internship mentor, who guides the out-of-school learning experience.
With guidance from the lead advisor, each student completes a portfolio-based survey to generate his and her personal interests, competencies, and academic and out of school needs. This becomes the foundation for the student’s individualized learning plan (ILP). The plan consists of the survey’s findings and must adhere to the school’s learning goals (Littky et al., 2004): empirical and quantitative reasoning; communication; social reasoning; and personal qualities. Next, students develop personal curricula that support the ILP. “The curriculum is project-based, aligned with state and national standards, and centered on contemporary issues that relate to students’ interests and activities.” Internships are also a large component of the curriculum. Here, students work closely with their mentors in their field of interest (e.g. research lab, hospital, design studio), learning in a real-world setting. Students prove their knowledge and capabilities through multiple demonstrations, including exhibitions and portfolios of their work (Washor, 2003).
The BPL model emphasizes the cultivation of students’ responsibility and resourcefulness. Students create their schedules and manage their learning plans. Staker and her colleagues (2011, p.29) explain:
“In some cases, students might use an online simulation technology, such as a virtual reality welding simulator to learn how to weld at a fraction of the cost (and burns) of real-life welding. When students need help with a topic, they might use an online tutorial or connect over email with their mentors. Students own their performance on state assessment tests, and in some cases, they turn to an online course to prepare them.”
To date, the BPL schools model has not been subject to robust research evaluation. However, an MPR Associates’ study of BPL alumni found positive outcomes for graduates of three BPL high schools (Rotermund, 2012). The descriptive analysis comprises two parts: a web-based survey sent to BPL alumni, and an aggregate-level analysis of National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) data for the three BPL schools. The studies reveal the following:
- 72% of survey respondents reported enrollment in a postsecondary institution. Slightly more than half (53%) of those enrollees reported working while in school.
- 74% of respondents who enrolled in college did so within one year of graduation, with 44% enrolling at four-year institutions.
- Post-secondary persistence rates for BPL students ranged from 88% to 91% from year one to year two.
- Two-thirds of college-going BPL grads reported full-time enrollment throughout their post-secondary education.
- Internships and the opportunity to build self-confidence through work-based learning were identified as the most important contributors to success in life after high school.
This report therefore provides some descriptive statistics of how the BPL experience shapes post-secondary outcomes. However, this evidence is weak by empirical standards; the report does not provide a causal link between BPL and outcomes, nor does the report even provide a comparison of how BPL students’ outcomes compare with similar students who did not experience BPL. More rigorous evaluation is needed to understand the effects of BPL.
The Role of Early Warning Systems
In 2007, the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) released data showing that freshman in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) were doing poorly on the A, B, C’s: more than half of all freshmen failed at least one course, the average GPA was below a C, and 40% of freshmen had missed more than one month of school (Allensworth & Easton, 2007). In response, CPS began to focus on course performance and commissioned the CCSR to create the On-Track tool for use in all CPS high-schools.
On-Track is a tool that determines whether ninth grade students are making adequate progress to graduation based on credit completion and core-course failures. On-Track enables administrators and educators to monitor student performance via real-time data reports that identify students who are falling “off track” (Rosenkranz, de la Torre, Stevens, & Allensworth, 2014). It is then incumbent upon schools to respond with appropriate interventions. As such, the On-Track initiative is a hybrid model; it is focused on providing actionable analytics that schools select Tier I or Tier II interventions to support student needs.
A recent, post-test analysis on the long-term outcomes of On-Track found a positive relationship between initial increases ninth grade on-track rates and improved student outcomes (Roderick, Kelly-Kemple, Johnson, & Beechum, 2014):
- From 2007-2013, CPS increased the number of on-track students from 57% to 82% (25 percentage points), meaning roughly 6,900 additional students moved from 9th to 10th grade with sufficient credits and without significant course failure.
- African-American males had the greatest gains in improved on-track rates, increasing 28.3 percentage points from 2005-2013, followed by Latino males (25.3 percentage points), and African-American females (21.1 percentage points).
- By 2013, nearly 90% of all high schools using the On-Track model had on-track rates of 70% or above, compared to 25% in 2005.
To test the tool’s replicability, researchers at the Institute for Education Sciences (Hartman, Wilkins, Gregory, Gould, & D’Souza, 2011) used On-Track in five school districts across Texas to measure the tool’s predictive value, i.e., does the tool predict which students graduate on time, and which do not?
The study found:
- On-Track demonstrated predictive value in identifying ninth-grade students on track to graduate, with rates ranging from 61% to 86% across the five Texas districts.
This study implies, at the very least, that On-Track data is or could be actionable. Its findings are limited, however, because the districts were not randomly selected and are not representative of all Texas districts.
CPS gives schools latitude in choosing Tier I or Tier II interventions to respond to On-Track data. The most commonly used intervention is the Network for College Success (NCS). NCS is in place in 17 high schools that serve approximately 20% of the District’s high-school student population. NCS offers four programs designed to strengthen schools’ capacity to respond to at-risk students:
- Instructional improvement. NCS coaches establish instructional leadership teams (ILT) that respond to student performance data and develop school-wide instructional goals.
- Language, literacy and leadership. The NCS coaches help teachers address gaps in adolescent literacy. The goal is for students to hone their reading and writing skills and engage in deeper classroom discussion.
- On-Track to graduation and college readiness. The NCS coaches help partner schools develop On-Track teams to assess student grades, attendance, and behavior.
- College enrollment and success. NCS works with school counselors to overcome common barriers that keep students from considering, applying to, and enrolling in college.
NCS’s partner schools reported an average On-Track to Graduation rate of 86%, which is not very different from the district’s rate of 84%. These figures have not been controlled for student-, teacher-, or school-level factors. NCS may indeed be efficacious; we simply cannot tell from the data.
As the research above demonstrates, On-Track demonstrates positive effects as a predictive tool for identifying academically at-risk youth. Beyond employing the On-Track measures however, we do not yet know what the most effective interventions are in response to On-Track data. “What is clear is that no matter how a school increases on-track rates in ninth grade, graduation rates improve three years later” (Roderick et al., 2014, p. 8).
The Role of 21st Century Community Learning Centers
The 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative provides federal dollars for out-of-school time (OST) academic enrichment opportunities. Principally for students attending high poverty and/or low-performing schools, states receive funding based on their share of Title 1 funding. From there, states award grants to various entities offering academically enriching OST services (see below) (Devaney, Naftzger, Liu, & Sniegowski, 2016). In FY 2016, the program had roughly $1.1B in funding, with an average award of $21.9M.
21st CCLC funding supports an array of OST programming, including 21st CCLC-branded activities (Harvard Family Research Project, 2012). States receiving 21st CCLC funding can apply those funds to a wide array of afterschool programming including:
- Academic enrichment activities that can help students meet state and local achievement standard;
- Complimentary services and activities including: drug and violence prevention programs, career and technical programs, counseling programs, art, music, and recreation programs, STEM programs, and character education programs; and
- Literacy and related educational development services to the families of children participating in the program
While the array of programming is broad, 21st CCLC funding primarily provides remediation and academic support services:
- An AIR evaluation of Texas’s 21st CCLC programming observed that most activities (73%) were designed to build skills in a specific academic content area (i.e. an observed small-group math tutoring session) (Devaney et al., 2015, p. 103).
- Analysis of West Virginia’s 21st CCLC programming (Hammer & White, 2015, p. 4) found the highest percentage of student referrals to programming were for “academic support (tutoring, remediation).”
- Florida’s multi-year 21st CCLC funded Read to Succeed principally works with “students in need of academic remediation” (Capital City Consultants, LLC, 2016, p. 1).
While academic supports drive the program, 21st CCLC funding is also used to provide non-academic services, such as after-school meals, life skills training (Erquiaga, 2017), and substance abuse prevention programming (Hammer & White, 2015).
Several state evaluations of 21st CCLC programming have shown evidence of positive impact on student attendance, behavior, and coursework:
- An evaluation of Washington state’s 21st CCLC programming showed statistically significant increases in cumulative GPA (with effect sizes of 0.46-0.20 SD) and course credit accumulation (with effect sizes of 0.10-0.14 SD) for high school students who participated in the 60-plus-day program, compared to non-participants. (Naftzger, Vinson, Liu, Zhu, & Foley, 2014).
- Rhode Island’s 21st CCLC programs participants reported 70% fewer absences and 72% fewer disciplinary referrals than non-participants (Vinson, Marchand, Sparr, & Moroney, 2013).
- High-school students in Texas’s 21st CCLC 60-plus-day programming were 97% more likely to be promoted to the next grade than non-participants in the same school (Devaney et al., 2015)
The evidence implies that 21st CCLC funding provides some positive impact. However, these estimates are correlational rather than causal. When more rigorous methods were used to evaluate 21st CCLC programming, the results were mixed, based on the outcomes measured. James-Burdumy, Dynarksi and Deki (2008) used a randomized control and QED methods to analyze the same data (James-Burdumy et al., 2005) to test the program’s impact on student behavior. James-Burdumy and her colleagues employed the following design for both components of the original study:
- Random assignment of 2,308 elementary students in 12 school districts and;
- A matched comparison design including 4,264 middle students in 32 districts.
Through their analysis, James-Burdumy and her colleagues found 21st CCLC programs had negative effects on student behavior. When compared to the control group, elementary students in the treatment group were found to have statistically significant higher rates of: disciplinary referrals for behavior; parental contact regarding child’s behavior; and suspensions.
Middle school students’ findings were mixed, with no discernible difference in most behavior indicators between the treatment and control groups. However, middle school students who participated in 21st CCLC showed statistically significant increases in certain negative behaviors: they were 2.4 percentage points more likely to break things on purpose and 0.06 percentage points more likely to take illegal drugs (James-Burdumy et al., 2008).
At the same time, an analysis of the impact of 21st CCLC-funded programming on student achievement (Johnston-Gross, 2016) found positive, statistically significant effects. The study compared two 21st CLCC-funded cohorts (n=274 public schools) to non-funded cohorts (n=11,077 public schools) across two school years? (2002-03 and 2003-2004). The study employed difference-in-difference techniques to estimate the programming’s impact. Johnston-Gross’s findings revealed that schools receiving the program experienced a higher percentage of students meeting or exceeding state assessment standards on all tests. Specifically, schools that received the program showed 1.3% higher test scores in the first year and 2.1% higher test scores in the second year compared to schools without the intervention. Further, the gains were highest for middle schools receiving the intervention – 9% in both the first and second years. These findings are statistically significant and are plausibly causal, given the methodology used (Johnston-Gross, 2016).
However, while these findings are positive, the author notes that:
“…returns diminish as the percentage of low income students increases. Some reasons for this include the instability that poverty may bring to a student’s life such as higher risk of moving schools and lower attendance as evidenced by increasing coefficients on % Mobility and % Chronic Truancy.”
Based on the evidence, 21st CCLC programming impacts are mixed. More research is needed to better understand when the program will and will not be effective.
The Limitations of Existing Research
The research on the models discussed above provides early indicators of the positive effects of community-school models on improving student achievement and preventing disengagement. However, the majority of studies evaluate program exposure with no control comparison.
Beyond both the largely if modestly positive findings, and the limitations, of existing research the community-school model faces challenges from other angles. For certain models (e.g. Big Picture Learning), a potential hurdle is the criticism faced by all student-centered learning approaches; some educators fear that moving students through an instructional program at their own pace reduces expectations for low-income and minority students (Banchero, 2014). Second, teacher surveys reveal mistrust of the community-schools approach as just another pedagogical fad (Richmond, n.d.). Finally, not all districts are equipped to support the model (e.g. professional development on identifying signs of trauma) (Richmond, n.d.); in a world of finite resources, even promising programs often go under-funded (Manekin, 2016).
The programs and models reviewed above have real potential to increase positive student outcomes as well as to reengage those students who have effectively written education off. Caution must be exercised in choosing a way forward, however, as not all programming is equally effective nor is all the research on community schools of high quality. School leaders, community organizations, and policymakers should consider not only thoughtful and intentional programmatic design but also long-term fidelity of implementation. In such decisions, they should focus on the salient characteristics of high-quality programs, which include a centralized coordinator, clearly outlined directives and goals, and the organization of existing external services.
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What is Big Picture Learning? – Bellevue Big Picture School. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.bsd405.org/bigpicture/about/what-is-big-picture-learning/
 Student progress measures include the following: “credit completion, grade retention, high school dropout and promoting power” (Anderson-Moore et al., 2014, p. 62).
 Child Trends conducted a meta-analysis of quasi-experimental (QED) and randomized control (RCT) designed evaluations of three ISS based interventions: Communities in Schools (CIS); Comer School Development Program (Comer SDP); and City Connects (CCNX).
 City Connects launched in 2002.
 Randomized control trials (RCTs) are designed so one part of a group is randomly assigned to receive an intervention or “treatment”, this is referred to as the treatment group, and the rest of the group are randomly assigned to not receive the treatment, this is the control group. After some period of time, in which the treatment group receives the intervention (and the control group does not receive the intervention), the outcomes of the two groups are compared and difference between the outcomes of the two groups is attributed to the intervention or treatment. RCTs provide the highest level of assurance that the estimated relationship between a treatment and outcome is causal, and that the results are not due to some other unobserved characteristic (because the treatment and control groups were randomly selected, which ensures that there is no systematic difference between the two groups). QEDs use observational data, where no randomization took place, but tries to re-create randomization, as best as possible. Therefore QED methods provide a plausibly causal relationship between a treatment and outcome (i.e. we have more assurance that the relationship is causal than if the observational data was used without QED methods, but we have less assurance than if the data came from an RCT). For more information, see Stuart and Rubin (2008) or this What Works Clearninghouse webinar.
 Propensity scoring is a QED method that is used to create a control group from observational data. The control group is selected so that its members are observationally similar to the treatment group. Researchers do this by estimating the probability that a student in the treatment group would be assigned to the treatment, given their observable characteristics. Researchers then estimate this probability for students who did not receive the treatment, and “match” the student from the treatment group with student(s) with similar probabilities who did not receive the treatment. For more information, see Stuart and Rubin (2008) or Rosenbaum and Rubin (1983).
 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment score (MCAS).
 “This study followed students’ longitudinal data records in a large urban high-poverty district from their initial enrollment in a City Connects elementary school, continuing after they left the intervention into middle and high school (N=2,265). A comparison group of students who attended school in the same district at the same time but never attended a City Connects school was also followed (N=19,979)” (M. E. Walsh, Lee-St. John, Raczek, Foley, & Madus, 2014).
 “Depending on what share of the community partner services are considered to be above and beyond the baseline level, the total cost estimate range from $1,540 to $9,320 per student”(Bowden et al., 2015, pg. 3).
 Distribution of Core Costs for City Connects for the city of Boston found that schools bore 10.1% of costs in terms of staff, management and some supplies. City Connects bore 89.5% of costs, primarily through Central Program Staff and SCCs. The remaining .4% were bore by parents (i.e. time off work, transportation) during parental involvement activities (Bowden et al., 2015, p. 27) .
 The program produced a societal benefit of $13,850 per student at a cost of $4570. Subtracting the costs, the net value is $9,280, or roughly $3 in benefits per $1 of cost. Bowden and colleagues determined societal benefits based on “lifetime social impacts” (e.g. future labor productivity, higher rates of employment, less dependence on social safety net, and lower incarceration rates) (Levin & Belfield, 2009).
 Participating school’s student populations were at least 80 percent eligible for free or reduced-price lunch and 83 percent black and Hispanic.
 Note that early warning indicators here are defined as better than 85% attendance, less than 3 days of suspension or expulsion, and passing both ELA and math courses. There was no statistically significant difference between the treatment and control groups when a more rigorous definition of early warning indicators was used (that is, better than 90% attendance, no suspensions or expulsions, and passing all core courses of ELA, math, social studies, and science). The authors of the study state that this more rigorous definition of early warning indicators is “suggestive of a more stable educational trajectory” (pp. iii).
 All effect sizes are significant at a 10% level or higher.
 Study meets WWC group design standards without reservation.
 Schools were selected in each of the following states: MD, PA, FL (2), TX, and CA (3).
 Note, however, that Nearly all (96%) of Career Academies students completed secondary education within eight years of their expected graduation date, compared to 94% of the control group (Kemple & Willner, 2008). While not statistically significant, the effect size was 0.27, which is considered substantively important. based on What Works Clearinghouse calculations (See What Works Clearinghouse Procedures and Standards Handbook (Section IV. Reporting on Findings) for additional information). Further, What Works Clearinghouse rated the program’s effects [on completing school] as potential positive within the WWC’s Dropout Prevention topic area.
 Specifically, 21% of Career Academies students versus 32% of non-Career Academies students dropped out of high school.
 Specifically, 40% of Career Academies students versus 26% of non-Career Academies students increased course completion towards graduation.
 Specifically, 32% of Career Academies students versus 16% of non-Career Academies students completed academic core courses.
 Specifically, 58% of Career Academies students versus 38% of non-Career Academies completed 3 or more vocational courses.
 Specifically, 51% of Career Academies students versus 35% of non-Career Academies students applied to college.
 The authors urge caution when making inferences about causal relationships of the students who are at highest risk due to external factors not tested (i.e. stronger support from teachers and peers).
 “HOW IT WORKS – About Us – Big Picture Learning,” n.d. http://www.bigpicture.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=389353&type=d&pREC_ID=882356
 “OUR STORY – About Us – Big Picture Learning,” n.d.) http://www.bigpicture.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=389353&type=d&pREC_ID=882353
 (“What is Big Picture Learning?” n.d.) http://www.bsd405.org/bigpicture/about/what-is-big-picture-learning/
MPR Associates designed a web-based survey that was sent to all alumni of the three-participating high
Schools. The survey’s overall response rate was 46%. Response rates of at least 70% are considered necessary for results to be generalizable. Only one of the schools surveyed met that threshold. Thus the results may be subject to response rate bias (Rotermund, 2012, p. 6).
 CPS considers students on-track if they have accumulated five full course credits (the number needed for promotion to tenth grade per CPS policy) and have no more than one F (that is, one-half of a full credit) in a core subject (English, math, science, or social studies) in a given semester (Allensworth & Easton, 2005).
 This study is a descriptive analysis of On-Track post-implementation. Since On-Track is system-wide and no control group is utilized, the outcome data should be treated as correlational with – rather than as causally linked to – the tool and subsequent interventions.
 Examples of grantees include: LEAs, nonprofit and for-profit organizations, and institutions of higher education.
 List of potential programming compiled from http://www.afterschoolalliance.org/policy21stcclc.cfm (Afterschool Alliance, n.d.)
 Washington State 21st CCLC activity clusters are 65.8% academic (45.2% Academic Enrichment; 10.3% Homework Help; 10.3% Tutoring) vs 34.2% non-academic (7.7% Recreational; 26.5% Variety). Variety activities include: Drug/violence prevention, counseling, or character education, promotion of family literacy, mentoring, service learning activities, life skills, and nutrition) (Naftzger, Vinson, Liu, Zhu, & Foley, 2014, p. 15).
 There was also a statistically significant positive increase in the percentage of credits earned for the 30-plus-day program in both years of the study, but a statistically significant decrease in cumulative GPA for participants in the 30-plus-day program during both years of the study.
 Rhode Island 21st CCLC activity clusters are 38% academic (34% Academic Enrichment; 4% Homework Help) vs 62% non-academic (32% Recreational; 30% Variety). Variety activities include: Drug/violence prevention, counseling, or character education, promotion of family literacy, mentoring, service learning activities, life skills, and nutrition) (Vinson, Marchand, Sparr, & Moroney, 2013, p. 17).
 “The activities observed were primarily either academic enrichment (73 percent) characterized by an intentional effort to build youth skills in a specific academic content area or nonacademic enrichment (26 percent)… which generally supported youth development” (Devaney et al., 2015, p. 103)
 Specifically, 22% of students in the treatment group reported being disciplend for behavior compared with 17% of students in the control group. This is a statistically significant effect size of 0.16 SD.
 Specifically, 28% of students in the treatment group had teachers who reported that they had to call parents about a chilld’s behavior “two or more times” compared with 23% of students in the control group. This is a statistically significant effect size of 0.12 SD.
 Specifically, 12% of students in the treatment group were ssped in the most recent school year compared with 8% of students in the control group. This is a statistically significant effect size of 0.16 SD.
 Full sample data consisted of schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
 Difference-in-difference is a QED statistical technique that replicates experimental research using observational study data. Researchers study the effect of a treatment on one group vs a control group. Impact estimates are calculated by comparing average change over time between the two groups. The method is often used in public policy analysis to estimate impact and effectiveness (Angrist & Pischke, 2009, pp. 169–174).
The Institute is pleased to announce a partnership with Montgomery County Public Schools, one of the nation’s twenty largest school districts. Working with the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins, StandardsWork, Student Achievement Partners, and Lengel Educational Consulting, the Institute will lead a path-breaking project to evaluate the formal, taught, and learned curriculum across the Montgomery County public school district.
David Steiner, executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, has been appointed to the Maryland State Board of Education for a four-year term by Gov. Larry Hogan. His appointment is effective retroactively to July 2016.
Steiner, also a member of the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education and former commissioner of education for the State of New York, said that two issues loom large on the board’s agenda.
First, Maryland must present in the coming year its ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) policies to the U.S. Department of Education. The policies cover many essential aspects of education policy, including how the state will hold schools accountable for student outcomes, ensure an equitable distribution of effective teachers, and partner with districts to turn around the lowest-performing schools.
Second, the board will collaborate with the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education as the Commission works to recommend spending levels and education policies to the state legislature and the governor.
“Ensuring that public funding is effectively tied to policies that truly advance student learning is the core element of our work,” said Steiner.
Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in the country, but its educational outcomes on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are “very average,” he said, and as is the case for other cities with concentrated poverty, the educational outcomes for K-12 students in Baltimore are low on the same measure.
“My colleagues on the board and in the state education department, working together, will craft policies that support more effective instruction for all of our state’s students, with a particular emphasis on those who are most disadvantaged,” he said.
Steiner noted that the work of the Institute for Education Policy is already providing research-based policy counsel on a weekly basis to state education chiefs, district superintendents, and membership bodies such as Chiefs for Change.
“The Institute for Education Policy is fortunate to have been established at the Johns Hopkins School of Education, with its outstanding research capabilities. Our access to cutting-edge findings enables us to evaluate the policy potential of interventions with strong research backing and to judge their practicality and cost,” Steiner explained.
He intends to share that expertise with his colleagues on the school board and with State Superintendent Karen Salmon and her team at the Maryland State Department of Education. The goal is to partner with teachers, school leaders, and parents to improve the educational opportunities of Maryland’s schoolchildren.
He encourages parents of school-age children, and indeed all citizens of the state, to pay attention to the board’s activities, because state education policy makes a “major difference” in the lives of children. In the 1990s, Steiner was a junior member of the team that created what has become known as the “Massachusetts Miracle,” a set of reforms that led to that state’s having the best academic performance in the country and one of the strongest in the world. By contrast, a state’s indifference to education can leave students performing at levels that deprive them of access to college or to a job that provides a living wage.
“There are heroic teachers in every state, but the education of almost a million schoolchildren cannot rely on heroes alone,” said Steiner. “They need excellent clinical preparation, access to great curriculum, outstanding professional development, innovative assessments, planning time, and enlightened school and district leadership. It is our job to help provide these conditions.”
Institute for Education Policy
Restorative Practices in Schools
Prepared for the Open Society Institute-Baltimore
Research Analyst, Institute for Education Policy
School discipline is at a crossroad. Most researchers have concluded that years of punitive discipline measures have produced harmful consequences for students. Suspended students are more likely to fail courses and become chronically absent (Hammond, Linton, Smink, & Drew, 2007). Increased disengagement and subsequent drop-out imposes significant social and economic costs (Rumberger & Losen, 2016). Receiving just one out-of-school suspension can potentially alter a student’s educational trajectory (Balfanz, Byrnes, & Fox, 2013). Minority students often bear the brunt of this harm, as they are suspended at significantly higher rates than their white peers (Noltemeyer, Marie, Mcloughlin, & Vanderwood, 2015).
To address these imbalances, districts nationwide have explored the use of preventive, early response disciplinary models. Restorative practices are one such model. Restorative practices represent an attempt to reform school discipline and improve relationships among stakeholders while minimizing punitive disciplinary measures (Vaandeering, 2010). Morrison and Vaandeering (2012) posit that restorative practices address “power and status imbalances” by promoting the “soft” power of relationship building and understanding, rather than “hard” power of the institution to sanctions as a motivator.”
Defining restorative practices in schools, however, is no easy task; there is no consensus around what constitutes a restorative practice (Fronius, Persson, Guckenburg, Hurley, & Petrosino, 2016) and the research base on the impact of a wide variety of measures that might be included under the term is still emerging. However, most restorative practices programs include ongoing communication across the school and reparative opportunities designed to produce the following outcomes:
- Accountability, community safety, and competency development (Ashley & Burke, 2009);
- A reduction in racial and ethnic disparities in school discipline (Rumberger & Losen, 2016);
- A reversal of the negative academic effects of zero tolerance school discipline policies (Rumberger & Losen, 2016); and
- A reduction in contact between police and students on school discipline issues (Petrosino, Guckenburg, & Fronius, 2012).
Researchers have examined a range of models and frameworks in schools, and some offer potentially promising evidence. Currently, the empirical research base is in the preliminary stages (Fronius et al., 2016). There are several large-scale studies underway that will subject restorative practices to the more rigorous evaluations needed to determine correlational and causal impact.
Restorative Practices as a Whole-school Model
While there are schools that implement, or seek to implement, individual components of the restorative practices protocols, the research that exists generally considers a whole-school approach most promising (Guckenburg, Hurley, Persson, Fronius, & Petrosino, 2015). A whole-school approach establishes common values and norms, promotes a sense of belonging to the school community, and builds trusting relationships, leaving fewer students in crisis (Kidde & Alfred, 2011). Behavioral and inter-personal issues are dealt with quickly and deeply, reducing the need for punitive discipline measures (Kidde & Alfred, 2011; Tyler, 2006). The goal of these various practices is that fewer students will need targeted interventions and even fewer, intensive ones.
Morrison, Thorsborne, and Blood (2005) illustrate the application of restorative practices—from prevention to intense intervention—using a hierarchical, whole-school approach. The framework begins with establishing foundational, school-wide prevention practices, upon which subsequent interventions rest. Each step narrows the population and focus, from proactive to reactive responses (Kidde & Alfred, 2011):
- School-wide Prevention Practices- (Tier I)
Reaffirming relationships through developing social and emotional skills
- Identify common values and guidelines.
- Promote and strengthen sense of belonging and ownership.
- Develop social-emotional understanding and skills; build healthy relationships.
- Managing Targeted Difficulties- (Tier II)
- Prevent harm.
- Resolve differences with restorative intention.
- Build social-emotional capacity.
- Intense Interventions- (Tier III)
- Focus on accountability.
- Organize resources to address behavioral and academic concern.
- 1:1 support and successful reintegration for youth in crisis.
The premise for these tiers of strategies is that together they can create school-wide cultural norms of the kind that research has previously found effective (Bryk, 2010).
These Three Components in Practice
School-wide Prevention Practices
Whole-school implementation seeks to prevent problems by cultivating, in students and teachers, the skills to deal with behavioral and inter-personal issues before they escalate. Kidde & Alfred (2011) note that building a school-wide culture of common values and meaningful support makes restorative practices much more likely to succeed. Creating norms around the principles and application of restorative practices develops students’ social-emotional learning, builds community within the school, and strengthens social and human capital. This leads to greater levels of trust, empathy and respect within the school among students, staff, and teachers (Morrison & Vaandering, 2012). As the authors note, “creating the space to explore and understand shared values in the classroom foster[s] a [school culture] more conducive to establishing deepening relationships among members of the school community” (2012, p.146). An additional research finding: students’ buy-in and participation in restorative practices influences their trust and relationship with those implementing the practice (Anyon, 2016a).
Programs such as Community Conferencing Center’s “Daily Rap,” which Baltimore City Public Schools employs, offer opportunities to develop these skills and create understanding and connectivity. Daily Rap provides students, and more recently teachers, an opportunity to “circle” daily on a topic to identify solutions and support one another. While no studies have determined causal linkages to specific outcomes, Kidde and Alfred (2011) report anecdotal survey evidence that suggests Community Conferencing builds trust and deepens the relationship between participants.
Stinchcomb, Bazemore, and Reistenburg (2006) evaluated a three-year, school-wide restorative practices pilot conducted by The Minnesota Dept. of Children, Families and Learning (DCFL). They focused on three St. Paul, Minnesota schools—two elementary and one junior high school. Facilitators conducted circles to repair harm, cultivate empathy skills, and promote “Make the Peace”—a statewide campaign to encourage alternatives to violence.
Their study found reductions in out-of-school suspensions in all three schools. The impact on in-school suspensions and behavioral referrals were ambiguous; however, one elementary school saw reductions in both while the other saw increases. Stinchcomb et al., (2006) surmise that the disparity was due to teachers in the first school receiving additional professional development and working with a restorative practice planner to develop alternative disciplinary plans. Thus, schools that are considering implementing restorative practices may want to build on-going coaching and support for teachers.
Denver Public Schools (DPS) has taken the concepts of Morrison et al.’s (2005) approach and applied it districtwide. Starting with a school-based pilot program in 2006 and expanding district-wide in 2008, DPS adopted a disciplinary code that includes restorative practices. DPS also committed to substantial professional development in how to interpret discipline policies and protocols, restorative practices, and allied relationship-building approaches (Anyon, 2016a).
A pre-post exposure analysis of the DPS restorative practices model found a five-percentage point reduction in the overall suspension rate in five years (10.5% in 2006 to 5.8% in 2013) (Baker, 2008). Additionally, a case study analysis of the practice reported a four-percentage point narrowing of the Black/White suspension gap between 2008 and 2013 (Gonzalez, 2015).
As noted, school wide prevention practices form the foundation upon which targeted and intense interventions are based.
Managing Targeted Difficulties
The premise of the next level of intervention is that most disruptions should not require intense or punitive intervention. Rather, they should become teachable moments for students to understand a harm or potential harm and identify solutions to avoid or repair that harm (Morrison & Vaandering, 2012).
An example of this is managing “power and status” conflicts such as bullying. Recent research calls into question the use of punitive measures to address bullying. Davis and Nixon (2010) found such measures often create additional behavioral issues and cause offenders to seek retribution. On the other hand, restorative practices promote repairing and rebuilding relationships, a feature missing from punitive discipline measures. Because of this, research views interventions featuring face-to-face contact between bully and victim as a potentially useful means to involve everyone in the peacemaking and healing process (Molnair-Mane et al., 2014; Morrison, 2002). Practices can range from a subtle or “light-touch” talk to more formalized conferencing between aggrieved parities to quell the issue and reduce discipline referrals (Kidde & Alfred, 2011).
Research by Anyon et al., (2016b) analyzed the discipline records of DPS students who received one or more discipline reports (9,921 students) over the course of a school year (2012-2013). The study sought to demonstrate the effectiveness of restorative practices at reducing multiple disciplinary incidents within a school year.
Anyon et al. found that students who received a restorative practice intervention had lower odds of receiving discipline referrals and suspensions in the following semester. However, Anyon and colleagues note that gaps in discipline persisted between students of color and poor students, and their white and wealthier peers. Anyon et al. suggest that additional interventions and professional developments, such as those focusing on cultural sensitives, could reduce racial and ethnic disparities.
The third and final level of intervention aims to repair and rebuild relationships. This category of intervention arises when direct physical or emotional harm has occurred. Such harm may include the school community as well as neighbors and family members ( Morrison et al., 2005). This level of intervention is specifically designed for those students facing the most serious discipline issues or crises (Kidde & Alfred, 2011)
Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) uses Tier III to reintegrate the highest-risk youth. Following a sustained absence, such as incarceration or suspension, OUSD convenes “Welcome Circles” to reengage the student. This is done to provide wraparound support and promote accountability and achievement (Jain, Bassey, Brown, & Kalra, 2014).
Circle participants include the student, family members, appropriate school staff (i.e. school mental health coordinators) and facilitator. Other adults, such as a coach or probation officer, may also be encouraged to participate. Facilitators begin by guiding participants through a series of positively-framed questions on how to develop a successful transition plan. Throughout the planning, participants identify their roles and responsibilities in order to build trust and show support. The facilitator tasks participants with specific activities to ensure active participation in the student’s transition. Conversely, the student’s task is to communicate with participants when they are struggling and additional support is needed. Circles continue throughout the school year to monitor progress.
The effectiveness of this level of intervention at OUSD has not been evaluated in isolation. However, student and staff survey results on the effectiveness of the OUSD model have been largely positive (Jain et al., 2014):
- Seventy percent of staff report the practice has helped to create a positive climate in schools and 60% believe the practice has contributed to the decrease in the use of suspensions;
- Eighty-eight percent of teachers have found the practice “very or somewhat” helpful in reducing classroom behavioral disruptions; and over three-quarters of students who participated in a restorative session report the practice resolved conflict and repaired harm.
Recommendations for Implementation
Restorative practices work best in the context of a strong school culture that has created norms around respecting the values of individual students and consistency with disciplinary issues (Morrison & Vaandering, 2012). This takes time. Shifting the attitudes and sensibilities of school personnel may take one to three years (Karp & Breslin, 2001), and the deep shift to a restorative-oriented school climate may require three to five years (Anfara, Evans, & Lester, 2013). Guckenburg et al., (2015, p. 12) notes that “principals can feel protective of their school and resist having others (e.g. consultants and technical assistance providers) coming in to change how the school operates, especially concerning their discipline policies.”
Strong vision and commitment to restorative practices by school leadership is essential for building restorative practices school-wide (Anyon et al., (b) 2016). Implementation requires staff time, buy-in, and training, resources that traditional sanctions such as suspension do not require of schools. Fronius et al., (2016) suggests administrators and educators conduct readiness assessments to develop a theory of change and timeline for implementation. Doing so eases fears, builds interest and engages stakeholders in the process (Kidde & Alfred, 2011). Having a full-time restorative practices coordinator is also recommended, with one study noting “it is simply not feasible, or sustainable, to train existing administrators or mental health staff and ask them to take on restorative practices in addition to their existing responsibilities” (Anyon, 2016a, p. 4). Additionally, providing support through trainings and professional development and leveraging community resources (e.g. local non-profits focused on community building and youth engagement) can help to ease the burdens of implementation (Advancement Project, 2014).
Research Review Limitations
As this brief underscores, there are several studies that focus on specific practices (Anyon et al.,(b) 2016; Baker, 2008; Stinchcomb et al., 2006), participant satisfaction (Jain et al., 2014; Kidde & Alfred, 2011), and qualitative accounts by victim’s, offender’s parents, and other stakeholders (Gonzalez, 2012; Jain et al., 2014). That said, the empirical research base supporting restorative practices in schools still emerging. Currently, there are three-large scale randomized controlled trials (RCT) underway with the earliest findings available by late 2018 (Fronius et al., 2016). Once completed, these studies will make the research record more robust. Until that time, the majority of studies evaluate program exposure with no control comparison.
Anfara, V. A., Evans, K. R., & Lester, J. N. (2013). Restorative Justice in Education: What We Know so Far. Middle School Journal, 44(5), 57–63. https://doi.org/10.1080/00940771.2013.11461873
Anyon, Y. (2016). Taking Restorative Practices School-wide: Insights from Three Schools in Denver. Denver, CO: Denver School-Based Restorative Practices Partnership.
Anyon, Y., Gregory, A., Stone, S., Farrar, J., Jenson, J. M., McQueen, J., … Simmons, J. (2016). Restorative Interventions and School Discipline Sanctions in a Large Urban School District. American Educational Research Journal, 53(6), 1663–1697.
Ashley, J., & Burke, K. (2009). Implementing restorative justice: A guide for schools. Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.
Baker, M. (2008). DPS Restorative Justice Project: Executive Summary. Denver, CO: Denver Public Schools.
Balfanz, R., Byrnes, V., & Fox, J. (2013). Sent home and put off track: The antecedents, disproportionalities, and consequences of being suspended in the 9th grade. Presented at the National Conference on Race and Gender Disparities in Discipline, Washington DC. Retrieved from https://www.civilrightsproject.ucla.edu/resources/projects/center-for-civil-rights-remedies/school-to-prison-folder/state-reports/sent-home-and-put-off-track-the-antecedents-disproportionalities-and-consequences-of-being-suspended-in-the-ninth-grade
Fronius, T., Persson, H., Guckenburg, S., Hurley, N., & Petrosino, A. (2016). Restorative Justice in U.S. Schools: A Research Review. San Francisco, CA: WestEd.
Gonzalez, T. (2012). Keeping Kids in Schools: Restorative Justice, Punitive Discipline, and the School to Prison Pipeline. Journal of Law & Education, 41(2), 281–335.
Gonzalez, T. (2015). Socializing Schools: Addressing Racial Disparities in Discipline Through Restorative Justice. In D. Losen (Ed.), Closing the School Discipline Gap: Equitable Remedies for Excessive Exclusion. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Guckenburg, S., Hurley, N., Persson, H., Fronius, T., & Petrosino, A. (2015). Restorative Justice in U.S. Schools: Summary Findings from Interviews with Experts. San Francisco, CA: WestEd. Retrieved from https://jprc.wested.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/1447101213resourcerestorativejusticeinusschoolssummaryfindingsfrominterviewswithexperts.pdf
Hammond, C., Linton, D., Smink, J., & Drew, S. (2007). Dropout Risk Factors and Exemplary Programs. Clemson, SC: National Dropout Prevention Center, Communities In Schools, Inc. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED497057.pdf
Jain, S., Bassey, H., Brown, M. A., & Kalra, P. (2014). Restorative Justice in Oakland Schools: Implementation and Impacts. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights. Retrieved from http://www.ousd.org/cms/lib07/CA01001176/Centricity/Domain/134/OUSD-RJ%20Report%20revised%20Final.pdf
Karp, D. R., & Breslin, B. (2001). Restorative Justice in School Communities. Youth & Society, 33(2), 249–272. https://doi.org/10.1177/0044118X01033002006
Kidde, J., & Alfred, R. (2011). Restorative Justice: A Working Guide For Our Schools. Alameda, CA: Alameda County School Health Services.
Molnair-Mane, S., Bisbing, K., Blackburn, S., Galkowski, L., Garrity, R., Morris, C., … Singer, J. (2014). Integrating Bullying Prevention and Restorative Practices in Schools: Considerations for Practitioners and Policymakers. The Center for Safe Schools; Clemson University’s Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life; and the Highmark Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.safeschools.info/content/BPRPWhitePaper2014.pdf
Morrison, B., & Australian Institute of Criminology. (2002). Bullying and victimisation in schools: a restorative justice approach. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.
Morrison, B., Blood, P., & Thorsborne, M. (2005). Practicing Restorative Justice in School Communities: Addressing the Challenge of Culture Change. Public Organization Review, 5(4), 335–357. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11115-005-5095-6
Morrison, B. E., & Vaandering, D. (2012). Restorative Justice: Pedagogy, Praxis, and Discipline. Journal of School Violence, 11(2), 138–155. https://doi.org/10.1080/15388220.2011.653322
Noltemeyer, A. L., Marie, R., Mcloughlin, C., & Vanderwood, M. (2015). Relationship Between School Suspension and Student Outcomes: A Meta-Analysis. School Psychology Review, 44(2), 224–240.
Petrosino, A., Guckenburg, S., & Fronius, T. (2012). “Policing Schools” Strategies: A Review of the Evaluation Evidence. Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation; Vol 8 No 17 (2012). Retrieved from http://journals.sfu.ca/jmde/index.php/jmde_1/article/view/337
Rumberger, R. W., & Losen, D. J. (2016). The high cost of harsh discipline and its disparate impact. Los Angeles, CA: The Center for Civil Rights; University of California, Los Angeles.
Stinchcomb, J. B., Bazemore, G., & Riestenberg, N. (2006). Beyond Zero Tolerance: Restoring Justice in Secondary Schools. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 4(2), 123–147. https://doi.org/10.1177/1541204006286287
Tyler, T. R. (2006). Restorative Justice and Procedural Justice: Dealing with Rule Breaking. Journal of Social Issues, 62(2), 307–326. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.2006.00452.x
Below is a description and timeline for the RCT studies currently underway:
- RAND study Reducing Problem Behaviors Through PYD: An RCT of Restorative School Practices
- The study seeks to: assess the mechanisms of how restorative practice interventions (RPI) implementation influences the school environment; assess the effects of RPI on school staff perceptions of school climate and adolescents’ reports of school connectedness, peer relationships, developmental outcomes (academic achievement and social competency), and problem behaviors (alcohol use, bullying, disciplinary referrals); and assess the extent to which the positive effects of RPI on adolescents persist over time during the transition between middle and high school
The study is in the recruiting phase. Final data collections are scheduled for May 2018 with results tentatively due in August 2018. (https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02155296)
- National Institute of Justice (NIJ)/RAND/Institute of Restorative Practices study: Pursuing Equitable Restorative Communities:
- Researchers will conduct an evaluation of the SaferSanerSchools whole-school reform model using a randomized control design in Pittsburgh Schools for the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 classes. No timetable established for results release (http://nij.gov/funding/awards/pages/award-detail.aspx?award=2014-CK-BX-0020).
- NIJ/Urban Institute (Justice Policy Center) study Using a Restorative Justice Approach to Enrich School Climate and Improve School Safety:
- The Central Falls School District in Rhode Island will partner with three local educational agencies (LEAs) in the state to conduct a pilot implementation of restorative justice conferencing. Researchers will conduct a rigorous impact evaluation using a quasi-experimental design that will compare the outcomes of students who participate in conferencing (treatment) to students from non-treatment LEAs who have been disciplined for similar offenses (comparison). No timetable for results has been announced. (http://nij.gov/funding/awards/pages/award-detail.aspx?award=2014-CK-BX-0025
Braithwaite (1999) defines restorative practices as those that promote healing rather than hurting, community participation and community caring, respectful dialogue, forgiveness, and making amends. On the other hand, Hopkins’ (2003) definition is focused on practices that manage behavior and shift away from punitive measures.
Sellman, Cremlin and McCluskey (as cited in Fronius, Persson, Guckenburg, Hurley, & Petrosino, 2016) argue that restorative justice is a contested concept and may never have an agreed upon definition. Given this judgment, Fronius et. al (2016) suggest that restorative justice practices be broadly described as non-punitive approaches to handling conflict. This can include practices using a variety of terms such as “restorative practices,” “restorative approaches,” and similar language.
 Restorative practices can be used at all three interventions levels. Morrison et al., (2005) describe the use of restorative circles as a critical function in intensive interventions, hence their placement as a Tier III example.
As a responsive intervention, Daily Rap offers promising evidence. Gonzalez (2012) reported that “of the 450 documented Community Conferences [in her study], 97% resulted in a written agreement, and there was a 95% rate of compliance with the agreements.”
 The three schools were Lincoln Center Elementary, Kaposia Elementary, and South St. Paul Junior High School.
 Pre- and post-test analysis is a quasi-experimental evaluation method. Participants are studied before and after the exposure to a treatment, or in this case, to restorative practices. There can be no causal evidence, as there is no random assignment or treatment group with which to compare. The above analysis included only one group who were exposed to restorative practices.
 In DPS terminology, semester is synonymous with marking period.
 See Appendix A for a full description and expected completion dates.
Research Fellow, Institute for Education Policy
Doctoral Candidate, School of Education
What is the nexus between transportation and schooling? That is, how does the accessibility of public transportation influence student attendance and student learning? How can cities make a difference? Most Americans think of school transportation in terms of the yellow school bus, but for many students across the country, the picture is more complex.
Early research on transportation and schooling came in the era of desegregation. Some urbanites may still remember that busing formed a cornerstone of many districts’ school integration policies. Most studies on the short-term effects of busing found that it did not have a significant impact on student achievement, and that any effects on long-term status attainment were modest. Since Milliken II (1973) in which the Supreme Court turned away from large-scale involvement in district policies, and its simultaneous turn away from forced integration, the decline in district busing policies has also resulted in a decline of their study and any serious academic consideration of the role of transportation in student achievement and outcomes. Recent literature has focused on “active transportation,” or getting children to walk to school. But this is only an option for students who attend schools in their neighborhoods, and where those neighborhoods are safe.
A New Landscape
School-choice policies have taken the place of desegregation policies as the driver for a renewed interest in transportation and schooling. “School choice” refers to a wide variety of programs that offer students and families an alternative to district schools that have been assigned on the basis of residence. School-choice options can include open enrollment, where students can attend public schools outside the district in which they live; within-district choice such as charter and magnet schools (and sometimes traditional district schools); and vouchers or tax credits, which allow funding to follow eligible students to private schools. Local education agencies handle transportation concerns for choice programs in a variety of ways, often as the result of how state statutes are written. For example, in New Jersey, all public school students who live outside a walk-radius from their school are entitled to transportation, and whenever a school district is required to provide transportation to students attending regular public school programs, students attending nonpublic schools who meet those distance requirements may also be entitled to transportation services.
This is also the case in New York City, where the Office of Pupil Transportation provides either busing or public transit cards to all students, regardless of the type of school they attend. Texas, in contrast, provides transportation for students attending magnet or Career and Technical Education (CTE) schools, but not to students attending charter or private schools. Ultimately, each school district sets its own policies on transportation. This leaves a lot of room for variation in the quality and quantity of transportation provided by mid-sized urban districts.
The increasing presence of non-neighborhood schooling, for all of its merits, has unwittingly contributed to a separate and unequal system of school transportation. Students from affluent families who own cars can get to school with relative speed and ease, while low-income students may have to resort to underdeveloped public transit systems that can lead to commute times of more than an hour in each direction.
The research community has not caught up to this new reality; no meaningful studies of the effect of transportation upon children’s academic outcomes exist. We can, however, hypothesize that complicated, costly, and time-consuming school commutes are likely correlated with negative student outcomes including truancy and higher dropout rates, lower participation in extracurricular activities, a tendency to opt out of high-performing, selective schools that are further from home, and lower achievement overall. Because of these theoretical effects and their long-term concerns for society, it is crucial that school districts and city leaders investigate the transportation challenges their students face and develop comprehensive plans to ensure that every child has a safe, affordable, and efficient way to get to school on time.
A brief survey of the current landscape yields examples of cities with acute and persistent challenges as well as examples of cities that are beginning to chart a new course.
Oakland: A City with Distinctive Challenges
Oakland is struggling to get students to school. The Oakland Unified School District does not provide any student transportation except as mandated for Special Education students. Students in Oakland, together with adult allies at a number of advocacy organizations, have been pushing since 2001 for free school transit as part of the “Free Transportation to get our Education” campaign. Meanwhile, they must pay for public transportation to and from school. Fares for school-aged youth are $1.05 each way, or $20 for a monthly pass – an upfront cost that many low-income families cannot afford. In a 2005 survey, sixty-one percent of youth reported sometimes using lunch money to pay for the bus to school. Like many diverse districts, Oakland’s schools are varied in quality, and many parents opt into choice programs outside of their neighborhoods. The cost and time constraints associated with transportation to and from school make it difficult for low-income families to choose the school that would work best for their children. Oakland is therefore an example of how modest transit options can reduce equity and, one surmises, lead to a widening achievement gap.
The San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), meanwhile, has its own challenges. As Oakland, SFUSD does not provide school bus service for students. Two-thirds of public-transit riders are people of color, and low-income riders disproportionately use the bus system rather than BART or Caltrain – regional rail networks that serve predominantly well-off communities. The rail services receive disproportionately high state subsidies and public transit funding, leaving the bus system underfunded even while it used by the neediest citizens. After years of campaigns and lawsuits, in 2012 the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) launched the Free Muni Program for low- and moderate-income San Francisco youth, since SFUSD also does not provide school bus service. San Francisco youth with a family income at or below the Bay Area Median Income level ($107,700 for a family of four) can fill out a simple form in paper or online and provide proof of age to receive free transportation on Muni (San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency) routes while using their enrolled pass. They will continue to be enrolled until their 19th birthday, with no additional requirement on the part of the family or child.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg: Separate Systems, Uneven Results
In Charlotte, North Carolina, the district has taken an integrative approach to transportation for its district-wide magnet schools. The district offers dozens of magnet programs at the elementary, middle, and high school levels focused on themes that range from the International Baccalaureate to creative arts to language immersion. The city is divided into three transportation zones, and families have transportation priority for magnet schools within their zone. The district provides traditional busing for students attending their home school or any magnet within their zone, and in addition many magnet programs offer a “shuttle” service for students who are in a choice program outside their zone. Shuttles retrieve students from a designated drop-off point at an area school in their neighborhood. This helps make magnet-school busing more efficient by reducing the number of bus stops, and it also reduces the burden on parents by allowing them to drop off students at a supervised shuttle stop near home. As a result, magnet schools are accessible to all students, and families within the district have access to a broad range of school options.
However, district magnet schools are only one element of school choice in North Carolina, which also has a large number of public charters and an Opportunity Scholarship voucher program, which offers public subsidies for low-income and disabled students to switch from public to private schools. There are 16 charter schools in Mecklenburg County. Charter schools in North Carolina are authorized by the state and receive per-pupil funding from the state and partially from the district. Each charter school is individually responsible for creating a transportation plan, but is only required to ensure that transportation is not a barrier for students who live nearby. As a result, many schools of choice in Charlotte do not provide transportation, which creates a separate system of accessibility for students between district magnet schools and state-authorized charters. Charter and traditional public schools receive the same amount of transportation funding, but the way statutes are written gives a lot of flexibility in how charters use the funds, while district schools must use these allotted funds for transportation only. While the district has been working hard to expand access to transportation for its own schools and students, the individualized approach to charter transportation services results in widely disparate transportation policies.
Denver: A Fresh Look at Transportation
Key city and district constituents in Denver have partnered to help students get to school. Denver’s school-choice policies are extensive, with upwards of 80% of families opting to choose their child’s school. Like many districts, Denver Public Schools (DPS) guarantees free busing only to students attending their neighborhood school who live outside a one- to three-and-a-half-mile walk-radius. Busing is also provided for some district-wide choice programs on a case-by-case basis. Fewer than 40,000 DPS students are eligible for transportation, out of about 92,000 total students enrolled. However, the district also works to make sure that every school has a travel plan through a partnership program called Commute DPS.
Commute DPS is a collaboration between the City of Denver, Denver Public Health, and Denver Safe Routes to School Coalition. The program provides support to school leaders to establish pickup/drop-off traffic patterns and safety protocols, and it works with parents to coordinate commuting groups. Commuting groups may include remote drop-off points at which parents leave their children with a supervised group who will walk, bike, or take public transportation to school together. In partnership with the Denver Regional Council of Governments, Commute DPS offers a free website to help parents “schoolpool,” or coordinate shared community transportation. Finally, thanks to community pressure and the mayor’s office, high-school students have access to discounted public transit, which facilitates student use of local public resources to ease the provision of school-specific bus routes for children in choice programs.
Denver is considered a model for other mid-sized cities. Denver’s approach to transportation and schooling is part of a city-wide effort to coordinate between the mayor’s office, the school district, and the transportation authority and to create buy-in among parents and schools. Community advocacy groups, local family foundations, and the DPS Community Planning and Advisory Committee have also played an important role, pushing for increased funding and supporting a bond and mill levy that would add $400,000 to the DPS transportation budget. As a result, Denver has been able to leverage a variety of local resources to make reliable transportation a reality in a high-choice city.
The Policy Landscape: Challenges and Opportunities
Building a successful transportation network to support students and schools requires a community-level collaboration that may include regional and state-level actors such as regional transit authorities, school boards, and community foundations, as well as support from city and state legislators. A first step is to bring local public transit authorities and school leaders together to provide free- or reduced-cost passes for public transportation. Doing so will also cause city leaders to evaluate the robustness of the public transportation system itself; even free transportation will not mediate the difficulties associated with an under-resourced bus or rail system that serves a small number of neighborhoods. In Baltimore, for example, under-developed rail systems and notoriously inconsistent bus service mean that a student trying to get from a neighborhood in West Baltimore to a selective high school across town could expect to have a commute of 30-60 minutes and to change busses at least once. The same commute would take only 15 minutes by car. It is important that cities invest in an efficient and high-quality transportation system, that serves all residential areas and with routes that make sense to commuter patterns in the region.
Additionally, while public transit systems can play a major role in getting middle- and high-school students to and from school, they are less helpful for families with elementary-school children. Parents are understandably unwilling to let young children travel alone, and parent work schedules can render even free public transportation to and from school difficult. Districts can play a role by encouraging parent and school collaboration in developing community transport plans, and providing resources and support for local initiatives.
Technology and improved data systems can be vital in addressing all of the above challenges. Cities could develop rideshare platforms that use websites or apps to support carpools and allow parents to find other families with whom they can share transportation costs and responsibilities. Cities could also use data to solve traffic flow problems. For instance, careful analysis of ridership and traffic hubs can enable districts and public transit systems to build efficient, empirically based bus routes for students and the public. Or cities can forecast the school-transportation needs of the future by using census and school-enrollment data. They can thus ensure that they have infrastructure and resources in the right places to support students both in the present and also as they grow and move to new schools. If city agencies are able to work together and share information, data analysis can have a cross-sector impact on the economy and the local services that communities need to thrive – beginning with its youngest members.
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 Denver Public Schools. “Student Commuting Groups.” <http://transportation.dpsk12.org/schools_departments/commutedps/student-commuting-groups/> accessed 9 March, 2017.
 Stein, M. L, Grigg, J., Cronister, C., Chavis, C., & Connolly, F. (2017). Getting to High School in Baltimore: Student Commuting and Public Transportation. Baltimore Education Research Consortium. < http://baltimore-berc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/GettingtoHighSchoolinBaltimoreJanuary2017.pdf> accessed 31 March, 2017.
In Winter 2017, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy and Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education conducted a research review on the effects of curricular choices in K–12 education for the Knowledge Matters Campaign, a project of StandardsWork, Inc. That review,1 available upon request at standardswork.org, surfaced several important findings, including the following:
- Curriculum is a critical factor in student academic success.
- Comprehensive, content-rich curriculum is a common feature of academically high-performing countries.
- The cumulative impact of high-quality curriculum can be significant and matters most to achievement in the upper grades where typical year-on-year learning gains are far lower than in previous grades.
- Because the preponderance of instructional materials is self-selected by individual teachers, most students are taught through idiosyncratic curricula that are not defined by school districts or states.
- Research comparing one curriculum to another is very rare and, therefore, not usually actionable. Read More
Research on the academic and civic outcomes produced by non-public schools is complicated. On the one hand, studies of the “school effect” dating back to James Coleman’s 1982 analysis of public, independent, and Catholic high schools indicates that private schools often produce modestly better academic and civic outcomes than district schools, even after controlling for students’ demographics.  Furthermore, international research suggests that highly pluralistic school systems, in which the government funds and regulates but does not operate all schools, can create the conditions for both academic excellence and equity (OECD 2014). On the other hand, research on America’s scholarship programs shows uneven results, with one recent study (of Ohio’s voucher program) yielding “unambiguously negative” academic results, and at least one tax credit program’s benefiting predominantly middle-class rather than low-income families. What are we to make of these conflicting accounts? How do private-school access programs, such as tax credits and vouchers, affect student achievement and district budgets? Is there a way to ensure that they work towards excellence and equity rather than reinforce the socioeconomic status quo? How do other countries manage educational diversity? The bottom line: while the presence of diverse, state-supported private schools can be beneficial to students, there is nothing inevitable about their success.
Education tax credits allow individuals or corporations to reduce their tax liabilities by giving a limited amount of money to state-approved scholarship funds for (mostly low-income) children to attend private schools. The credit may not be used to fund a school attended by the donor’s children. Tax credit money is not considered public, because it never goes through state treasuries. The Supreme Court ruled tax credits to be constitutional in 2011 (Arizona v. Winn).
Vouchers are public school funds that parents may use to send their children to private schools. Most voucher programs are means-tested or school-tested—that is, only students whose families fall below a certain income level or who have attended “failing” schools are allowed to use them. The Supreme Court ruled that vouchers are constitutional from a federal perspective in 2002 (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris).
Education Savings Accounts provide state funds that enable eligible students to attend private schools. Arizona permits parents to use the funds, additionally, to purchase online courses and instructional materials and to save for higher education. The funds are delivered via restricted-use debit cards. ESAs have not been challenged in the highest court as of the time of writing.
Such programs are relatively new in the United States context; the majority of the country’s 50 choice programs have been created in the last five years (Shakeel, Wolf, and Anderson 2016). Consequently, the research record on their outcomes is modest and contested. The effects of scaling up such programs in the United States are simply unknown.
Research on Private-School Access Programs in the United States
The relative novelty of publicly funded scholarship programs is only one factor that makes conclusive statements difficult; the programs themselves vary widely in their per-capita funding, eligibility requirements, grade-levels of students, and accountability protocols. And it’s difficult to generalize across studies, which often explore different outcomes, from test scores and high-school graduation rates to college enrollment. Finally, the scholarship is contested – often along ideological lines – with neither side trusting the other’s work (Smith 2017).
Bearing all these qualifications in mind, however, a careful review of the research finds that private-school access programs, on average, have neutral or modestly positive academic effects for the students who use them; neutral to modestly positive academic effects on the students who remain in the public schools; and neutral to positive effects upon districts’ budgets – at least, in the short term. The research also finds negative academic results from several specific programs.
Effects on Student Achievement and Attainment
Here are a few strongly researched examples of a longer list of studies which show neutral or positive effects on student achievement and attainment:
- Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (enacted 1990). One randomized controlled study found statistically significant, positive effects in both reading and math scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills of elementary and middle school voucher-users, as compared to those who applied for vouchers and did not receive them and also to those who received vouchers but did not use them. The effect ranged in percentile point gains of 4.85 in reading to 6.81 in math after 3 or 4 years. The positive effects generally increased the longer the students participated in the program, and math increased more substantially than reading (Greene, Peterson, and Du 1999).
- New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation (1997-2000). This privately funded program offered low-income students in grades 1-4 (or just entering kindergarten) scholarships to attend non-public schools for up to four years. 20,000 children applied for 1,300 spaces, thus enabling a randomized control trial of outcomes.
- In Year 2 of the program (1999-2000), a randomized controlled analysis by Mathematica and Harvard found no effect of being offered a scholarship, and using the scholarship, upon White and Latino students’ test scores, but a statistically significant, positive effect upon African American students that amounted to a .23 effect size, or roughly a third of a school year’s worth of learning (Myers et al. 2000).
- A 2012 study examined the college-going behavior of the scholarship recipients by matching 99.1% of the original scholarship-application information with college-enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse. The research team found no generalized impacts of a scholarship offer upon college enrollment, but a statistically significant, positive effect upon African American scholarship applicants: a scholarship offer “increased the overall (part-time and full-time) enrollment rate of African Americans by 7.1 percentage points, an increase of 20 percent. If the offered scholarship was actually used, the impact on African American college enrollment is estimated to be 8.7 percentage points, a 24 percent increase” (Chingos et al. 2012).
- D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (enacted 2004). In 2004, Congress appropriated $26 million for Washington, D.C.’s public and charter schools, and allocated $13 million to scholarships to enable low-income students in low-quality public schools to attend private schools. The vouchers were worth approximately $7,500 each and enabled approximately 1,000 students to begin the program each year. The first two years (Cohorts 1 and 2) included 5,818 applicants of whom 4,047 were eligible (according to the means test established by Congress); 2,454 received scholarships; and 1,824 used them. The lottery conditions enabled a randomized control trial. The D.C. analysis compares the effect of receiving and using a scholarship versus receiving and not using the scholarship.
- At the end of four years of participation, students who won and used the scholarships saw statistically significant gains in reading test scores on the Stanford Achievement Test 9 that equaled roughly three months of additional learning above their peers who received, but did not use, the scholarship. There was no statistically significant change in their math test scores.
- The study also investigated the effect of voucher offers and voucher use upon high school graduation. Five hundred (500) students would have graduated from high school by the end of four years. Students who were offered a scholarship had a higher probability of graduating from high school by 12 percentage points (82% vs. 70%). Students who were offered and used a scholarship were more likely to graduate from high school by 21 percentage points (Wolf et al. 2013).
- A recent meta-analysis (2016) surveyed 9,000 randomized control trials of school choice programs in other countries and in the United States, narrowing its focus to 19 RCT studies of 11 choice programs that had investigated math and language scores. The programs in the United States (in Toledo, Dayton, NYC, Washington, D.C., Charlotte, Milwaukee, and Louisiana) showed null reading effects and positive, but modest math effects on test scores: 0.07 standard deviations, or approximately two months’ worth of learning, upon standardized math test scores for students who used a scholarship program to attend private schools over their peers who received, but did not use, such a mechanism (Shakeel, Wolf, and Anderson 2016).
At the same time, several programs have produced quite negative effects on student achievement. Two examples:
- Ohio’s Educational Choice Program (enacted in 2005). A recent study examined the results of voucher use upon eligible students who used a voucher to attend private schools, using individual student data from school years 2003-04 through 2012-13. The research team used a propensity-score matching method rather than a randomized experiment (this approach was needed since the Ohio program did not use a lottery), found voucher use to have had an “unambiguously negative” effect of participation upon voucher users’ state-test scores compared to students’ scores who were eligible, but did not use, a voucher. The negative effect ranged from 9 to 18 percentage points in reading and 17 to 25 percentage points in math (D. Figlio and Karbownik 2016).
- The Louisiana Scholarship Program (enacted in 2012). A randomized controlled study of the program during its first two years of operation showed that voucher users (659 students) lost approximately 34% of a standard deviation on the state’s math tests (approximately ¾ of learning in a given school year) after two years of attendance in their first-choice private school – an “unprecedented negative evaluation,” according to the scholars – compared to those who applied for, but did not receive, a voucher (1,004 students). The impact upon the state’s ELA test scores was also negative but statistically insignificant (Mills and Wolf 2016).
In sum, publicly funded scholarship programs in the United States are varied and produce uneven results. As with any educational intervention, program design and implementation have direct bearing upon the outcomes, and the enabling laws differ in significant ways that influence the students served and the academic consequences.
Effects on Non-Academic Outcomes
Is it right to limit school-sector comparisons to test scores and graduation rates? Yes and no. For accountability and comparability purposes, a focus on math and ELA test scores is necessary to ensure the provision of an adequate education. Such measures do not exhaust the outcomes that matter to parents and students, however. For instance, the first study of New York City’s private scholarship program, described above, found differences in school climate as reported by parents. Thirty-three percent (33%) of the parents of students who received and used the scholarship reported that “fighting was a serious problem” in their child’s school, compared with 70% of parents of students who received but did not use the scholarship and remained in public schools; sixty-four percent (64%) of the private-school parents reported their children’s homework load as more than an hour a day compared to 41% of public-school parents; private-school parents were four times more satisfied with their schools than their public-school peers.
Still other outcomes might be important to parents and policymakers, citizenship formation not least. Political scientists often refer to four common measures of citizenship behavior: community service, civic skills, political knowledge, and political tolerance (D. Campbell 2008). These measures reflect a combination of knowledge about the democratic process, democratic capacities such as analyzing legislation and writing letters, and civic attachment, i.e., what are my obligations to this community and this nation? This burden does not rest upon schools alone, of course. Citizenship formation comes via many sources – the family, the media, and social networks. But schools represent many students’ first and most sustained experience with civic institutions, and research finds that they exert an independent effect upon civic outcomes (Bryk, Lee, and Holland 1993), (Mulligan 2006), (Jeynes 2012). As the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) put it, schools can “help students develop relevant knowledge and understanding, and form positive attitudes toward being a citizen [of the nation] and participat[e] in activities related to civic and citizenship education (Schulz et al. 2010).”
The school effect upon citizenship is less well researched than that upon academic achievement. There are some indications of a private school advantage above and beyond family background. In 2007, Patrick Wolf analyzed 21 quantitative studies on the effects of private and public schools on seven civic virtues: the four enumerated above (community service, civic skills, political knowledge, and political tolerance) plus social capital (“the extent to which a person is networked within their community”), political participation (voting, writing government representatives), and patriotism (“a visceral positive connection to one’s country and respect for its national symbols and rituals”). Taken together, the study yielded 59 discrete findings that connected particular school types with civic outcomes and that separated school effect from family background. The vast majority of the findings (56 out of 59) suggested a neutral-to-positive effect of non-public schools on civic outcomes (Wolf 2007). Another lens: in February 2017, the Cardus Religious Schools Initiative at Notre Dame released a report which showed long-term positive effects of religious and independent private schooling on adult philanthropy and volunteer activity (Sikkink and Schwartz 2017).
Are there any red flags from the research? Yes. Three of the 59 findings in Wolf’s meta-analysis were negative: “[E]vangelical Protestant schools reduce political tolerance, secular private schools decrease voluntarism, and private schooling of any sort may diminish a particularly passionate form of patriotism” (Wolf 2007). And although David Campbell’s 2008 study found a generally positive effect of private schooling on citizenship behaviors, it did indicate a negative effect of Protestant schools upon the measure of political tolerance (D. Campbell 2008). One more negative indicator that may be of interest: Cardus’s 2014 survey of graduates of different school sectors found a low level of social trust amongst former home-schoolers (Pennings 2014). The relationship between social trust and civic engagement is uncertain, but this area surely merits further research, as the number of students who are home schooled roughly equals the number of students who attend charter schools.
But in the main, at least in civic outcomes, research suggests a private-school advantage; as one political scientist wrote in 2012, “[i]t is time to move beyond the question of whether public or private schools are ‘better’ at civic education. . . . [E]mpirical evidence makes clear that private schooling is not a detriment to civic education. In many cases, private schools surpass their public counterparts.” The more pertinent question, he adds, is “why do schools differ in the civic education they offer” (D. Campbell 2012). What are the precise mechanisms by which schools of any type foster citizenship behavior? Scholars disagree about which mechanisms matter most, but researchers believe that all of these have a role: social-capital creation (Coleman, Hoffer, and Kilgore 1982), high expectations and rigorous academic programs (Bryk, Lee, and Holland 1993) classroom environments that support deliberation and debate (D. E. Campbell 2008), strong normative school cultures (Seider 2012), and school structures that engage parents (Mulligan 2006). Such factors may be more likely to exist in private or charter schools, but there is no inherent reason why they should not occur in state-run schools as well.
Beyond citizenship behaviors, we lack good data about specific virtues that schools may seek to inculcate which may have meaning only within certain subcultures, such as Montessori’s “valorization” or Evangelical Protestant’s notion of “discipleship.” There are thus multiple reasons to support ongoing research into the factors that drive positive non-academic outcomes alongside test scores and high-school graduation rates.
Fiscal and academic effects upon state budgets and district schools
What happens to the students who remain in district schools, after their peers take up vouchers and tax credits,? And what about district and state budgets: do they take a hit from scholarship programs? While several studies show neutral to positive effects on state budgets and district schools, the research base is scant and suggestive rather than definitive.
- State budgets. Most choice programs cap scholarship amounts at or below the state’s allocated amount for students in the relevant subgroup, thus having in general a neutral to positive effect on state education budgets (Cunningham 2013). One fiscal analysis (2007) concluded, “Every existing school choice program is at least fiscally neutral, and most produce a substantial savings” (Aud 2007). As an example, the Florida legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability found a net savings from the state’s Opportunity Tax Credit Scholarship Program: “We estimate that in Fiscal Year 2007-08, taxpayers saved $1.49 in state education funding for every dollar loss in corporate income tax revenue due to credits for scholarship contributions. Expanding the cap on tax credits would produce additional savings if there is sufficient demand for the scholarships” (Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability 2008).
- District budgets. The reduction in district budgets from state funding due to choice programs is usually identical to the reduction due to students’ moving out of state or to another public school district. School districts retain all of the local and some of the federal funding, however, when enrollment drops from either cause (Lueken 2016). A 2012 analysis estimates the impact of choice programs upon district finance by separating fixed costs, which represent 36% of the average district budget, from variable costs, which represent 64%. Using data from two large and two small districts, the study found that districts would not be penalized financially if dollar amounts that equaled less than the variable costs (i.e., up to 64% of the district budget) were allowed to follow students to non-public schools (Scafidi 2012).
- District academic outcomes. As with fiscal effects, the academic effect upon district schools has not been studied in depth. However, the Ohio study above found that, although the effect of using a voucher was academically negative for voucher-users the students who remained in public schools saw their test scores improve (D. Figlio and Karbownik 2016). Another analysis used economic modeling to predict that universal vouchers are likely to have negative academic effects upon district schools, whereas targeted vouchers, i.e., access is contingent upon income and/or ability, are likely to have positive effects upon district schools (Akyol 2016). This theoretical scenario is supported by an analysis of the effects of Florida’s corporate tax credit program upon eligible, low-income students whose zoned, low-performing public schools were geographically proximate to a number of private-school options under the program’s parameters. The study found a positive academic effect upon the state test scores of students who left and students who stayed in the district schools. The study does not establish causation: its authors consider that the threat of losing Title I dollars, a landscape with numerous private-choice options, and the fact that students who left public schools had histories of lower performance on test scores, may have driven the positive effects for district students (D. Figlio and Hart 2014). Another factor may be that “instructional spending per student has consistently gone up in all affected [by school-choice] public school districts and states“ (Aud 2007).
As a whole, the research record on the impact of private-school choice programs upon districts’ academic performance and fiscal balance is thin. The long-term fiscal effects upon districts are likely to be negative. Eventually, high-choice states will reduce their allocations to districts, because the districts will have fewer students to educate. Should this likely long-term outcome trump all other concerns? It depends upon one’s interpretive framework, as the final section of this memo explains.
Research on Education Savings Accounts
Five states have signed education savings accounts into law, and 18 state legislatures considered ESA bills in 2016 (Gibbons 2016). Nevada’s legislature passed a universal ESA in 2015 that the state Supreme Court upheld in 2016, although the Court required the funding mechanism to be re-drawn before the program could be put into effect (Bedrick 2016). In September 2016, Sen. John McCain’s Native American Education Opportunity Act passed the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs which, if made into law, would create federal ESAs for children who currently attend the Bureau of Indian Education schools (Chavez and Caulfield 2016). In April 2017, Arizona’s legislature pass an ESA program that has universal eligibility and will be extended to at least 5,500 new students each year (Goldstein 2017). There have been no robust studies of ESA program effects to date.
There are few international analogs to American-style vouchers, because most long-established democracies fund diverse schools as a matter of principle. They also superintend these schools’ academic performance at a level many American reformers might find uncomfortable. The Netherlands supports 36 types of schools on equal footing; the province of Alberta funds Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Inuit and even homeschooling (C. Glenn 2011), (McEwen 1995), (C. L. Glenn, Groof, and Candal 2012). The same is true in England, Norway, France, Australia, and Singapore, and many other countries.
The majority of international studies find that private schools often produce positive student gains even after controlling for family background (C. Glenn 2005), (Donnelly 2017). Perhaps more importantly, research also finds that the presence of diverse schools seems to have a positive effect upon all schools. For example:
- Sweden allowed municipalities to pluralize through a per-capita funding mechanism in 1992. In some districts, as many as 45 % of the students attend non-public schools. Twenty years on, these reforms seem to have boosted the performance schools of all types on national exams taken by all students at the conclusion of 9th grade within a heavily plural district. The statistically significant positive results were not evidence until ten years after the reforms, which the authors attribute to the rising number of private schools that followed the reforms (Böhlmark and Lindahl 2012). A separate analysis of the effects of this reform on national exams results, taken by all students at the conclusion of 9th grade, showed small positive effects (Wondratschek, Edmark, and Frölich 2013).
- In the Netherlands, “the educational performance [on national exams] of all schools is enhanced in areas where they coexist in a ‘balance of power’ and no single type of school dominates the others” (Dijkstra, Dronkers, and Karsten 2004).
Several developing nations have experimented with vouchers, and research indicates mostly positive program effects. However, because these countries’ public education systems tend to be lower performing than ours, and the students who use vouchers live in more dire economic circumstances than ours, the positive findings cannot be directly extrapolated to the United States. Two examples:
- Chile was the first country to implement vouchers (1981). Its initial program allowed schools to take students’ academic record into consideration, and to interview parents, during the admission process. Both measures correlate to socioeconomic status. Therefore, Chile’s system produced gains for students who were already advantaged. In 1994, Chile’s government struck down all selection processes in the lower grades and parent interviews in the upper grades. The country’s voucher program, which now educates 39% of Chile’s students, no longer privileges the middle class. Chile outperforms most of its neighboring countries on the OECD’s PISA exams. A likely factor of this improved performance is the number of private schools that exist within high performing networks of, on average, five schools. Similar to Charter Management Organizations in the United States, students in such the networks seem to benefit from economies of scale that produce a positive effect on national test scores vis-a- vis non-networked private schools and municipal schools – although the latter is less certain:
- “After controlling for student and peer attributes and for selection bias, we still find a substantial positive and statistically significant effect of attending a network school on student achievement. Students at network schools score 19 percent and 25 percent of a standard deviation higher than students at stand-alone schools in Spanish language and math, respectively. We also find that students at municipal schools do significantly worse than students at stand-alone schools on achievement tests (19 percent and 16 percent of a standard deviation in Spanish language and math, respectively), although, as discussed above, we are less confident in these results because of the difficulties of accounting for the selection of students into and by private schools” (Elacqua, Contreras, and Salazar 2008).
- The largest voucher program to date was enacted in Colombia in 1991.
- Since 1991, the program has provided more than 125,000 very low-income pupils with vouchers to attend private secondary schools.
- Two quasi-experimental studies found statistically significant, positive program effects on some academic and non-academic indicators: three years after the lottery, students who won vouchers were more likely to have completed 8th grade; earn test scores that were higher by .2 standard deviations (or roughly six months’ of schooling); and less likely to cohabitate or marry during adolescence than those who did not win the lottery (Angrist et al. 2002). Seven years after winning the lottery, students were 15% – 20% more likely to have graduated from high school than those who did not win the lottery (Angrist, Bettinger, and Kremer 2006).
There are programmatic nuances to be found across all of these countries, just as there are within the United States; I explore many of them in my book on educational pluralism (Berner 2016). My conclusion is that under some specific circumstances, a civil-society approach to education can be of academic and civic benefit to students.
Twenty-five states plus Washington, D.C., support at least one mechanism that expands access to private schools (Frendewey et al. 2016). The laws that govern scholarship programs vary considerably, and the merits of each depend upon one’s perspective. From a libertarian perspective, for instance, government accountability structures and economic means-testing are often viewed in negative terms (“TPPF releases ‘Avoiding Government Regulation: Why Parental School Choice Is Possible Without Destructive Control of Private Schools’” 2014). On the other hand, policymakers who want scholarship programs to improve academic outcomes without simultaneously reinforcing socioeconomic stratification will need to scale up programs slowly, with the least advantaged students benefiting first. The guidelines below make equity under this definition, more likely.
- Adequate funding of scholarships. The dollar value of scholarships allowed by law influences which students are able to use them and which private schools they select. Low-income families are more likely to use scholarships when there is no gap between the scholarship’s dollar amount and the tuition at local private schools. In a nationally representative sample of participants in the Children’s Scholarship Fund, only one third of the students who had been offered a scholarship, took it. Having to pay 25% or more of the school tuition was a causal factor in the low rate of acceptance. Not only income levels but also credit constraints limit participation; because low-income borrowers may be deemed high-risk, private lenders hesitate to lend at conventional rates (Howell et al. 2002).
- High levels of accountability and transparency. The majority of voucher programs and some tax credit programs require recipients to take nationally normed exams and/or state summative exams (Frendewey et al. 2016). States might also require each funded school to make basic facts public, including its curriculum, textbooks/materials, proficiency targets, and students’ academic outcomes. Louisiana, for example, publishes the average voucher-recipient scores on state assessments, the rates at which scholarship students complete the highest grade-level offered by the participating school, and parental satisfaction surveys (Cunningham 2013). Some international school systems go even further. The UK requires funded schools to post on their websites a long list of details about the school culture and results, including:
- On curriculum, “the content of your school curriculum in each academic year for every subject; the names of any phonics or reading schemes you’re using in [early years]; a list of the courses available to pupils [in senior high]; how parents or other members of the public can find out more about the curriculum your school is following.”
- On the “per pupil premium” which is allocated for economically and socially disadvantaged students, for the current year, “your school’s pupil premium grant allocation amount; a summary of the main barriers to educational achievement faced by eligible pupils at the school; how you’ll spend the pupil premium to address those barriers and the reasons for that approach; how you’ll measure the impact of the pupil premium; the date of the next review of the school’s pupil premium strategy.” For the previous academic year, “how you spent the pupil premium allocation and [its] impact on eligible and other pupils.”
- On academic results, not only the nationally required test results but also “the student ‘destinations’ (the percentage of students who continue in education or training, or move on to employment at the end of 16 to 19 study)” (Ministry of Education n/d).
- Eligibility that prioritizes at-risk groups. Some program designs will disproportionately benefit families with means (see below). While universal school choice remains a goal for some education reformers in some states (Nevada’s Education Savings Account is universal, as is Arizona’s recent legislation), means-testing insures that low-income and other disadvantaged students benefit first. A few examples:
- Arizona. Arizona’s initial tax credit program (1997) benefited middle-income rather than low-income students, because the program did not restrict students’ eligibility (Wilson 2000), (Wilson 2002). Arizona’s subsequent corporate tax credit programs (2006 and 2009) are only accessible to low-income students, those with disabilities, and those in foster care (Melendez 2009).
- Florida. Florida’s corporate tax credit program is available only to students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and who attended a public school in the year prior. As mentioned above, the program boosts the test scores of urban, low-income students who leave public schools and also of those who remain in them (D. N. Figlio and Hart 2010), (D. Figlio and Hart 2014).
Other factors besides income may be proxies for middle-class standing, such as academic achievement and parental interviews as conditions for admission to participating schools. If policymakers have the goal of disrupting the socioeconomic status quo, they should consider disallowing such practices except in the case of exam schools that exist within a larger universe of options (Finn and Hockett 2012). As mentioned above, Chile rectified the elements of its voucher program that had reinforced existing class structures. Sweden took note, and its per-capita funding mechanism specifically disallows receiving schools to select students on the basis of academic achievement. One analysis of outcomes found a positive effect on students in all sectors (Böhlmark and Lindahl 2012).
- Support parents. Numerous studies show that first-generation parents navigate choice unevenly (Jochim et al. 2014), (Jochim 2015), (Gross, DeArmond, and Denice 2015). According to the scholar of record on D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, although over time parents become quite sophisticated about education, in the beginning “…even books and guidelines are insufficient; 40% of adults in D.C. are functionally illiterate. They need people” (Stewart and Wolf 2014). It is important to acknowledge and prepare for the learning curve. Some European countries provide extensive information about the outcomes of various schools; others include parent advisors in local education offices (Bishop 2010), (Berner 2012). States may want to include funding for this role and/or to partner with philanthropies that support first-generation families navigate the choice environment. A good example is Families Empowered, currently in Houston and San Antonio (“Families Empowered: Services” 2016).
- Enable high-quality private schools to scale up. One final domain of school-choice legislation is seldom addressed by advocates and never (as of writing) by legislatures: does the enabling law encourage high-quality private schools to replicate and new private schools to open? In contrast to the charter-school legislative model, which is oriented towards the creation of strong schools, school-choice legislation has focused on providing a lifeboat for low-income students who are trapped in failing schools. Scholarship programs have thus unwittingly filled empty seats rather than encouraged new ones. Indiana, for instance, requires schools to have been accredited prior to receiving students – a significant barrier to entry. A remedy would be to enable a pre-accreditation period, with state monitoring in the interim. The cost of facilities is another barrier, which states might want to mediate by providing facilities funding for high-quality private schools to expand. This area is ripe for exploration and innovation.
The Culture of Schooling: Changing the Frame?
Given the considerable activity around policies that expand public funding for private schools, it has become increasingly important to consider the potential academic, civic, and fiscal consequences of expanding access to diverse, non-public schools. At the same time, it may be helpful to highlight a deeper question that is cultural rather than political: is the framework in which we make education-policy decisions adequate or not? The structure of American public education assigns legitimacy to district-run schools alone; alternatives, including public charters, are forced to justify themselves against this cultural norm. It is in this context, and this spirit, that we debate the consequences of scholarship programs.
Yet the prerogative of the State in delivering education does not follow inherently from democratic principles. By far the more common model of democratic school-systems is pluralistic, in which the State funds and to various degrees regulates and holds accountable, but does not necessarily manage, a diverse variety of schools. There is no evidence that such models under-perform uniform school-systems, nor is it obvious that democratic theory supports one form of schooling over another. As it is, the existence of charter schools and private-school scholarship programs are stretching our experience of “public schooling” well beyond the boundaries established by late-19th-century legislatures. In this moment, then, educational leaders would do well to assess the assumptions that rendered the district-school model compelling a hundred and twenty years ago, and to ask whether it remains so.
Akyol, Metin. 2016. “Do Educational Vouchers Reduce Inequality and Inefficiency in Education?” Economics of Education Review Economics of Education Review 55 (Q III): 149–67.
Angrist, Joshua, Eric Bettinger, Erik Bloom, Elizabeth King, and Michael Kremer. 2002. “Vouchers for Private Schooling in Colombia: Evidence from a Randomized Natural Experiment.” American Economic Review 92 (5): 1535–58. doi:10.1257/000282802762024629.
Angrist, Joshua, Eric Bettinger, and Michael Kremer. 2006. “Long-Term Educational Consequences of Secondary School Vouchers: Evidence from Administrative Records in Colombia.” The American Economic Review 96 (3): 847–62.
Aud, Susan L. 2007. “Education by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006. School Choice Issues in Depth.” Indianapolis, IN: EdChoice. http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED508498.
Bedrick, Jason. 2016. “Nevada Supreme Court: Education Savings Accounts Are Constitutional, Funding Mechanism Isn’t.” Education Next. September 30. http://educationnext.org/nevada-supreme-court-education-savings-accounts-are-constitutional-funding-mechanism-isnt/.
Berner, Ashley. 2012. “Funding Schools.” In Balancing Freedom, Autonomy, and Accountability in Education, edited by Charles Glenn and Jan De Groof, 1:115–29. Tilburg: Wolf Legal Publishers.
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 Elements of this commentary were developed with the partnership of Chiefs for Change. The Institute is grateful to Chiefs for Change for permission to use this material.
 For example, see James Coleman and Anthony Bryk on Catholic high schools (Coleman, Hoffer, and Kilgore 1982),(Bryk, Lee, and Holland 1993); William Jeynes on the religious school effect (Jeynes 2007); the Cardus studies of graduates of different school sectors (Pennings 2011), (Pennings 2014); David Campbell and Patrick Wolf on the civic outcomes of non-public schools (D. Campbell 2008), (Wolf 2007); Charles Glenn’s summary of international studies (C. Glenn 2005).
 Not all tax credit programs focus upon private school scholarships exclusively; many allow funds to flow to public schools as well.
 For more information, see (National Conference of State Legislators 2016).
 The positive outcomes are striking because, as the authors note, they occurred during the sub-optimal early years of Milwaukee’s program, during which time the program disallowed religious-school participation (i.e., 90% of private schools in the area) and thus unintentionally consigned voucher students to schools that were often fiscally and operationally constrained.
 As in the cases above, this represents the most cautious estimate of program effect.
 The authors were able to mimic an RCT setting because of over-enrollment in the voucher program; when there were more applicants than seats at the school, students were given a voucher randomly. Therefore, over-enrollment allows the authors to restrict their study to students who were eligible and wanted to obtain vouchers for the same schools, whether they received them or not.
 Superintendent of Louisiana, John White, points to state-test improvement in subsequent years as evidence of the program’s longer-term positive impact: “Conventional metrics collected by the Louisiana Department of Education show that performance among the students in Louisiana’s voucher program has considerably improved since the first year. The gap in basic proficiency on state tests between participating private schools and public schools statewide, for example, has closed from 27 percentage points in 2013 to 18 points in 2015. Were Louisiana’s private school voucher program considered a school system for purposes of analysis, it would have ranked number 9 out of 71 districts across the state in 2015 for annual improvement in the district performance score system—inclusive of test score performance, graduation rates, and other outcome metrics—used by the state to gauge overall district performance” (Dreilinger 2015), (White 2016).
 This team has conducted two surveys of the graduates at ages 24 – 39 of public, Protestant, and Catholic schools, and reported on outcomes that included educational attainment, volunteering habits, the number of close friends who differ by race and/or religion, and political involvement (Pennings 2011), (Pennings 2014). They found substantial variation in outcomes.
 Additional audits from the Milton & Rose Friedman Foundation show substantial cost savings (Spalding 2014), (Lueken 2016). As was Aud’s, these reviews were commissioned by a think tank with an ideological commitment to the school-choice movement.
 Title I funding is meant to follow low-income students to non-public schools. The process for allocating such funding, however, is onerous, and very few schools have the administrative staff to negotiate with the district in this regard (Gordon 2017).
 The following are considered fixed costs: capital expenditures, interest, general administration, school administration, operations and maintenance, transportation, and other support services.
 The following are considered variable costs: teachers’ salaries, instructional costs, nonacademic student supports, instructional staff support, materials, and food service.
 Scafidi’s analysis was funded by the Milton & Rose Friedman Foundation, which has an ideological commitment to the school-choice movement. This is not to cast doubts upon the analysis but merely to illustrate the bias of its funders.
 This research took place in an urban school district where the threat of Title I funding loss was real, and the number of possible private school placements large.
 Arizona (2011), Florida (2014), and Tennessee, Mississippi, and Nevada (2015).
 The court did require the legislature to alter the program’s funding mechanism, which it is poised to do.
 One study (Butcher and Burke 2016) analyzed the Arizona Department of Education’s data on the state’s program (enacted in 2011) and found that 83% of the ESA dollars go to private school tuition, the remainder to educational therapy, tutoring, and instructional materials.
 Boehlmark and Lindahl evaluated the program’s effect in relative terms using regional-level TIMSS data. Sweden’s absolute academic proficiency has declined since the landmark changes of 1992.
 The structure of a scholarship program is influenced by state constitutional constraints. The Institute for Justice, which has been at the forefront of school-choice legal defense, has produce a state-by-state guide (Komer 2016).
 The value of scholarship funding varies from $5,000 in Louisiana to $7,500 in Washington, D.C. to $1900 in Maryland (Shakeel, Wolf, and Anderson 2016) (Mills and Wolf 2016) (Wolf et al. 2013).
 The Children’s Scholarship Fund is one of the nation’s largest private-scholarship programs for low-income students in grades K-8 (http://www.scholarshipfund.org/about/history/).
Florida’s public schools used to administer norm-referenced assessments along side of criterion-referenced state assessments, which enabled comparability between district and private schools. The legislature de-funded this $12 million expenditure during the economic crisis of 2008 (Matus 2008). Assessment comparability would minimize the burden on participating private schools and also enable accountability.
 The Drexel Fund is the first national equivalent of a Charter School Growth Fund, seeking to support and scale-up successful private schools. Its internal audit of ,scholarship programs through the lens of innovation is the first such analysis of which the writer is aware. The Fund invests currently in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin.
 See the debate on what constitutes democratic education between, for instance, Amy Gutmann and William Galston (Gutmann 2001), (Galston 2002).
This case study provides superintendents, principals, and teachers with information on how three school systems have used an assessment developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)—the OECD Test for Schools—to monitor students’ academic outcomes and inform shifts in policy and teacher practice to meet students’ learning needs.
The OECD Test for Schools is based on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a series of tests in reading, math, and science that is given every three years to more than 500,000 fifteen-year-olds in seventy-plus countries and economies. PISA assesses how well students can apply their knowledge to real-life situations, but its sample size is too small to create actionable data for the real-world experience of superintendents, principals, and teachers to develop strategies for improving student learning outcomes.
This case study focuses on the experiences of Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia; Granger Independent School District in Texas; and University Academy charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. It explores their reasons for introducing the OECD Test for Schools; the process of implementing it; the benefits for students, teachers, and administrators; and the next steps that the school systems are taking. Read More
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By Ashley Berner, Deputy Director
Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy
American policymakers seldom view the curriculum as a serious lever for change. This is unfortunate, since national and international research finds that a challenging curriculum contributes to student learning and narrows the achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students. I examine the research record in depth in Pluralism and American Public Education: No One Way to School (released next week by Palgrave MacMillan), but here are a few examples…