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Maxwell’s Schwartz and team secure DOE grant to study school choice

July 17, 2018

Amy Ellen Schwartz

Amy Ellen Schwartz

The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences has awarded a five-year, $10 million grant to establish the first national research center to study how different approaches to school choice, such as voucher programs and charter schools, can better serve disadvantaged students.

The National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH) will be housed at Tulane University and led by scholars from around the country, including Douglas Harris of Tulane; Joshua Cowen and Katharine Strunk of Michigan State University; Julie Marsh of the University of Southern California; and from Syracuse University, Amy Ellen Schwartz, who is the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Chair of Public Affairs and Senior Researcher at the Center for Policy Research at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

“REACH brings together organizations that represent a range of perspectives on school choice, but share the belief that objective, rigorous evidence is important for evaluating programs and making policy decisions,” said Schwartz, an economist whose teaching and research at the Maxwell School focuses on the intersection of economics, education, health and public policy. “This excellent team offers an exciting opportunity to make real progress in reducing achievement gaps for disadvantaged students by identifying ways to increase access to high-quality education.”

Harris, professor of economics and Schleider Foundation Chair in Public Education at Tulane, explains, “We designed REACH to answer one big question: How can we improve policy and implementation to make school choice deliver on its promise of raising outcomes and increasing opportunities for disadvantaged students?” 

Most states have charter school systems, and more than half have voucher or tuition tax-credit policies that allow students to use public funds to attend private schools. School choice programs have delivered some notable successes in cities like Boston, New York and New Orleans but have not succeeded everywhere, said Cowen, an associate professor of education policy at Michigan State.

“Policymakers need a better understanding of which choice systems work, who they help—and why they’re effective,” Cowen said.

The center is funded exclusively by the Institute of Education Sciences. REACH also includes researchers and policy experts from: the Brookings Institution; Florida State University; Johns Hopkins University; Montclair State University; RAND Corp.; Temple University; University of California-Irvine; University of Maryland, Baltimore County; University of North Carolina; and University of Texas.

Researchers will focus on how school choice is working for minority, low-income, English-language learner and special education students, as well as other disadvantaged students. REACH will track student outcomes and other metrics in essentially every school and every state.

Researchers say five key policy areas—transportation, communication strategies, enrollment systems, oversight and teacher supply—are most likely to drive the success of choice policies. Investigators will study these policies in depth in Louisiana, Michigan, Florida, Oregon, Denver, New Orleans, New York City and Washington, D.C. 

“One strength of REACH is that we will use a wide range of methods to deepen our understandings of how choice schools affect students,” said Strunk, a professor and the Clifford E. Erickson Distinguished Chair in education at Michigan State. 

“This approach will help us gain insight into not only policy design but also implementation,” said Marsh, an associate professor of education at the University of Southern California. 

The center will receive input from a National Policy Advisory Board representing public, private, charter and virtual schools across the country. Members include the Council of Chief State School Officers, Council for Exceptional Children, National Association of Public Charter Schools, National Association of Charter School Authorizers, National Association of Independent Schools, National School Boards Association, Great Schools, Public Impact and The Shanker Institute.


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