Search Funded Research Grants and Contracts



Topics: Innovation in Education Reform & State and Local Education Policy

Co-Principal Investigators: Katrina Bulkley (Montclair State University), Joshua Cowen (Michigan State University), Jane Lincove (University of Maryland at Baltimore County), Julie Marsh (University of Southern California), Andrew McEachin (RAND), Amy Ellen Schwartz (Syracuse University), Marc Stein (Johns Hopkins University), Katharine Strunk (Michigan State University), and Jon Valant (Brookings Institution)

Purpose: Across the U.S., many students have opportunities to attend schools other than their own traditional neighborhood public schools. These opportunities are commonly referred to as “school choice” and include such practices as open enrollment (both intra- and inter-district), magnet schools, charter schools including virtual schools, and public financial supports for attending private schools (e.g., vouchers, tax credit funded scholarships, education savings accounts, personal tax credits and deductions). Forty-three states have laws allowing and funding charter schools, and another 26 states have voucher or tuition tax credit policies.

To date, the evidence on the effects of various choice programs on student education outcomes is mixed, raising questions about whether current choice options can make a major contribution to the improvement of education outcomes for disadvantaged students. The National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH Center) will develop and carry out the next generation of research on how states and school districts may implement or revise their school choice programs and policies in ways that improve outcomes for disadvantaged students, including low-income, underrepresented minority, special education, and English Language Learner (ELL) students.

Research Projects: The REACH Center will complete two central activities, carrying out a set of 34 studies and developing the National Longitudinal School Choice Database (NLSCD). Through a set of 34 studies (quantitative and qualitative), they will examine five types of state and district policies regarding school choice to identify how these policies can be structured to improve the education received by disadvantaged students. These five “policy levers”, identified through theory and past empirical work, are:

  • Planning and oversight: including charter school application and authorization processes, school openings and closures, and school regulation and accountability
  • Transportation: including access to and form of transportation to school, distance and commuting times
  • Enrollment systems: including centralized enrollment systems, the use of priority categories in lotteries, inter-district choice regulation
  • Information: including low- and high-cost approaches to informing families about school choice opportunities and the application process
  • Teacher: including teacher supply, distribution, turnover by type of school and the role of collective bargaining

In addition, the REACH Center will examine a related set of issues including the extensiveness of school choice in a district, student sorting, virtual charters, and students with disabilities.

The quantitative studies under each policy lever and the related issues range from descriptive to experimental studies. They will be complemented by a qualitative study to further examine issues and gaps in understanding for each lever. The studies will be carried out at the national, state, and district level. At the state level, research will be done in Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, and Oregon. Additional research at the district level will be carried in Baltimore, Denver, New Orleans, New York City, and Washington, DC.

Concurrently, the REACH Center will develop the National Longitudinal School Choice Database (NLSCD). The NLCSD will contain a 15-year near-census of all traditional public, magnet, charter, private, and virtual schools in the U.S including measures of each school’s quality (e.g., achievement growth, graduation rates, parent reviews), school type (e.g., academic themes, curricula, school climate), and relevant state and local policies.

Leadership and Dissemination Activities: The REACH Center will provide leadership and outreach to practitioners, policymakers, and researchers on the issue of school choice. Through its National Policy Advisory Board, composed of education associations representing both traditional and choice schools as well as other stakeholders, the REACH Center will obtain comments from the field on its research agenda, interpretation of findings, and dissemination strategies. The REACH Center will host a series of conferences and use a variety of forums to share its findings and interact with policymakers, practitioners, and researchers (e.g., policy briefs, videos, blogs, op-eds, social media, and e-newsletters). Finally, the Center will create and release a public-use version of the NLSCD.

Project website:

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