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Ed. Dept. Launches National School Choice Research Center in New Orleans

Douglas Harris, the New Orleans-based researcher who has tracked the city's burgeoning charter and school choice sector in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, has been tapped to lead a new federal research and development center on school choice programs.

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The Institute of Education Sciences today announced a $10 million, five-year grant to create the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice, or REACH, at Tulane University, where Harris directs the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans. The group has found positive effects for the Big Easy's highly controversial transformation to a mostly charter school district in the years since the 2005 hurricane.   

School Choice 'Census'

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has had few wins in her push to boost school choice nationwide, but the research center could provide a significantly better picture of the field. The REACH center is expected to develop a "National Longitudinal School Choice Database," a 15-year "near census" of U.S. public, magnet, charter, private, and virtual schools which reads a little like an expanded school ratings site, including:

  • Contexts, such as curriculum, academic theme, and school climate data
  • Quality measures, such as student academic growth, graduation rates, and parent reviews; and
  • Policies at the state and local levels that affect the school.

Research on 'Policy Levers'

The center also plans to conduct 34 studies on five different policy areas associated with school choice initiatives: planning and oversight, transportation issues, enrollment systems, teacher issues, and ways to provide information to parents. The research will look at policies in Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, and Oregon, as well as in Baltimore, Denver, New Orleans, New York City, and the District of Columbia.

Researchers from across the country will join REACH as co-investigators, including Katrina Bulkley of Montclair State University, Joshua Cowen of Michigan State University, Jane Lincove of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, Julie Marsh of the University of Southern California, Andrew McEachin of RAND, Amy Ellen Schwartz of Syracuse University, Marc Stein of Johns Hopkins University, Katharine Strunk of Michigan State, and Jon Valant of the Brookings Institution.

The center will be part of the research agency's network of research and development centers focused on areas such as assessment or longitudinal education data; IES previously funded a center on school choice at Vanderbilt University.

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