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Released: May 24, 2016

Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking – Housing Policy

As part of Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking, a multipart brief that takes up a number of important policy issues, Kevin G. Welner and William J. Mathis discuss closing the opportunity gap through housing-focused policies coupled with other efforts. Welner and Mathis review five interventions: (1) school improvement policies; (2) school choice policies; (3) school desegregation policies; (4) wealth-focused policies; and (5) housing-focused policies.
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Released: May 13, 2016

Review of School Spending and Student Achievement in Michigan: What’s the Relationship?

A report released in April by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy made the claim that spending more on Michigan schools doesn’t increase achievement. The report asserted that there is little or no relationship between student achievement and marginal increases in school spending in the state. However, an academic review of the report, released today, finds that the report clashes with existing research about the positive impact of funding nationally and in Michigan.
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Released: May 4, 2016

Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking – Reading Qualitative Educational Policy Research

As part of Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking, a multipart brief that takes up a number of important policy issues, William J. Mathis provides a guide to identifying high-quality, useful qualitative studies. Mathis suggests readers ask the following questions: (1) Was the study conducted with rigor?; (2) Are the data sources appropriate for its conclusions?; (3) Was the study placed in a larger body of research?; (4) Did the study display signs of quality, such as: independent peer-review, source integrity, and absence of obvious bias?; and (5) Are the methods clearly explained?
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Think Twice Think Tank Review Project


Think Twice is one of the nation's first efforts to serve as a watchdog to review think tank research on public education issues and policies, ensuring that published work meets the quality and standards of university scholarship.

The goal of the Think Twice project is to provide the public, policy makers and the press with timely academically sound reviews of selected think tank publications.

The Think Twice project is funded by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice. The reviews that are a part of this project are expert third party reviews produced by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC).

More Think Twice Reviews

Policy Briefs


The Center funds policy briefs and reports on important education issues. Policy briefs and reports are written by recognized academic experts in each topic and include a summary of existing research available as well as policy recommendations. Briefs published in 2015 include:

Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking – Housing Policy
Kevin G. Welner and William J. Mathis, University of Colorado Boulder

As part of Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking, a multipart brief that takes up a number of important policy issues, Kevin G. Welner and William J. Mathis discuss closing the opportunity gap through housing-focused policies coupled with other efforts. Welner and Mathis review five interventions: (1) school improvement policies; (2) school choice policies; (3) school desegregation policies; (4) wealth-focused policies; and (5) housing-focused policies.

Policy Brief


Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking – Reading Qualitative Educational Policy Research
William J. Mathis, University of Colorado Boulder

As part of Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking, a multipart brief that takes up a number of important policy issues, William J. Mathis provides a guide to identifying high-quality, useful qualitative studies. Mathis suggests readers ask the following questions: (1) Was the study conducted with rigor?; (2) Are the data sources appropriate for its conclusions?; (3) Was the study placed in a larger body of research?; (4) Did the study display signs of quality, such as: independent peer-review, source integrity, and absence of obvious bias?; and (5) Are the methods clearly explained?

Policy Brief


Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking – Five Simple Steps to Reading Policy Research
Holly Yettick, Education Week Research Center

As part of Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking, a multipart brief that takes up a number of important policy issues, Holly Yettick, Ph.D. provides a single-page brief to identify tips for recognizing higher-quality research studies and making better use of education policy research. Yettick, director of the Education Week Research Center, provides five topics to improve the reading of education policy research. These topics include: (1) the importance of peer-review; (2) prioritizing research reviews over standalone studies; (3) “P values” and statistical significance; (4) effect sizes; and (5) research applicability.

Policy Brief


Virtual Schools Report 2016: Directory and Performance Review
Gary Miron, Western Michigan University and Charisse Gulosino, University of Memphis

The Virtual Schools Report 2016: Directory and Performance Review report is the fourth in an annual series of research briefs on the fast-growing U.S. virtual school sector. This year’s report provides a comprehensive directory of the nation’s full-time virtual and blended learning providers. The report finds little research has examined the inner workings of these schools. Also, the report finds that students attending these schools differ from those in traditional public schools, and the school outcomes are consistently below traditional public schools.

Research Brief



Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking – Do Choice Policies Segregate Schools?
William Mathis and Kevin Welner, University of Colorado Boulder

Despite advocates advancing the notion that integration can be promoted by increased school choice, a new brief considers the research evidence of those policies. The concise brief concludes that while choice policies may be designed and implemented in ways intended to advance integration; the result has been increased stratification. The National Education Policy Center published the brief with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Policy Brief


Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking –
The “Portfolio” Approach to School District Governance

William Mathis and Kevin Welner, University of Colorado Boulder

A new concise policy brief considers the research evidence of “portfolio” districts. According to the brief, the approach shifts decision-making away from local school district leaders. Despite concerns, the approach is now being used in several large urban districts across the country. The authors find that changing the governance structure creates a “false promise” for communities and could distract from larger efforts to address societal inequities.

Policy Brief


Holding Teacher Preparation Accountable: A Review of Claims and Evidence
Marilyn Cochran-Smith, Boston College

A new policy brief underscores the importance of using research evidence to drive teacher education policy. The brief explores four major national initiatives intended to improve teacher quality by “holding teacher education accountable” for arrangements and outcomes. Regarding evidence, three of the four initiatives (HEA regulations, CAEP accreditation, and NCTQ’s reviews) revealed thin evidence to support the claims made. More evidence was found to support the fourth initiative (edTPA), but widespread implementation and professional acceptance may be challenging to accomplish. “We conclude that for the most part, they [the initiatives] are based on both thin evidence and a thin notion of equity that does not adequately account for the complex and long-standing out-of-school factors that produce and reproduce educational inequality.”

Policy Brief


Diverse Housing, Diverse Schooling:
How Policy Can Stabilize Racial Demographic Change in Cities and Suburbs

Amy Stuart Wells, Teachers College Columbia University

Throughout history, a child’s zip code has determined their educational opportunities, due to the tight relationship between racially segregated and unequal housing and schools. Research has revealed that racial inequality in American housing and schools is sustained by an iterative relationship between intangible and tangible factors in the housing-school choice process. According to a brief by Amy Stuart Wells, Teachers College, the nation may now have the ideal opportunity to address this housing-school nexus.

Policy Brief


Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking –
Reversing the Deprofessionalization of Teaching

William Mathis and Kevin Welner, University of Colorado Boulder

As part of a series of briefs being released by the National Education Policy Center with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, William J. Mathis and Kevin Welner, University of Colorado Boulder, discuss three forces impacting teachers: (a) alternative (fast-track or no-track) teacher preparation and licensure; (b) teacher evaluation approaches that are largely focused on students’ test scores; and (c) scripted, narrow curriculum that can be constricting and demoralizing for high-quality teachers.

Policy Brief


Research-Based Options for Education Policymaking – School Accountability, Multiple Measures and Inspectorates in a Post-NCLB World
William Mathis, University of Colorado Boulder

As a part of a new series of briefs being released beginning today by the National Education Policy Center with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, William J. Mathis, University of Colorado Boulder, discusses the efficacy of three types of school evaluation approaches: (1) test based accountability; (2) multiple measures; and (3) school self-evaluations plus inspectorates.

Policy Brief


Investing in Equal Opportunity: What Would It Take to Build the Balance Wheel?
Jennifer King Rice, University of Maryland

For more than 150 years, Horace Mann’s vision of public education becoming the “balance wheel” of the social structure has been a driving force behind education policymaking in the U.S.  Mann envisioned the education system to be the one institution to address inequalities in larger society.  However, substantial disparities in educational resources, opportunities, and outcomes undermine his vision in today’s schools. A new brief, Investing in Equal Opportunity: What Would It Take to Build the Balance Wheel?, written by Jennifer King Rice, University of Maryland, investigates the elements necessary for more universal equality of opportunities.

Policy Brief


Student Mobility: Causes, Consequences, Solutions
Russell W. Rumberger, University of California, Santa Barbara

This brief explores the causes and consequences of student mobility, a widespread, and often-unheralded, problem facing American schools. According to the brief, written by Russell W. Rumberger, professor of education in the Gervirtz Graduate School of Education at the University of California Santa Barbara, student mobility can negatively impact student achievement on test scores, high school graduation prospects, and even student behavior. Multiple moves and those accompanied by family disruptions produce more severe impacts.

Policy Brief


Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2015: Politics, Performance, Policy, and Research Evidence
Alex Molnar, University of Colorado Boulder (editor)
Gary Miron, Western Michigan University
Luis Huerta, Teachers College, Columbia University
Michael Barbour, Sacred Heart University

Virtual schools are today a focal point for policymakers interested in expanding education choice and making public schools both more efficient and more technologically current. In 2013, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, released the first of a planned series of annual reports on the policy issues that virtual schools raise, the available research evidence on K-12 virtual teaching and learning, and the performance of such virtual schools. The third report on virtual education in the U.S. is being released today.

Research Brief


New Brief Examines A-F Accountability Systems
Kenneth R. Howe and Kevin Murray University of Colorado Boulder

As states adopt or revise school accountability systems, some organizations are calling for simple, easy to understand A-F grading systems. A new brief, Why School Report Cards Merit a Failing Grade, identifies substantial problems with letter grades as a measure of school quality and finds that expressing school quality in a single composite grade is flawed. Authors Ken Howe and Kevin Murray, University of Colorado Boulder, examined A-F accountability systems with respect to three kinds of validity. They find that A-F accountability systems fail to empower parents and community members to promote school improvement and may serve to alienate parents from democratic participation in the education of their children.

Policy Brief


Personalized Instruction: New Interest, Old Rhetoric, Limited Results – Time for a New Direction for Computer-mediated learning
Noel Enyedy, University of California – Los Angeles

As schools increasingly look to tech-based Personalized Instruction for use in the classroom, a new policy brief cautions that the method doesn’t always translate to clear improvements or cost savings – in large part because it lacks a clear definition. Noel Enyedy, associate professor of education and information studies at the University of California-Los Angeles, authored the brief. Enyedy cautions that without a clear definition of what Personalized Instruction is, policymakers and educators should be wary of advocacy promoting computerized instruction to an extent that oversteps the current research.

Policy Brief


Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2014: Politics, Performance, Policy, and Research Evidence
Alex Molnar, University of Colorado Boulder (editor)
Gary Miron, Western Michigan University
Luis Huerta, Teachers College, Columbia University
Jennifer King Rice, University of Maryland
Michael Barbour, Sacred Heart University

Second annual virtual schools report cautions against unchecked expansion: As virtual education has become a focal point for policymakers interested in expanding educational choices and improving the efficiency of public education, virtual schools have attracted a great deal of attention. In 2013, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, released the first of a planned series of annual reports on the policy issues that virtual schools raise, the available research evidence on K-12 virtual teaching and learning, and the performance of such virtual schools. The second report on virtual education in the U.S. is released today.

Research Brief


Does Class Size Matter?
Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, Northwestern University

In a new policy brief, professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach points out that class size reduction is an important determinant of student outcomes, one that can be directly determined by policy. Schanzenbach indicates that the evidence suggests that increasing class size will not only harm children's test scores in the short run, but also their long-run human capital formation. "Money saved today by increasing class sizes will result in more substantial social and educational costs in the future." Furthermore, Schanzenbach finds that the pay-off from class-size reduction is greater for low-income and minority children. Increases to class-size for those populations will likely be harmful.

Policy Brief


Data-driven Improvement and Accountability
Andy Hargreaves, Boston College
Henry Braun, Boston College

In a report released today, Andy Hargreaves and Henry Braun of Boston College describe how data-driven accountability initiatives have created "perverse" incentives for educators. The legislative brief highlights the flawed use of DDIA in much, though not all, of the U.S. education system. To restore focus on improvement, schools should consider systematic reforms that capture the full range of learning and assess educational values holistically, instead of relying on narrow metrics to define success that punish teachers and students. The brief includes twelve recommendations for establishing more effective systems and processes of Data-Driven or Evidence-Informed Improvement and Accountability. Model legislation by attorney Kathy Gebhardt accompanies Data-Driven Improvement and Accountability.

Legislative Brief
Model Legislation


Financing Online Education & Virtual Schooling: A Guide for Policymakers & Advocates

School Finance 2.0: Flexible Financing for a Virtual World
Bruce D. Baker, Rutgers University
Justin Bathon, University of Kentucky

How much do online schools cost? A new brief investigates the funding of online education and virtual schools and provides a new, unified conceptual approach to funding online education. As supplemental online education and full-time virtual schools become more prominent in education, policymakers must address the key challenge of determining a fair and effective way to allocate funds for these institutions. Policymakers should develop new funding formulas based on the actual costs of operating virtual schools and link funding to accountability so cost-effectiveness can be determined. Bruce Baker of Rutgers University and Justin Bathon of the University of Kentucky provide tenets of a reformed online school financing system, designed to serve as a practical guide for state and local subsidies. Model legislation, based on their recommendations, is also provided.

Legislative Brief
Model Legislation


Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2013: Politics, Performance, Policy, and Research Evidence
Alex Molnar, University of Colorado Boulder (editor)
Gary Miron, Western Michigan University
Luis Huerta, Teachers College, Columbia University
Jennifer King Rice, University of Maryland
Larry Cuban, Stanford University

Major virtual schools report uncovers underperforming schools: In the last decade, virtual schools have expanded rapidly although there is little data to support their growth. The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, released the first of a planned series of annual reports on the performance of virtual schools, the policy issues that virtual schools raise, and the available research evidence on virtual education. Authors urge policymakers to slow or stop the growth of these schools until more research is done and accountability measures can be put into place.

Policy Brief


What Does It Take to Scale Up Innovations? An Examination of Teach For America, Harlem Children's Zone, and the Knowledge is Power Program
Ben Levin, University of Toronto

What Does It Take to Scale Up Innovations? A new brief investigates whether innovations are scalable and able to make a difference widely, using three commonly proposed innovations as examples. Ben Levin, University of Toronto, analyzes Teach For America (TFA), KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), and the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ), which has already spawned the U.S. Department of Education's Promise Neighborhoods program. Levin determined that there are barriers and opportunities to the scalability of these programs. The brief cautions policymakers to avoid the temptation of proclaiming small-scale innovative programs as solutions to large-scale problems in education.

Policy Brief


Policy Reforms and De-Professionalization of Teaching
H. Richard Milner IV, Vanderbilt University

Policies Undermining Teacher Professionalism

Policy brief finds three education policies, now in vogue, have the likely effect of de-professionalizing teachers and teaching: At the same time that public opinion polls show strong support for teaching as a profession, America's teachers increasingly feel that teaching is being de-professionalized. The brief, written by Richard Milner of Vanderbilt University, addresses the impact of three of today's most trendy education polices, (1) policies that evaluate teachers based on annual gains in students' standardized test scores, (2) fast-track teacher preparation and licensure programs, and (3) the use of narrowly focused curricula. This new brief concludes that those three polices have the likely effect of de-professionalizing teachers and teaching.

Policy Brief


Democracy Left Behind: How Recent Education Reforms Undermine Local School Governance and Democratic Education
Kenneth Howe, University of Colorado-Boulder
David Meens, University of Colorado- Boulder

Kenneth Howe and David Meens, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, examine the suppression of local control by policymakers and what it means for our democracy. A new report presents a comprehensive review of research on two key elements—democratic policymaking and democratic education. The evidence surveyed in this report suggests that contemporary reforms "run afoul of democratic principles in several critical ways."

Policy Brief


School Turnarounds
Legislative Brief: Tina Trujillo, Michelle Renée
Model Legislation: Tara Kini

School Improvement Grant program in need of reform. A new brief by Tina Truillo of the University of California at Berkeley and Michelle Renée of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University finds that standardized test scores are not a reliable measure for student growth and are even more problematic as a measure of whether a turnaround was successful or not, because test scores ignore social, civic and broader academic aspects of schooling. Model legislation accompanies this brief to create state-level school improvements that foster equitable, democratic, and sustainable school turnarounds in priority schools.

Legislative Brief
Model Legislation


More Policy Briefs