May 7, 2007




Policy makers urged not to use RAND and Harvard studies as basis for decision making about school restructuring


Contact: Teri Battaglieri (517) 203-2940 (email)

                Derek Briggs (303) 492-6320 (email) Derek.Briggs@Colorado.EDU


EAST LANSING, Mich. – Two recent studies examining the restructuring of the lowest-achieving public schools in Philadelphia reach different conclusions about whether private management has improved student achievement.  Because similar restructuring reform is promoted by the federal No Child Left Behind law, these studies have important national implications. Both studies have flaws, however, and neither study is yet sufficient to make definitive claims about the effects of Philadelphia’s school restructuring reform.


The two reports reviewed are State Takeover, School Restructuring, Private Management, and Student Achievement in Philadelphia released by the RAND Corporation in partnership with Research for Action (RFA); and School Reform in Philadelphia: A Comparison of Student Achievement at Privately-Managed Schools with Student Achievement in Other District Schools published by the Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) at Harvard University.


The reports were reviewed for the Think Twice think tank review project by Derek Briggs, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.


Both reports attempt to assess the impact of a school reform in Philadelphia. Starting in 2002, the city’s school district restructured its 86 lowest-achieving elementary and middle schools. The most prominent approaches shifted school management to either the district or to one of several private companies. The reports examine the impact of private or district management on student achievement in math and reading.


The RAND-RFA paper concludes that private management had no impact on math or reading achievement, while district management had a positive effect on math achievement but none on reading. The PEPG paper, meanwhile, reached virtually the opposite conclusion. It found private management has had a positive effect on the performance of lower-scoring students in math and reading, while district management had no measurable effect.


In his review, Briggs indicates that the different findings can largely be explained by the fact that PEPG did not have the same access to data as did RAND-RFA. He also identifies and describes the methodological weaknesses in both reports.


Briggs concludes: “These two studies, read together, do contribute to our understanding of Philadelphia’s experience.  Yet, although the RAND-RFA study sheds more light on that experience than does the PEPG study, neither study offers a complete picture, and more research is needed before drawing any definitive conclusions.”


Find the complete review by Derek Briggs as well as links to the PEPG and RAND-RFA reports on the web at:


About Think Twice

The Think Twice project provides the public, policy makers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected think tank publications. It is a collaboration of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University and the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and is funded by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.


Kevin Welner, the project co-director and editor, explains that the project is needed because “despite their garnering of media attention and their influence with many policy makers, reports released by private think tanks can be of very poor quality. We don’t consider our reviews to be the final word, nor is our goal to stop think tanks’ contributions to a public dialogue. That dialogue is, in fact, what we value the most. The best ideas come about through rigorous critique and debate.”


The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to identify, develop, support, publish and widely disseminate empirically sound research on education policy and practices designed to improve the quality of public education for all students within the Great Lakes Region. 

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