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$1 Million Grant to Help Sociologist Research School Choice in Indiana

Author: Bill Schmitt

Mark Berends Mark Berends

Indiana’s school choice program is one of the largest in the United States. Until now, little has been known about how this initiative to increase parents’ educational options for their children is affecting either the schools or the students.

A Notre Dame sociologist will now get to examine a range of those effects, thanks to a $1 million grant from The Spencer Foundation. The award will fund a three-year study by the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Research on Educational Opportunity (CREO) in a ground-breaking initiative with data allowing for comparisons among traditional public, charter, and private schools.

Support from the Chicago-based Spencer Foundation, which invests in research to improve education around the world, totals $999,024 and will allow CREO director Mark Berends, a sociologist of education, to ask questions central to the merits of such a school choice program. The questions include:

  • What impact do the Indiana Choice Scholarship vouchers, which allow more students to attend private schools, have on student achievement gains and the schools these students attend?
  • How do Indiana charter schools, which have doubled in number over nearly five years, affect student achievement gains?
  • Are the impacts from vouchers and charter schools greater for some groups of students than for others, thus influencing the racial/ethnic and socioeconomic achievement gaps observed among many students?
  • Compared with traditional public schools, how are charter and private schools different in terms of their organizational and instructional conditions (e.g., school leadership, professional development, funding, learning climate, and parental involvement)?
  • Students in Indiana’s public, charter, and private schools all take the same standardized assessment tests, so the data from the state’s Department of Education creates a unique opportunity for broad, meaningful comparisons of student achievement levels.

“Our hope with this grant is to better understand the conditions under which schools are effective—or not—in improving student outcomes.  What we learn will help not only policy makers but educators in all types of schools,” said Berends, a fellow of the Institute for Educational Initiatives.

Collecting additional survey data from schools and teachers will allow Berends and his CREO colleagues to delve more deeply into the particular school conditions under which different voucher and charter school impacts may occur.

The Spencer Foundation, established in 1962, makes grants dedicated to research deemed necessary in order to improve education.

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