Funding, Grants & Awards

Researchers Get Big Grant To Study School Vouchers and More

A three-year, million-dollar research initiative in Indiana will explore the impact of that state's decision to fund public, private and charter educational options for its K-12 students. Indiana's school choice program is one of the largest in the country, according to Mark Berends, who will be leading the research.

Berends is the director of the Center for Research on Educational Opportunity (CREO) at the University of Notre Dame. CREO conducts basic and applied research on schools and the learning process, with special attention given to "less privileged" students and Catholic schools. The research is being funded by a grant from Chicago-based Spencer Foundation, which invests in research to improve education around the world.

Since all students across the state take the same standardized assessments, Berends and his team will tap data from six years of longitudinal, student-level demographic and test score records to explore areas such as:

  • What effect Indiana Choice Scholarship vouchers have on student achievement gains and the schools these students attend. This voucher program helps families offset tuition at private schools, almost all of which are religious schools;
  • What student achievement gains look like for Indiana charter schools, which have doubled in number over the past five years;
  • Whether vouchers and charter schools show greater impact for some groups of students than for others. The question here is how racial and ethnic and socioeconomic achievement gaps may be affected; and
  • How charter, private and traditional public schools compare in terms of organizational and instructional conditions for areas such as leadership, professional development, funding, learning climate and parent involvement.

"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 policymakers but educators in all types of schools," said Berends in a prepared statement.

Berends is no stranger to this kind of research. His group has worked with the Michigan Department of Education to scrutinize variation in 40 charter school authorizers in that state to understand student achievement and whether there might be metrics developed to monitor the progress of charter authorizers for improving student outcomes. He has also led research on teacher effectiveness in public, charter and private schools.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.