As parents, practitioners, and policymakers continue to focus on critical educational issues and the best school options for children, Mathematica is pleased to announce its deepened partnership with the U.S. Department of Education in evaluating strategies for education improvement implemented at state and local levels.
Specifically, our work will consider the following:
1. Do Magnet Schools Work? Design and Feasibility of an Impact Study
Magnet schools—public schools of choice that operate within traditional school districts and emphasize a curricular theme or instructional approach—have been promoted by school districts as important for nurturing and boosting student achievement and promoting diversity. Mathematica will design and assess the feasibility of conducting an impact study focused on learning about magnet school effects and the features of magnet schools that are associated with successful student outcomes. Mathematica will collect information on how magnet schools recruit and admit students and, if feasible, conduct an impact evaluation using school lotteries to compare outcomes of students who win a spot in a magnet school through a lottery with those that do not.
2. The Impact of Switching from Self-Contained to Departmentalized Instruction in Elementary Schools
Elementary school instruction has traditionally been modeled on self-contained instruction; each teacher teaches all subjects to one classroom of students. In recent years, more U.S. elementary schools have begun to switch to the instructional approach common in middle and high schools, in which teachers specialize in teaching specific subjects to multiple classes of students. This departmentalized approach enables teachers to focus on instruction solely aligned with their subject-matter strengths, such as reading or mathematics. Mathematica will study the impact switching to departmentalized instruction has on student achievement and instructional quality in the upper elementary grades.
3. The Progress of Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
IDEA has been a pillar of civil rights legislation; the act guarantees all children with disabilities a free appropriate public education and authorizes funding to help states, districts, and schools meet their diverse learning needs. Mathematica will undertake a comprehensive examination of IDEA, investigating several facets of the law, including how state and local agencies identify students for special services, the policies and types of programs that have been designed for academic and behavioral support, and the reliance on research-based evidence given the focus on student achievement and evidence-based practices required under the Every Students Succeeds Act. Mathematica will also explore external environment issues—such as funding and resource allocation for special education, the rise in choice initiatives, and technical innovations in instruction— to assess how they have affected the delivery of services to children and youth with disabilities under IDEA.
4. Feasibility of an Impact Evaluation of Paraprofessional Reading Tutors
Paraprofessionals—aides to classroom teachers—commonly provide supplemental individual instruction to high need students. But little research exists on whether paraprofessionals improve student outcomes and how best to train them for their roles. Mathematica will study the feasibility of conducting an impact evaluation of paraprofessionals as reading tutors. We will consider and assess different evaluation designs to determine the policy-relevant aspects of paraprofessional training programs conducive for evaluation, the outcomes of greatest importance to examine, and the most credible measures to capture the outcomes.
5. Feasibility of an Impact Evaluation of the Promise Neighborhoods Program
Placed-based initiatives—efforts to coordinate various long-term support services in localized areas—are increasingly being used as a potential solution for improving the educational outcomes of children in distressed neighborhoods. One such initiative is the U.S. Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods placed-based program. Modelled on the notable Harlem Children’s Zone project, organizations in more than 50 neighborhoods across the United States have received Promise Neighborhoods grants. Grantees coordinate a mix of support services ranging from pre-K to pre-college preparation to community and family programs designed to improve general well-being. Despite the growth of these programs, evidence of their effectiveness is sparse. Mathematica will explore the most policy-relevant questions that can be answered in a national impact study of the Promise Neighborhoods program and lay out the design options for carrying out such a study.
6. Peer Review for the Institute of Education Sciences' Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs)
RELs use evidence-based research to improve teaching, learning, and school leadership. They conduct applied research, summarize and disseminate findings from high quality studies, and provide training and support for applying research to education improvement. Extending our relationship with RELs—including oversight of the Mid-Atlantic REL—Mathematica will continue to lead peer review and research assessment for all 10 REL centers throughout the United States. The scope of our work will include technical and peer review of applied research activities and reports, as well as proposals for descriptive data analyses, technical assistance, systematic reviews, and impact evaluations. We will also conduct special studies on topics or methodological issues relevant to RELs.
7. Providing Technical Assistance to Teacher Quality Programs
Increasing the number of highly effective teachers and principals is a focus of federal education policy. Mathematica is part of a team of organizations running a technical assistance center to support states, districts, institutes of higher education, and other organizations that received U.S. Department of Education grants to improve teacher and principal effectiveness. The programs include the Teacher Incentive Fund, Teacher and School Leader Incentive Program, Supporting Effective Educator Development Grant Program, and Teacher Quality Partnership Program. Mathematica supports grantees in implementing their programs through a variety of activities, such as providing one-on-one assistance, facilitating communities of practice, conducting webinars, and developing publications on topics related to effective design and evaluation. We are also leading the analysis of annual performance reports for the grant programs.