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Thurston Domina among researchers to study school choice as part of $10 million Department of Education grant

Thurston “Thad” Domina, associate professor of educational policy and sociology, is part of a research team awarded a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to study how different approaches to school choice can help disadvantaged students.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences awarded the five-year, $10 million grant to Tulane University to establish the first national research center to study how voucher programs, charter schools and other perspectives on school choice can better serve disadvantaged students. The National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH) will be housed at Tulane University.

“We designed REACH to answer one big question: How can we improve policy and implementation to make school choice deliver on its promise of raising outcomes and increasing opportunities for disadvantaged students?” said Douglas Harris, professor of economics and Schleider Foundation Chair in Public Education at Tulane.

The National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH) will include leading school-choice researchers from more than 10 universities and organizations across the country, including UNC-Chapel Hill, the Brookings Institution, Florida State University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of California-Irvine.

“I’m so excited to be a part of this IES-funded center to study educational choice processes and their effects,” Domina said. “The center will bring an interdisciplinary group of leading scholars from across the country together with a diverse group of educational practitioners to better understand the potential and pitfalls of school choice in the contemporary U.S.”

Domina said he is looking forward to working with his colleagues to shed light on a growing and largely unexplored area of the contemporary school landscape — online charter schools.

“The work that we’re going to do in this project builds on a long-running effort of mine to link state and local educational administrative data with the rich data housed at the United States Census,” he said. “Making these data linkages allows us to get a far richer look at students’ family contexts and their relation to educational choices and outcomes than is possible using traditional data. In this case, we’re linking data from the Oregon Department of Education with the U.S. Census to better understand who chooses to enroll in online, virtual charter schools, and then to investigate how that educational choice relates to these students’ outcomes later in life.”

REACH researchers will focus on how school choice is working for minority, low-income, English-language learners and special education students, as well as other disadvantaged students. REACH will track student outcomes and other metrics in essentially every school and every state.

Researchers say five key policy areas — transportation, communication strategies, enrollment systems, oversight and teacher supply — are most likely to drive the success of choice policies.

The center will receive input from a National Policy Advisory Board representing public, private, charter and virtual schools across the country. Members include the Council of Chief State School Officers, Council for Exceptional Children, National Association of Public Charter Schools, National Association of Charter School Authorizers, National Association of Independent Schools, National School Boards Association, Great Schools, Public Impact and The Shanker Institute.

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By Michael Hobbs