School Improvement & Redesign

The evaluation of new models, policies, and programs has the potential to inform and improve the future of education. Since there is so much potential for impact, CEPR is engaging the best minds in social science to learn what’s working and what’s not in our schools. We are evaluating new instructional delivery models, new ways of using data and evaluating school outcomes, and the impact of introducing new standards on teachers and students.

DreamBox Learning Achievement Growth

An impact study on the use of DreamBox Learning software on student achievement in the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) and the Rocketship Education charter school network.

Proving Ground

Proving Ground is an initiative committed to helping education agencies meet their practical needs, by making evidence cheaper, faster, and easier to use. Our goal is to make evidence-gathering and evidence-use an intuitive part of how education agencies conduct their daily work.

Strategic Data Project

Since 2008, the Strategic Data Project (SDP) has partnered with school districts, charter school networks, state education agencies, and nonprofit organizations to bring high-quality research methods and data analysis to bear on strategic management and policy decisions.

Teaching Higher: Educators’ Perspectives on Common Core Implementation

Now that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has resolved the struggle over the federal role in education, leaders in the remaining Common Core states can refocus attention on the standards, the assessments, and the supports teachers and students need to succeed on them. To inform those efforts, the Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) at Harvard University surveyed a representative sample of teachers in five states (Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Nevada) as they prepared their students to take the new Common Core-aligned assessments in the spring of 2015.

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Marguerite Roza

Marguerite Roza

SDP Fellowship Faculty Advisor
Senior Research Affiliate; Director
Center on Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington; Edunomics Lab, Georgetown University
Kane, T. J. (2016). Let the Numbers Have Their Say: Evidence on Massachusetts' Charter Schools . Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University.Abstract

In Massachusetts, the charter school debate has centered on four concerns:

  • that the achievement of the high-scoring charter schools is due to selective admission and retention policies and not the education that the charter schools provide,
  • that charter schools are underserving English language learners and special education students,
  • that charter schools are disciplining students at higher rates in order to drive troublesome students back to traditional schools, and
  • that charter schools are undermining traditional public schools financially.

This report summarizes the evidence pertaining to these four concerns.

West, M. R., Morton, B. A., & Herlihy, C. M. (2016). Achievement Network’s Investing in Innovation Expansion: Impacts on Educator Practice and Student Achievement.Abstract

Achievement Network (ANet) was founded in 2005 as a school-level intervention to support the use of academic content standards and assessments to improve teaching and learning. Initially developed within the Boston charter school sector, it has expanded to serve over 500 schools in nine geographic networks across the United States. The program is based on the belief that if teachers are provided with timely data on student performance from interim assessments tied to state standards, if school leaders provide support and create structures that help them use that data to identify student weaknesses, and if teachers have knowledge of how to improve the performance of students who are falling behind, then they will become more effective at identifying and addressing gaps in student learning. This will, in turn, improve student performance, particularly for high-need students.

In 2010, ANet received a development grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) Program. The grant funded both the expansion of the program to serve up to 60 additional schools in five school districts, as well as an external evaluation of the expansion. The Center for Education Policy Research (CEPR) at Harvard University partnered with ANet to design a matched-pair, school-randomized evaluation of their program’s impact on educator practice and student achievement in schools participating in its i3-funded expansion.

(2015). Changing the Culture of Data Use in Delaware:How State Leaders Used Analytics to Create Education Policies That Matter . Strategic Data Project.Abstract

This case illustrates how the work of leaders and analysts in the Delaware Department of Education (DDOE) and the agency’s partnership with the Strategic Data Project (SDP), a program of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University, created momentum for statewide policy change.  By exploring Delaware leaders’ use of data and analytics to challenge assumptions and inform the development of better policies and practices, the case illustrates the importance of leadership, analytic and technical competency, and strategic partnerships when leading education reform.  The case specifically highlights the power of human capital analytics to diagnose the current status of Delaware’s educator pipeline, from preparation through development and retention, and how effectively communicating with these analyses built coalitions of support and drove a culture of data use at both the state and district level.
Download the case study [SDP website]

West, M. R., Kraft, M. A., Finn, A. S., Duckworth, A. L., Gabrieli, C. F. O., & Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2014). Promise and Paradox: Measuring Students' Non-cognitive Skills and the Impact of Schooling.Abstract

The authors used self-report surveys to gather information on a broad set of non-cognitive skills from 1,368 eighth-grade students attending Boston Public Schools and linked this information to administrative data on their demographics and test scores. At the student level, scales measuring conscientiousness, self-control, grit, and growth mindset are positively correlated with attendance, behavior, and test-score gains between fourth- and eighth-grade. Conscientiousness, self-control, and grit are unrelated to test-score gains at the school level, however, and students attending over-subscribed charter schools with higher average test-score gains score lower on these scales than do students attending district schools. Exploiting charter school admissions lotteries, the authors replicate previous findings indicating positive impacts of charter school attendance on math achievement, but find negative impacts on these non-cognitive skills. The authors provide suggestive evidence that these paradoxical results are driven by reference bias, or the tendency for survey responses to be influenced by social context. The results therefore highlight the importance of improved measurement of non-cognitive skills in order to capitalize on their promise as a tool to inform education practice and policy.

(2013). SDP Toolkit for Effective Data Use . Strategic Data Project. Learn more and download [SDP website]Abstract

The SDP Toolkit for Effective Data Use is a resource guide for education agency analysts who collect and analyze data on student achievement. Completing the toolkit produces a set of basic, yet essential, human capital and college-going analyses that every education agency should have as a foundation to inform strategic management and policy decisions.

Papay, J., West, M., Fullerton, J., & Kane, T. (2011). Does Practice-Based Teacher Preparation Increase Student Achievement? Early Evidence from the Boston Teacher Residency.Abstract

Center researchers John Papay, Martin West, Jon Fullerton, and Thomas Kane investigate the effectiveness of the Boston Teacher Residency (BTR) in their working paper Does Practice-Based Teacher Preparation Increase Student Achievement? Early Evidence from the Boston Teacher Residency.  BTR is an innovative practice-based preparation program in which candidates work alongside a mentor teacher for a year before becoming a teacher of record in Boston Public Schools.

Angrist, J. D., Cohodes, S. R., Dynarski, S. M., Fullerton, J. B., Kane, T. J., Pathak, P. A., & Walters, C. R. (2011). Student Achievement in Massachusetts' Charter Schools.Abstract

Researchers from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, MIT, and the University of Michigan have released the results of a new study that suggests that urban charter schools in Massachusetts have large positive effects on student achievement at both the middle and high school levels. Results for nonurban charter schools were less clear; some analyses indicated positive effects on student achievement at the high school level, while results for middle school students were much less encouraging.

View the Press Release

View the PowerPoint Presentation

Kane, T. J., Taylor, E., Tyler, J., & Wooten, A. (2011). Identifying Effective Classroom Practices Using Student Achievement Data. The Journal of Human Resources , 46 (3), 587-613.Abstract

This paper combines information from classroom-based observations and measures of teachers’ ability to improve student achievement as a step toward addressing the challenge of identifying effective teachers and teaching practices. The authors find that classroom-based measures of teaching effectiveness are related in substantial ways to student achievement growth. The authors conclude that the results point to the promise of teacher evaluation systems that would use information from both classroom observations and student test scores to identify effective teachers. Information on the types of practices that are most effective at raising achievement is also highlighted.

Abdulkadiroglu, A., Angrist, J., Cohodes, S., Dynarski, S., Fullerton, J., Kane, T., & Pathak, P. (2009). Informing the Debate: Comparing Boston's Charter, Pilot, and Traditional Schools.Abstract

Whether using the randomized lotteries or statistical controls for measured background characteristics, we generally find large positive effects for Charter Schools, at both the middle school and high school levels. For each year of attendance in middle school, we estimate that Charter Schools raise student achievement .09 to .17 standard deviations in English Language Arts and .18 to .54 standard deviations in math relative to those attending traditional schools in the Boston Public Schools. The estimated impact on math achievement for Charter middle schools is extraordinarily large. Increasing performance by .5 standard deviations is the same as moving from the 50th to the 69th percentile in student performance. This is roughly half the size of the blackwhite achievement gap. In high school, the estimated gains are somewhat smaller than in middle school: .16 to .19 standard deviations in English Language Arts; .16 to .19 in mathematics; .2 to .28 in writing topic development; and .13 to .17 in writing composition with the lottery-based results. The estimated impacts of middle schools and high school Charters are similar in both the “observational” and “lottery-based” results.

Research to Practice

June 9, 2016

Findings from the National Center for Research in Policy and Practice (NCRPP) survey, and how it can help education leaders and researchers create more of an impact, are discussed in the following HGSE Usable Knowledge blog post. Read more about Research to Practice

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2017 Jul 10

SDP Institute for Leadership in Analytics

Jul 10 (All day) to Jul 14 (All day)


Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

The SDP Institute for Leadership in Analytics is a five-day data workshop at Harvard University for education analysts and system leaders who want to leverage data to inform decision making and improve student achievement. The curriculum provides a foundation or refresher course on problem analysis, technical methods, program evaluation, and data visualization and communication techniques. Hands-on activities, including computer lab sessions, demonstrate how to gain key insights around priority topics such as teacher effectiveness or college-going success. Participants need not be an expert in statistical programming, though a basic understanding is recommended.
Learn more on the SDP Website

2017 Aug 07

Online Course: Using Research to Inform Decisions

Aug 07 (All day) to Aug 20 (All day)



Using Research to Inform Decisions will guide you in how to find and evaluate pertinent research, with a constant eye toward how such research can be used to inform various school- and district-level decisions. The workshop provides an overview of how practitioners use research and offers several simple tools to help you find the study you need. You will also learn strategies and structures that help foster an environment where research truly informs decision-making. Read more about Online Course: Using Research to Inform Decisions

Kane, T. J. (2016). Askwith Forum – Teaching Higher: Educators’ Perspectives on Common Core Implementation.Abstract

With the debate over the federal role in education at rest with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), it is time to refocus attention on how to help the states move forward and succeed using the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In this Askwith Forum, Professor Thomas Kane will share findings about CCSS implementation strategies from the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University. This will be followed by a panel of educators, who will share their experiences, pain points, and successes with the CCSS over this past year.

Learn more about Teaching Higher.