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MSU Education Policy Innovation Collaborative to Launch National School Choice Research Center

Katharine Strunk and Joshua Cowen

Michigan State University is part of a new national research center on school choice policy.

The National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice, or REACH, funded by a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, will produce cutting-edge research on charter schools, school vouchers, and other choice programs.

MSU faculty members and co-directors of the Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC) Joshua Cowen and Katharine Strunk are on the five-person leadership team for REACH, which will be housed at Tulane University and encompass scholars from more than 14 other universities and organizations nationwide. EPIC will receive approximately $2 million of the total five-year grant and will primarily study school choice issues in Michigan.

“School choice policies have been expanding for more than a decade,” said Cowen, associate professor of education policy. “This new work will provide evidence for what works, and what can be improved, as decision-makers move into the next generation of school choice policy.”

Researchers will focus particularly on how alternatives to traditional public schooling can either promote or hinder opportunity for historically disadvantaged populations of students.

Among EPIC’s projects will be new efforts to understand the ways in which teacher quality, school transportation and education governance affect the success of school choice programs.

“This is an especially important opportunity,” said Strunk, professor of education policy and Clifford E. Erickson Distinguished Chair in Education at MSU. “We join researchers with expertise not only in traditional evaluations of choice outcomes, but also teacher labor markets, housing policy, public administration and the special needs of at-risk students.”

The research team will study school choice policies in depth in Louisiana, Michigan, Florida, Oregon, Denver, New Orleans, New York City and Washington, D.C.

Cowen and Strunk have, together and separately, conducted a number of studies on school choice systems in those cities and beyond. MSU faculty members Scott Imberman and Chris Torres will be among the research collaborators.

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

REACH will also be led by Julie Marsh of University of Southern California and Amy Ellen Schwartz of Syracuse University. The center includes additional researchers and policy experts from the Brookings Institution, Florida State University, Johns Hopkins University, Montclair State University, RAND Corp., Temple University, University of California-Irvine, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, University of North Carolina and University of Texas.

The center will receive input from a National Policy Advisory Board representing public, charter, virtual schools across the country and a broad range of perspectives. 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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