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Proponents of school choice and school reform often claim that different school "types" will produce better academic outcomes for students than does the traditional public school model. Unstated but implicit in these views is a causal assumption that certain school types are "better" and produce improved student academic achievement, a very difficult hypothesis to test. Not only is large-scale randomized treatment assignment of students to schools infeasible, but it is essentially impossible to create school settings that are identical in every aspect but the "treatment." Because of these differences in subject assignment and setting equivalency, as well as the nested nature of education, when there are differences in academic performances between schools it is extremely difficult to determine whether it is due to school differences, student differences, or some combination of the two.

This study uses student and school-level observational data from the Educational Longitudinal Study (ELS) of 2002, a nationally representative sample of high school sophomores and seniors with vertically scored mathematics tests from the 10th and 12th grades. To determine if there are statistically significant (p

The results question the current broad and imprecise policy of wholesale school change to accomplish school improvement, and suggest a more precise focus on specific school practices. A policy that focused on school practices and targeting and reforming those practices in need of change might be more productive, less disruptive, and less expensive than changing school types or closing or restructuring entire schools.



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