Education Reform


CEG’s work in the area of education reform has applied models of decentralization and market behavior, derived from research on high-performance organizations in the private sector, to schools and public education systems. Such reforms aim to give school constituents – administrators, teachers, parents and other community members – more control and more responsibility over important decisions related to the school’s educational program, budget and staffing. In doing this, they often rely more heavily on incentives and market forces as a complement to enforceable directives. More recently, CEG researchers have focused on district-wide reform in urban areas: efforts that affect most or all schools in a given system.

Over the past 10 years, CEG has investigated efforts to reform American education on a large scale, focusing on both school- and district-level issues and their intersection. Our research in this area seeks to improve knowledge about the factors that facilitate and impede effective education reform.

Project Summaries

Bridging the Data-Practice Divide: How Coaches and Data Teams Work to Build Teacher Capacity to Use Data

March 2011– Present

Funded under the Spencer Foundation’s new strategic initiative on Data Use and Educational Improvement, this two-year grant will examine how data coaches, literacy coaches, and data teams are used in a sample of middle schools to build teacher capacity for using data to guide instruction. Drawing on socio-cultural learning theory and building on past research, this exploratory study will attend to individual and contextual factors and conditions that likely mediate the work of these capacity-building agents (CBAs) and how teachers learn to interpret and act on data, paying particular attention to CBA expertise, domains of support (e.g., filtering, modeling), and type of data (e.g., test score results, student work).  The study is being conducted in partnership with the RAND Corporation.

Funding Source: Spencer Foundation

Evaluation of the LAUSD Investing in Innovation (i3) Grant to Support the Public School Choice Initiative

October 2010 – Present

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the U.S. Department of Education set aside funding to support the design, validation and scale-up of innovations in education. The Los Angeles Unified School District won one of the i3 grants to support the design of the district’s Public School Choice Initiative. The Public School Choice Initiative (PSCI), which is unique to Los Angeles, is a competitive process that allows teams of internal and external stakeholders—including educators, administrators, community members and organizations, charter school operators, non-profit organizations, and labor partners—the opportunity to operate designated “focus” schools (the bottom one percent of low- performing LAUSD public schools), or newly established “relief” schools (new campuses built to ease overcrowding). CEG researchers are part of the district’s i3 team and are responsbile for  evaluating the implementation and outcomes of activities related to the Public School Choice Initiative.

Funding Source: Investing in Innovation Fund, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), U. S. Department of Education

Implementation and Impact of Supplemental Educational Services under NCLB

July 2009 – Present

Supplemental educational services (SES) are a major federal intervention authorized by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. Public schools that have not made adequate yearly progress in increasing academic achievement for three years are required to offer children in low-income families the opportunity to receive SES through tutoring. Tutoring must be provided outside of the school day, and states are urged to promote expansive choice in registering nonprofit, for profit, faith based and community organizations. This project seeks to identify successful approaches and effective strategies for the design and delivery of SES programs providers. The study employs a longitudinal mixed-method design including in-depth field research on the implementation of SES, and rigorous nonexperimental evaluation methods to estimate the impact of SES on student performance.

This project is a joint effort of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Center on Educational Governance at the Rossier School of Education University of Southern California, and Texas Schools Project at the University of Texas-Dallas. The project is housed within the Value Added Research Project at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.

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Funding Source: Institute on Education Sciences,  Finance and Systems Research Program

An Evaluation of California’s NCLB Year 3 District Interventions

March 2009 – Present

In response to requirements built into the No Child Left Behind Act, all states must provide technical assistance and support to districts and schools that are in Program Improvement status. California has chosen to provide this support through District Assistance and Intervention Teams (DAITs), which provide intensive technical assistance to districts that are judged to be the most in need of support — districts in Program Improvement Year 3 or above. In collaboration with the University of California at Davis, CEG researchers are conducting a rigorous evaluation of California’s DAITs. Using both quantitative and qualitative methods, the research team is working over three years to assess the effects of DAITs on district processes and student achievement to help the California Department of Education determine future support of and funding of for the DAIT intervention.

Funding Source: California Department of Education

Urban School Districts Reform Initiative

August 2006 to 2009

Overview of Project
The Urban Public School Districts Initiative (UPSDI) is a three-year project that brings together three key stakeholder groups—funders, researchers, and school district teams—in a collaborative effort aimed at facilitating the implementation of four unique district reform initiatives.  Across the four participating school districts,  reform initiatives focus on: 1) improving principal accountability, 2) addressing the needs of English-language learners, 3) improving math education, 4) and enhancing the use of technology district-wide.

The Urban Public School Districts objectives are:

  • To build knowledge about the reform implementation process in urban school districts.
  • To collaborate across stakeholder groups in order to facilitate district reform implementation.
  • To build knowledge about effective funder-grantee relationships.
  • To provide knowledge for scaling-up district reforms

Over the course of this initiative, UPSDI members meet on a bi-annual basis to share knowledge and build expertise.  Additionally, CEG researchers are evaluating the reform implementation process, looking for lessons learned across all four districts.

Principal Investigator: Priscilla Wohlstetter, USC Rossier School of Education
Co-Principal Investigator: Guilbert Hentschke, USC Rossier School of Education
Research Associates: Brianna Kennedy, Michelle Nayfack, USC Rossier School of Education

Funding Sources: Weingart Foundation

Improving High Schools through Data-Informed Instruction

2007 to 2008

Overview of Project
In spite of significant reform efforts, high school student achievement remains a pressing concern nationally. Several reports have emphasized the need for the strategic use of data to produce continuous improvement in high schools, arguing that student performance will not improve unless assessment results are examined and acted upon. The purpose of our study is to uncover effective practices of data-driven instructional decision making in four urban, high performing high schools. This study is the second phase of our work with NewSchools Venture Fund and is a continuation of our broader research project with them. This particular qualitative, cross-case study will identify the key practices that are common across data-driven high schools, as well as how the schools differ in their data use approaches. We will also identify outstanding needs or questions with regard to data use at the high school level.

Principal Investigator: Amanda Datnow, USC Rossier School of Education
Co-Principal Investigator: Priscilla Wohlstetter, USC Rossier School of Education

California Education Governance Project

2005 – 2006

The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Education Excellence provided an opportunity to examine the degree to which California’s existing educational governance structures and processes constrained or supported student learning, and to consider how the governance system might be streamlined and made more effective. Interviews were conducted with a variety of stakeholders at all levels of the system – state policymakers, county and district administrators and school-level educators. In addition, leaders of professional associations of state and local stakeholders were interviewed to get a broader view of how California’s system compares to others nationally.

Funding Source: The Governor’s Advisory Committee on Education Excellence

Research on Performance Driven Systems in Education

January 2006 – November 2006

The NewSchools Venture Fund (NSVF) in San Francisco ( set an agenda to help fill the research gap on how data is used to improve decision making and as a promising systemic reform strategy. In keeping with NSVF’s agenda, we conducted case studies of high-performing elementary schools (both charter and non-charter public schools) to capture the details of data-driven instructional decision making at the classroom, school, and system levels.

Funding Source: NewSchools Venture Fund.

Innovations in Charter Schools: Impact on Student Achievement

Los Angeles Annenberg Challenge Evaluation

December 1996 – 2002

One of 9 urban areas in the U.S. to receive an Annenberg Challenge Grant, Los Angeles targeted its efforts on increasing student achievement by creating networks of schools in feeder patterns (elementary, middle and high schools) – School Families — and focusing on literacy development among teachers and in classrooms. CEG’s work with the Annenberg Challenge, which spanned Los Angeles County, focused on the collaborative organizational structures (School Families) that offered a radical departure from the more traditional, hierarchical approaches taken to create and implement education reform.

Funding Source: Annenberg Foundation.

Pockets of Excellence: Organizing for Literacy Achievement

September 2000 – August 2001

The purpose of the Pockets of Excellence study was to identify Los Angeles Unified School District schools that showed improvement over a two-year period in reading, and to map out their successful literacy programs and the organizational and management strategies that supported them. The purposeful sample included two district-run schools, two site-based managed schools and two charter schools.

Funding Source: Center on Urban Education, University of Southern California

Evaluation of the DELTA Initiative Design for Excellence: Linking Teaching and Student Achievement

March 1998 – April 2001

The DELTA Initiative was a comprehensive reform aimed at changing professional development and support for teachers at the pre-service, induction and in-service levels. The Initiative was also designed to foster collaboration between K through 12 educators and the California State University teacher training system. The DELTA Initiative, which began in 1996, was implemented in four Annenberg School Families, each of which worked with a Los Angeles area California State University as part of the Initiative. The Center on Educational Governance evaluated the impact of the DELTA Initiative on changes in teacher training programs at the participating California State University campuses. Data collection methods included interviews with university professors and administrators, and teachers participating in the DELTA training. Students enrolled in teacher training programs at selected California State University campuses were also surveyed.

Funding Source: California State University, Weingart Foundation.

Assessment of the Link Between School-Based Management and School Improvement

June 1993 – October 1997
The purpose of this study was to assess the influences of organizational conditions in schools on the school’s ability to innovate and improve classroom practice. The study was based on extensive site visits in seven U.S. school districts and Victoria, Australia where research teams visited a total of 16 elementary and high schools. Data sources for this evaluation included elite interviews with school level participants (faculty, parents, students), teacher surveys in four subject matter areas, classroom observations, and administrative records regarding governance/management strategies, curriculum and instructional reforms, and student and faculty performance.

Funding Source: Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Evaluation of School-Based Management (SBM)

September 1991 – September 1995

This project, one of the U.S. Department of Education’s twelve studies of education reform, assessed the effectiveness of SBM as a tool for improving school performance. The evaluation consisted of an implementation analysis in 28 SBM schools (roughly half successful and half struggling with SBM). The study focused on the characteristics of the SBM program, including goals and components; the change process and the transition to SBM; links between SBM and school improvement; and the effects of SBM on school performance, including changes in faculty and student behavior, and resource allocation. Data collection included intensive site visits in which close to 200 elite interviews were conducted with district officials and administrators, and school level participants including faculty, parents and students.

Funding Source: United States Department of Education.

Books and Book Chapters

Marsh, J., Springer, M. G., McCaffrey, D. F., Yuan, K., Epstein, S., Koppich, J., Kalra, N., DiMartino, C., & Peng, A. (2011). A big apple for educators: New York City’s experiment with schoolwide performance bonuses.  Santa Monica, CA: RAND: MG-1114-FPS.

Marsh, J. (2011). The promises and challenges of deliberative democracy in practice: A comparative case study of two districts. In Cavalier, R. (Ed.), Approaching deliberative democracy: Theory and practice. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Mellon University Press.

Datnow, A., Park, V., Kennedy, B. (2008). Acting on Data. How urban high schools use data to improve instruction. Los Angeles, California: Center on Educational Governance, University of Southern California.

Datnow, A., Park, V., Wohlstetter, P. (2007). Achieving with Data. How high-performing school systems use data to improve instruction for elementary students. Los Angeles, California: Center on Educational Governance, University of Southern California.

Wohlstetter, P., Briggs, K., & Van Kirk, A. (2002). School-based management: What it is and does it make a difference? In D. Levinson, P. W. Cookson, & Sadovnik, A. R. (Eds.), Education and sociology: An encyclopedia (pp. 501-506). New York: RoutledgeFalmer.

Wohlstetter, P. & Sebring, P.B.  (2000). School-based management in the United States.  In M. Arnott & C. Raab (Eds.), The governance of schooling:  Comparative studies of devolved management..  London:  Routledge.

Wohlstetter, P., Van Kirk, A., Robertson, P., & Mohrman, S. (1997). Organizing for successful school-based management. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wohlstetter, P., Mohrman, S., & Robertson, P. (1996). Successful school-based management: Lessons for restructuring urban schools. In D. Ravitch & J. Viteritti (Eds.), New schools for a new century: The redesign of urban education (pp.201-225). New Haven: Yale University Press.

Wohlstetter, P. & Van Kirk, A. (1995). Redefining school-based budgeting for high-involvement. In L. O. Picus (Ed.), Where does money go? Resource allocation in elementary and secondary schools (pp. 212-235). Newbury Park, CA: Corwin Press.

Journal Articles

Marsh, J., McCombs, J.S., & Martorell, F. (2012). Reading coach quality: Findings from Florida middle schools. Literacy Research and Instruction, 51(1), 1-26. Published online December 16, 2011:

Marsh, J.A. & McCaffrey, D. (2011). What are achievement gains worth — to teachers? Phi Delta Kappan, 93(4), 52-56.

Nayfack, M. B. & Wohlstetter, P. (2011). Developing Foundation -University – Grantee Collaboratives as a Model for High – Impact Philanthropy. The Foundation Review, 3(1&2), 12-22.

Smith, J., Kuzin, C. A., De Pedro, K., & Wohlstetter, P. (2011). Parent involvement in urban charter schools: New strategies for increasing participation. The School Community Journal, 21(1), 71-94.

Strunk, K.O. & McEachin A. (2011). Accountability under contstraint: The relationship between collective bargaining agrements and California schools’ and disricts’ performance under no child left behind. American Educational Research Journal,48(4), 871-903.

Thomas, A. & Wohlstetter, P. (2010). Six keys to success American School Board Journal,197(5), 36-38.

Strunk, K.O. & Grissom, J.A. (2010). “Do strong unions shape district policies? Collective bargaining, teacher contract restrictiveness, and the political power of teachers’ unions.”  Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 32(3), 389-406.

Lockwood, J.R., Sloan-McCombs, J. & Marsh, J. (2010). “Linking reading coaches and student achievement: Evidence from Florida middle schools, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 32(3), 372-388.

Hentschke, G., Nayfack, M. &  Wohlstetter, P. (2009). Exploring Superintendent Leadership in Smaller Urban Districts Does District Size Influence Superintendent Behavior?  Education and Urban Society, 41(3), 317-337.

De Pedro, K., Nayfack, M.B. & Wohlstetter, P. (2009, April) English language learners make the news. Educational Leadership,66(7)

Wohlstetter, P., Datnow A., Park, V. (2008). Creating a system for data-driven decision-making: applying the principal-agent framework. School Effectiveness and School improvement, 19(3), 239-259.

Loeb, S., Strunk, K.O. (2007). “Accountability and Local Control: Response to Incentives with and Without Authority Over Resource Generation and Allocation, Education Finance and Policy, 2(1), 10-39.

Wohlstetter, P., Malloy, C. L., Chau, D., & Polhemus, J. L. (2003). Improving Schools through Networks: A New Approach to Urban School Reform. Educational Policy, 17(4), 399.

Briggs, K. L. & Wohlstetter, P. (2003). Key elements of a successful school-based management strategy. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 15(3), 351-372.

Wohlstetter, P. & Malloy, C. L. (2001). Organizing for literacy achievement: Using school-governance to improve classroom practice.  Education and Urban Society, 34(1), 42-65.

Robertson, P. J., Wohlstetter, P., & Mohrman, S. A. (1995). Generating curriculum and instructional innovations through school-based management. Educational Administration Quarterly, 31(1), 375-404.

Wohlstetter, P. (1995). Getting school-based management right: What works and what doesn’t.  Phi Delta Kappan, 77(1), 22-26.

Wohlstetter, P. and Briggs, K. L. (1994). The principal’s role in school-based management. Principal, 74, 14-17.

Wohlstetter, P., Smyer, R., & Mohrman, S. A. (1994). New boundaries for school-based management: The high involvement model. Educational evaluation and policy analysis, 16(3), 268-286.

Wohlstetter, P, & Odden, A. (1992). Rethinking school-based management policy and research. Educational Administration Quarterly, 28, 529-549.

Wohlstetter, P. & McCurdy, K. (1991). The link between school decentralization and school politics. Urban Education, 25(4), 391-414

Policy Briefs

Tierney, W. & Hentschke, G. (2011). Making It Happen – Increasing College Access and Attainment in California Higher Education: The Role of Private Postsecondary Providers, Los Angeles, CA: University of Southern California, Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis

Thomas, A. & Wohlstetter, P. (2009). District-wide school reform: Strategizing for early success. Los Angeles, CA: University of Southern California, Center on Educational Governance.

Sam, C., Smith, J., & Wohlsetter, P. (2008). Involving teachers in charter school governance (National Resource Center on Charter School Finance & Governance Policy Brief). Los Angeles, CA: University of Southern California, Center on Educational Governance.

Wohlstetter, P. & Mohrman, S.A. (1994). School-based management: Promise and process(Finance brief). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University, Consortium for Policy Research in Education.

Wohlstetter, P. & Mohrman, S. A. (1993). School-based management: Strategies for success (CPRE-FB-02-1/93). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University, Consortium for Policy Research in Education.

Other Publications

Hentschke, G. C., & Wohlstetter, P. (2004). Cracking the code of accountability. University of Southern California Urban Education, (Spring/Summer), 17-19.