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IES Grant

Title: Between Home and School: The School Bus and Student Outcomes
Center: NCER Year: 2017
Principal Investigator: Schwartz, Amy Ellen Awardee: Syracuse University
Program: Improving Education Systems      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (09/01/2017–08/31/2019) Award Amount: $595,736
Goal: Exploration Award Number: R305A170270

Co-Principal Investigator: Sarah A. Cordes (Temple University)

Purpose: In this project, researchers will explore the potential relationship(s) between school busing, student characteristics, and student outcomes. For a large number of students in the U.S., the school day begins and ends with riding the school bus. However, little is known about who rides the bus, the daily bus experience (e.g., commute time, length), the distribution and variation in bus experiences, the size and nature of disparities in experiences across demographic or economic groups, or, more generally how school bus services shape students' educational outcomes. Using data from New York City (NYC) Department of Education, researchers will investigate the relationship between the school bus and student outcomes through three distinct studies. Findings from this project can be used to inform school district transportation policies, especially in urban districts (like NYC) where students choose among a widening array of charter, magnet, and traditional public schools spread over large geographic areas.

Project Activities: The research team will conduct three studies. First, researchers will provide a rich description of bus experiences in NYC, focusing on students in kindergarten through grade 6 (K–6). This study will provide a portrait of the K–6 students who ride the bus as well as the features of each student's bus experience (e.g., trip length, pick-up time). Next, researchers will examine the factors that may explain why some students ride the bus and others do not. In particular, researchers will explore disparities in the use of the school bus, the potential role of the school in shaping utilization, and how these disparities change over time. In the final study, researchers will investigate which individual and school characteristics predict the utilization of bus services, comparing students who use the bus to those who do not, and, will also estimate the relationship between bus services and schooling outcomes.

Products: For this project, researchers will assemble and develop new and unique datasets on NYC school busing that combine longitudinal route-level transportation data with student-level busing information, and detailed administrative records.  The team will produce research briefs and a series of three peer-reviewed publications that will characterize the NYC school bus experience, locate disparities in school bus utilization, and explore the link(s) between bus service and student outcomes. The briefs and papers will also shed light on potential levers for service improvement and provide insight into ways in which bus service can be used to improve student outcomes.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will take place in New York City (NYC) public schools. As the largest school district in the country, NYC serves over one million students attending over one thousand public schools of varying size and organizational characteristics in five different boroughs.

Sample: The sample includes approximately 1,050,000 unique NYC students in grades K–6 attending over 1,200 unique public schools from academic years 2010–11 to 2014–15, excluding fulltime special education students. This includes students from diverse backgrounds (including black, Hispanic, white and Asian), of whom nearly 85% are poor (defined by eligibility for subsidized lunch) and roughly 40% speak a language other than English at home.

Intervention: The intervention is the NYC public school bus transportation system. School administrators in NYC have considerable discretion over whether to provide bus services, as well as the specifics of bus services.

Research Design and Methods: Researchers will use a descriptive research design that relies on secondary data analysis obtained from a variety of administrative sources, including individual-level pupil transportation data on school bus eligibility and bus route features linked with student records on academic performance, attendance, home address, and sociodemographic characteristics. Researchers will first describe the commute to school in terms of time and distance and examine the characteristics of bus riders. Next, the research team will explore disparities in bus utilization, comparing students who take the bus to those who do not and examining what individual and school characteristics predict utilization. Finally, researchers will examine how the utilization and characteristics of bus services shape student outcomes. For each of these analyses, researchers will explore the variation both between and within schools and neighborhoods, and examine changes in relationships over time.

Control Condition: There is no control condition in this project.

Key Measures: The cornerstone of this research project is the construction of a set of variables capturing the eligibility, utilization, and timing (i.e., pickup and drop-off time, commute time to school, etc.) of school bus service in NYC. Key student outcomes include student performance on New York State standardized ELA and math exams, attendance in school and participation in school breakfast. Other measures describe student socio-demographic characteristics, as well as school organizational, locational, and institutional characteristics that may predict the likelihood that schools have bus service (i.e. school start and end times, school grade span, assignment/enrollment policies, etc.).

Data Analytic Strategy: This project will use multiple analytic strategies, including descriptive statistics, multivariate regression, and fixed-effects.  Researchers will conduct a series of descriptive analyses of the characteristics of bus utilization.  Researchers will also estimate a series of regression models (1) linking characteristics of bus service to student sociodemographic variables (models vary by school-fixed effects, census track fixed effects, student sub-groups, and years), (2) linking bus utilization to eligibility, and (3) linking bus service characteristics to student outcomes.