Skip Navigation
Funding Opportunities | Search Funded Research Grants and Contracts

IES Grant

Title: Determinants of Student Outcomes in an Urban School District: Educational Interventions and Family Choices
Center: NCER Year: 2007
Principal Investigator: Epple, Dennis Awardee: Carnegie Mellon University
Program: Improving Education Systems      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years Award Amount: $2,069,750
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A070117

Purpose: Like many urban school districts, the Pittsburgh Public School District has sustained declining enrollments, increased budgetary pressures, low student achievement relative to state and national norms, and large racial gaps in achievement. In 2005, the Pittsburgh Public Schools enacted a plan for reform. The purpose of this project is to study and evaluate the effect of this reform agenda on student outcomes.

Project Activities: The "right-sizing" district-level school reform plan enacted by the Pittsburgh Public School District encompassed a number of specific strategies to improve student achievement. Using a variety of statistical approaches, the researchers are examining the effect of the implementation of the reform agenda on student achievement, choices made by parents regarding which school children attend, and the competitiveness of public schools.

Products: Products from this project include published reports on the efficacy of a district-level school reform initiative.

Structured Abstract

Purpose: The objective of this project is to study and evaluate the effects of the school reform agenda enacted by the Pittsburgh Public Schools in 2005 on student outcomes.

Setting: All schools are located within the Pittsburgh Public Schools, an urban school district in Pennsylvania.

Population: The analysis of achievement effects will be based on the complete sample of students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. In the school year 2005-06, there were 13,672 students enrolled in elementary schools, 7,009 in middle schools, and 9,086 in high schools.

Intervention: Using student achievement data to guide decisions, the Pittsburgh Public School District implemented its "right-sizing plan" for school reform. The plan included: closing selected low-performing schools, reconstituting other low-performing schools as "accelerated learning academies" with extended school hours, moving away from comprehensive middle schools toward K-8 schools, enhancing professional development, and using a comprehensive school reform model known as America's Choice. In addition, district-wide goals were set for achievement results on state assessments, participation in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs, and graduation/dropout rates.

Research Design and Methods: The research team is using a variety of strategies to examine the impact of the reforms on student achievement, to assess the influence of the reforms on choices made by parents regarding which schools children attend, to evaluate the effect of the reform agenda on the competitiveness of public schools, and to study the policy implications of the school reforms in Pittsburgh.

Key Measures: The researchers are assessing the impact of school reforms on a variety of education outcomes, including student grades and standardized test scores in writing and reading, as well as on behavioral outcomes such as student discipline.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will estimate both value-added and cumulative models to evaluate the impact of the policy changes on student outcomes. Other strategies include using a regression discontinuity analysis to evaluate the effectiveness of the talented and gifted program, and utilizing the magnet school lottery to estimate the impact of magnet enrollment on student outcomes.

Related IES Projects: Estimation and Inference in Education Research when Actions by Participants Impact Validity and Availability of Data (R305D090016)



Tharp-Taylor, S., Nelson, C.A., Dembosky, J.W., and Gill, B. (2007). Partners in Pittsburgh Schools' Excellence for All Initiative: Findings From the First Year of Implementation. Santa Monica, CA: Rand DB–544.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Engberg, J, Epple, D., Imbrogno, J., Sieg, H., and Zimmer, R. (2014). Evaluating Education Programs That Have Lotteried Admission and Selective Attrition. Journal of Labor Economics, 32 (1): 27–63.

Engberg, J., Gill, B., Zamarro, G., and Zimmer, R. (2012). Closing Schools in a Shrinking District: Do Students Outcomes Depend on Which Schools are Closed?. Journal of Urban Economics, 71 : 189–203.

** This project was submitted to and funded under Education Policy, Finance, and Systems in FY 2007.