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Evaluation of Georgia's Local School System Waivers Program


Description: Of the 180 local school systems in Georgia, 178 districts are implementing performance contracts through the state's waiver program—135 are Strategic Waiver School Systems (SWSS), and 43 are Charter Systems. The development and implementation of Georgia's SWSS and Charter Systems have required a large investment of human and financial capital from state policymakers, local school systems, and community members. GaDOE approached the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southeast with a request to help their staff:

  • Analyze the use of instructional, programmatic, and operational waivers under performance contracts.
  • Identify the link, if any, between implementing a performance contract and improving student outcomes.
  • Gain an understanding of variation in innovative strategies across local systems in different regions of the state and with varying organizational characteristics.

The proposed study will examine academic performance changes for students in grades 3–12 in SWSS and Charter Systems as well as instructional and programmatic innovations in those systems. The study also will explore variations in achievement and innovations by local school system features, such as SWSS or Charter System, locale and geographic region, demographic composition, Title I status, and size served. This research will build Georgia policymakers' and educators' understanding of how districts are implementing their waivers and provide needed information on whether specific waivers are associated with student performance gains over time. In addition, this research will provide information on differences in implementation across local education systems in different regions and with different organizational and demographic characteristics. This will help the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) and other state leaders develop varied support services and allocate limited resources more effectively to districts to assist in their efforts to improve student performance related to their performance contracts.

Research Questions:
  1. How does reading and mathematics achievement change among local school systems after the systems begin operating under a performance contract, and is variation in achievement changes associated with student and system demographic characteristics?
  2. What local practices changed when performance contracts were implemented, and do these practices differ by student and system demographic characteristics?
  3. Is variation in reading and mathematics achievement gains associated with innovations that local school systems report implementing after their performance contract begins?

Study Design: To answer research question 1, this study will analyze changes over time in student achievement using a multilevel comparative interrupted time series design that compares reading and mathematics achievement for students in grades 3–12 before and after a district's waiver application is approved. The analysis also will describe the overall relationship between performance contract implementation and student achievement for all students (within each year that contracts were adopted) and will describe variation in performance by student and district characteristics.

To answer research question 2, this study will survey district leaders and report descriptive percentages on different types of innovations the districts have implemented and will use regression analyses to examine links between local practice changes and district features.

To answer research question 3, this study will examine the correlation between survey responses on innovations implemented and student achievement. To further understand the innovations districts implemented, the study also will analyze district administrators' perceptions from interviews.

Projected Release Date: Spring 2020

Partnership or Research Alliance: Georgia District and School Flexibility Research Partnership

Related Products: Making Connections report

Principal Investigators & Affiliation:
Ryan Williams, American Institutes for Research
Zena Rudo, American Institutes for Research