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Schools' Experiences with Georgia's District and School Flexibility Policy


Description: Of the 180 local school systems in Georgia, 178 districts are implementing performance contracts through the state's waiver program. Among these schools, 132 are Strategic Waiver School Systems (SWSS) and 46 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. The Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) approached the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southeast with a request to help its 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 variations in innovative strategies within districts across the state.

The proposed study will examine school-level academic performance changes for students in grades 3–12 in SWSS and Charter Systems as well as instructional and programmatic innovations in those schools. The study also will explore variations in achievement and innovations by school features—number of students served, Title I status, and demographic composition including students from different racial or ethnic groups, English learners, economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities.

The results of this research study are intended to:

  • Build Georgia policymakers' and educators' understanding of how schools are implementing the waivers adopted by their districts and provide needed information on whether specific waivers are associated with school-level performance gains over time.
  • Provide information on differences in implementation across schools in different districts and with different organizational and demographic characteristics.
  • Help GaDOE and other state leaders develop varied support services and allocate limited resources more effectively to districts and schools to assist in their efforts to improve student performance related to their performance contracts.

Research Questions:

  1. How did mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) achievement and (for high schools) high school graduation rates change at the school level af-ter districts adopted a performance contract? Were there variations in achievement gains and graduation rate gains among schools? Were achievement gains and graduation rate gains related to number of students served, Title 1 status, or school demographic composition variables?
  2. What practice changes were implemented or planned in schools after performance contracts were adopted, and what changes were perceived as most beneficial by school leaders?
  3. Were gains in mathematics and ELA achievement and high school graduation rates related to innova-tions that school leaders reported as their top priorities to implement after adopting their performance contracts?
  4. How did school leaders respond to recent outreach from GaDOE offering additional waivers and flexi-bilities in spring 2020?

Study Design: To answer research question 1, this study will analyze changes over time in school-level student achievement using a multilevel 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 study also will analyze the relationship between achievement gains and graduation rate gains and the number of students served, Title 1 status, and school demographic composition variables.

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

To answer research question 3, this study will examine the relationship between survey responses on priority innovations implemented and gains in school-level achievement. To further understand the innovations implemented at the school level, the study also will interview school administrators to collect and analyze their perceptions of local changes in practice and how those changes relate to student outcomes.

Projected Release Date: Summer 2021

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

Related Products: Just In Time Report

Principal Investigators & Affiliation:

Megan Austin, American Institutes for Research