Innovations in Education: Creating Strong District School Choice Programs
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Appendix B: Research Methodology

The project methodology is an adaptation of the four-phase benchmarking process used by the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC),* including case descriptions of individual districts and a cross-site analysis of key findings. While classic benchmarking looks for best or promising practices, using quantitative measures and comparisons among organizations, the practice of implementing district choice programs is too new to fully support this methodology. A brief description of this project's adapted methodology follows.


First, a conceptual framework was developed from an analysis of research on school choice and organizational management as well as an examination of what districts need to do to meet the No Child Left Behind Act's public school choice requirements. School choice experts, recruited to serve on an external advisory panel (see page 37), provided feedback to refine this framework and prioritize issues to investigate. The resulting study scope guided all aspects of the study (see figure 15).

Site selection was a multistep process to ensure that the guide would feature an array of practices covering the elements of the framework and would represent a variety of geographic locations and contexts with which district administrators could identify. A list of 23 potential public school choice sites was compiled through primary and secondary research conducted by Edvance, the education non-profit created by APQC, and by WestEd and the expert advisory panel. A screening template was developed to systematically analyze the weighted criteria for site selection identified by the advisors, including the presence of clearly articulated plans, communication strategies that had evolved over time, and local data that were used to guide improvements. The template was completed for the candidate districts based on public documents such as strategic plans, report cards, and district Web sites, supplemented with targeted phone interviews with district staff. The five districts that were selected had relatively high ratings on the template for preliminary evidence that promising practices were in place. No site was uniformly excellent, but each had developed practices in several areas from which others might learn.

Collect Data

Collecting detailed descriptive information from project participants was key to understanding the district's practices, the outcomes or impact achieved, and lessons learned in implementation of school choice that others could benefit from. The major steps to this phase were finalizing the site visit interview guide, and arranging and conducting site visits to the school choice sites.

Figure 15. Study Scope and Guiding Questions

District Strategic Planning and Resource Allocation

What are the strategic actions undertaken and the organizational infrastructure constructed by a school district to initiate, plan, develop, implement, and monitor a public school choice program?

Communication with Families and Staff

How does the district communicate with parents and students to notify them of their school choice options? How are district employees being informed and involved in the school choice program?

Facilities, Logistics, and Transportation

How is the district logistically managing shifts in student population? What criteria are being used to ensure fair and equal access for all students to enroll in the school of their choice?

Local Context and Managing Change

How is the district accommodating issues of local context, culture, and history in its school choice program?

Monitoring and Evaluation

How is the district determining the impact of school choice options? What criteria and indicators are used to assess school choice implementation effectiveness and student achievement results?

The five sites hosted visits that were facilitated by the project team. Site visits were a combination of conference calls, interviews, and one-day, on-site visits. During the site visits, key personnel were asked questions from the site visit discussion guide. In addition, artifacts from the sites, such as letters to parents, schedules, or training agendas, were collected to provide concrete examples of district practices. The study team collated the information collected during the site visits and developed a case study for each site.

Analyze and Report

Once all the data were collected, the project team analyzed them to understand the promising practices uncovered throughout the benchmarking project, both within and across sites. Thirteen key findings discussed in the final report emerged from the cross-site analysis.

Two products resulted from this research: a report of the findings and this practitioner's guide. The report provides an analysis of key findings across sites, a detailed description of each site, a collection of artifacts, and key project documents. The practitioner's guide is a summary of the report intended for broad distribution.


Ultimately, readers of this guide will need to select, adapt, and implement practices that meet their individual needs and contexts. The guide will be broadly distributed around the country through presentations at national and regional conferences, as well as through national associations and networks. The guide and report are also accessible online at http://www.

Districts coming together in learning communities may continue the study, using the ideas and practices from these sites as a springboard for their own action research. In this way, a pool of promising practices will grow, and districts can support each other in implementation and learning.

*American Productivity and Quality Center. (2001). Benchmarking in education: Pure and simple. Houston, TX: Author.

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Last Modified: 11/30/2009