Chicago Organizes to Confront Portfolio School Reform, Stop School Closures and Disruption


Consider the following description, from The ‘Portfolio’ Approach to School District Governance, a 2016 policy brief from the Network for Public Education, of a school governance practice known as “portfolio school reform.” While you are reading about this school governance practice, think about the city school districts you may know where portfolio school reform is the operational theory—maybe Chicago, or Washington, D.C., or Cleveland, or Detroit, or Indianapolis, or Nashville, or Denver, or Los Angeles.

“As policy makers and the courts abandoned desegregation efforts and wealth moved from cities to the suburbs, most of the nation’s major cities developed communities of concentrated poverty, and policymakers gave the school districts serving those cities the task of overcoming the opportunity gaps created by that poverty. Moreover, districts were asked to do this with greatly inadequate funding.  The nation’s highest poverty school districts receive ten percent lower funding per student, while…

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Policy Brief Explores SES Measures Used by Researchers and Policymakers

BOULDER, CO (January 30, 2018) – Measures of socioeconomic status (SES) are widely used in educational research and policy applications, in large part due to overwhelming evidence linking SES to student achievement. SES is usually conceptualized as an unobservable factor—a construct—measured using variables such as parental education, occupation, income/wealth, and home possessions to take into account disparities between students, classrooms, and schools.

The National Education Policy Center released a brief today that examines the usefulness of common SES measures. Researchers and policymakers agree on the importance of SES in educational settings, but the available measures that we use belie that importance.

Professor Michael Harwell of the University of Minnesota authored the brief, titled Don’t Expect Too Much: The Limited Usefulness of Common SES Measures and a Prescription for Change. He explores the factors that undermine the usefulness of common SES measures in ways that can bias or muddy research and policy conclusions, and he considers what changes might promote a deeper understanding and more effective use of SES in research and policy.

Professor Harwell’s recommendations include the following:

  • A theory-grounded model of SES should be adopted to define this construct in ways consistent with the purpose of the research or policy application.
  • Correlations between SES measures and outcomes should be examined to assess the usefulness of these measures as control variables in statistical analyses.
  • Researchers and policymakers wishing to employ existing SES measures should consider a composite index of SES, perhaps in conjunction with common measures, or turn to alternative measures such as either students’ perception of their SES or poverty estimates at the district level. Those interested in developing new measures should use a theory-grounded SES model as a guide to help ensure new SES measures do in fact measure what they are intended to (i.e., show evidence of construct validity).
  • The development of new SES measures guided by a theory-grounded model of SES requires assembling a multidisciplinary team with expertise in a substantive area of education (e.g., mathematics education) as well as expertise in psychometrics, statistics, and the SES literature.
  • Eligibility for a free- or reduced-price lunch should not be used as a student-level SES measure, but aggregating this variable to reflect the percentage of students receiving subsidized meals produces a crude but useful index to compare the economic need of a school or district with other schools or districts.

Find Don’t Expect Too Much: The Limited Usefulness of Common SES Measures and a Prescription for Change, by Michael Harwell, at:

This policy brief was made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:

How work might worsen health

factory worker
Proponents of work requirements as an eligibility condition for Medicaid often cite the beneficial health effects of employment as rationale. Though the employed tend to enjoy better health, it might be the case that the poorer health of some unemployed people explains precisely why they cannot work. In fact, a body of literature supports this notion. Further, research suggests that for healthy and unhealthy people alike, some forms of work might worsen health. How work might worsen health

1 in 4 handgun owners carry loaded weapons

Person eating sandwich and mac and cheese
As tuition rises and the other costs of college go up, campus administrators are forced to face a troubling reality: Many college students don’t get enough to eat. This new collection of research shows that a substantial percentage of college students lack access to adequate amounts of food, especially healthy foods. The proportion appears to vary by institution type and among student groups. The research also suggests students without enough to eat are more likely to have lower grades and report health problems such as anxiety and depression. 1 in 4 handgun owners carry loaded weapons

1 in 4 handgun owners carry loaded weapons

People at a gun show
Scholars at the University of Washington and Harvard University surveyed gun owners in the U.S. to find out who carries loaded weapons and how often. Among their findings: 4 out of 5 adults who carry loaded guns have concealed carry permits. An estimated 9 million handgun owners carry a loaded handgun with them monthly. Of those who carry loaded weapons, 3 million do it every day. 1 in 4 handgun owners carry loaded weapons

In football, more to consider than concussions for CTE risk

FootballAmerica’s favorite pastime just got more problematic. New research suggests even mild head injuries, and not just concussions, pose a risk for the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease linked to a host of cognitive and mental health concerns. It’s an important distinction because efforts to protect athletes of contact sports have focused on preventing concussions.

When research findings don’t agree

Wondering how to handle studies with findings that contradict one another? Dr. Lauren Wallner of the University of Michigan offers advice on making sense of divergent findings in academic research. She focuses on two studies published recently in the Journal of Clinical Oncology that reached differing conclusions about the main factors that contribute to disparities in cancer survival.