Current Projects

The League of Innovative Schools: Understanding Participation, Implementation of Student-Centered Teaching and Learning, and School Outcomes

PI Casey Cobb, Co-PIs Erica Fernández and Kimberly LeChasseur

Purpose: The Nellie Mae Education Foundation (Nellie Mae) and Great Schools Partnership jointly commissioned an evaluation to better understand the implementation and outcomes of the League of Innovative Schools. Schools across New England participate in the League to access professional learning as they explore and implement student-centered teaching and learning practices, such as proficiency- and competency-based graduation decisions, personalized learning pathways, and student-centered accountability systems. Because the League is not about implementation of a particular model or set of pre-packaged curricula and pedagogies, an evaluation provides lessons that can be easily transferable to other schools interested in deepening their own professional learning and commitment to student-centered learning. The purpose of this evaluation is twofold. The first objective is to provide a deeper understanding of how the League of Innovative Schools is operating, and to what effect. This knowledge development is intended to facilitate learning among those who support the networked improvement community of the League. The second objective is broader and intended to serve schools both within and beyond the League’s networked improvement community, as well as educational organizations engaged in better understanding and supporting student-centered learning in schools.

Project Activities:  Three separate studies comprise the evaluation:

Motivations Study. This qualitative analysis used expansive interview and field note data to explore school motivations for participating in the League. By better understanding why school leaders find the League to be valuable, particularly given the competing demands on their time, Great Schools Partnership can determine future directions that might best continue to engage schools.

Implementation Study. This qualitative study examined student-centered teaching and learning practices in a sample of League high schools, with a particular emphasis on the intensity of its implementation. In-depth interviews with school leaders and focus groups with teachers and students were thematically analyzed to assess proficiency-based education implementation in classrooms and school systems. Student perspectives were captured using photovoice, a two-stage data collection and analytic technique designed to gather insider viewpoints. In addition, this study also examined the state and local policy contexts related to student-centered learning initiatives and practices through interviews with state policymakers and school leaders.

Outcomes Study. This quantitative study estimated the effect of school participation in the League on student outcomes in specific state contexts. Difference-in-difference and multilevel mixed effects models were used to examine the relationship between League participation and school scores on state exams and graduation rates in League schools.

Links: Nellie Mae Education Foundation, New England League of Innovative Schools, Great Schools Partnership


District Policies Related to Principal Evaluation, Learning-Centered Leadership, and Student Achievement

PI Morgaen Donaldson, Co-PIs Shaun Dougherty, Madeline Mavrogordato (MSU) and Peter Youngs (UVA)

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to examine associations between district policies related to principal evaluation, principals' enactment of learning-centered leadership practices, and student reading and mathematics achievement. Principals play a critical role in providing high-quality education to students by influencing teaching and learning through their leadership. In the past five years, the great majority of states have approved legislation mandating that public school principals be evaluated annually using formulas that incorporate students' academic growth. However, scant research examines how school district policies are related to leadership practices that are associated with improved student outcomes. In particular, almost no research links principal evaluation with leadership practices or student performance. By examining these relationships in diverse districts, this study will contribute to the field's understanding of the potential influence of new principal evaluation policies on leadership practices and student performance.

Project Activities: The researchers will examine key district-varying attributes of evaluation policies: (a) the degree to which a district's evaluation policy focuses on learning-centered leadership; and (b) the extent to which a district includes principal monitoring, professional development, rewards and/or sanctions in its principal evaluation system. Researchers will first collect data from districts on their evaluation policies and also survey principals about their leadership practices and evaluation experiences. Then using mixed methods, researchers will examine the relationship(s) between the focus of district evaluation policies, enactment of leadership practices, and student performance in reading and math.

IES link: Institute of Education Sciences Website (Project and Grant Description)

Understanding How Principal Evaluation Policies Inform Principal Perceptions and Focus on Learning Centered Leadership
(Paper presented on March 15-17, 2018)

Principal Evaluation Policies on Paper vs. In Practice: Evidence from 20 Districts
(Paper presented on November 15-19, 2017)


System for Educator Evaluation and Development (SEED) Implementation Study

Affiliated Faculty: Drs. Morgaen Donaldson, Casey Cobb, Rachael Gabriel, Richard Gonzales, Kimberly LeChasseur, Sarah Woulfin, Erica Fernández

Affiliated Students: Liza Makuch (Leadership & Education Policy), Joshua Abreu (Leadership & Education Policy)

When the State Board of Education re-designed the way educators are evaluated and provided professional development in Connecticut, the Neag School of Education was commissioned to conduct an implementation study of the new system. Dr. Morgaen Donaldson led a multi-disciplinary team of faculty members and doctoral students to examine the new System for Educator Evaluation and Development (SEED) model as it was piloted in 14 school districts.

Research questions were organized into three areas of investigation:

  1. Implementation of SEED/District Evaluation System (DES)
  2. Educator Experiences with SEED/DES
  3. Outcomes of SEED/DES

The findings of the study were presented to the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council and Connecticut State Department of Education. In addition to informing policymakers’ revisions to the model, the final report won the Outstanding Policy Report Award presented by Division L – Educational Policy and Politics of the American Educational Research Association in 2015.

Formative and final reports can be accessed online:

SEED Implementation in the Pilot Districts: Progress to Date (Presentation) (Published Feb 4, 2013)

Implementation in the Pilot Districts: Phase 2 (Published Jul 10, 2013)

Final Neag SEED Pilot Implementation Report (Published Jan 1, 2014)


Data collected during this pilot study is currently being used to explore educators’ sensemaking of policy; education leaders’ framing of educational change; and the positioning of parents and parental authority over public schooling.

For more information on SEED, see the official website,


“Do you hear what I hear? Do you see what I see?”: Parent Perceptions of Parental Engagement

Affiliated Faculty: Drs. Erica Fernández & Michele Femc-Bagwell

One of Dr. Fernández's primary areas of expertise is problematizing how we understand parental engagement and set up expectations for parents in education policies. She has joined together with Dr. Michele Femc-Bagwell, the Director of the CommPACT Community Schools Initiative, to engage in a grounded study of how parents of students in two urban schools understand their own involvement in schooling.

To do so, the researchers have asked parents and caregivers to take photographs of moments when they are engaging in schooling, artifacts and activities they use to engage with their children as students, and the spaces where they are engaged in schooling. A photograph captures a moment in time and has the potential to be a window into the past, centering and prioritizing the life of people and/or an experience while also creating a space of understanding. Coupling parent/caregiver photographs with their personal narratives of parental engagement will allow the researchers to prioritize and center parent perspectives. Moreover, focusing on the experiences of Latin@ and African-American parents within the school will allow the researchers to put into conversation the multiple narratives and conceptualizations of parental engagement unfolding within the school community. Through this, the project will help to further expand our conceptualization of engagement, while also providing school leaders, practitioners, policymakers, and academics with practical implications for understanding, supporting, and encouraging the multiple perceptions of parental engagement.

Data collection is ongoing.



Teachers’ Conceptualizations of High Quality Teacher Practice

Affiliated Faculty: Drs. Morgaen Donaldson, Rachael Gabriel, Kimberly LeChasseur, Jennie Weiner, Sarah Woulfin

Several CEPA Affiliated Faculty are currently engaged in the foundational phase of a multi-methods study of teachers’ conceptualizations of high quality teacher practice. Considerable research demonstrates that teachers’ beliefs influence their actions. Yet current research on the implementation of policies meant to influence instruction has not attended to teachers’ beliefs about high quality instruction or to the alignment of teachers’ beliefs and the conceptualizations of high quality instruction embedded in current state policies and national standards.

The study has three strands:

Teachers’ Mental Models of High Quality Instructional Practice

We are conducting semi-structured focus groups in which we guide middle school and high school mathematics teachers through a series of activities to elicit their mental models about high quality teaching practice. These data will form the foundation for much of the project, allowing us to analyze teacher conceptualizations and build a grounded theory. This will inform instrument construction and a discourse analysis of state and national policies around teacher practice.

Instrument Construction & Pilot

Colleagues with expertise in measurement will be assisting us in developing a survey instrument - the first of its kind to measure mathematics teachers' conceptualizations of high quality teaching practice. Once developed, the instrument will be validated and piloted with a set of educators in Connecticut. This tool will open further avenues for intervention and more generalizable research examining teacher quality and effectiveness that takes into account the beliefs of teachers, which in turn influence their practice.

Discourse Analysis of State & National Policies

We are also pursuing a critical discourse analysis of the state and national policies that inform mathematics teaching in the U.S. Which logics are evident in these policies and standards? How do they align - or fail to align - with teachers' conceptualizations of high quality mathematics practice?

Data collection is ongoing.


The Leading Edge: Investigating the Micropolitics of Coach-Principal Negotiation in an Urban School District

Affiliated Faculty: Dr. Sarah Woulfin

Affiliated Student: Britney Jones

Dr. Sarah Woulfin is engaging in research to develop a clearer understanding of how coaches and principals negotiate the coach's roles and responsibilities. Situated at the nexus of policy and leadership, this research on the construction of coaching by both coaches and principals within Hartford Public Schools can guide the development of infrastructure to raise the quality of coaching. This research will surface findings on leadership for reform within an urban district. The project also tackles questions of educator quality by examining coaching as a strategy for ameliorating teaching.

The study addresses the following research questions:

  1. How do coaches define their role and responsibilities?
  2. How do principals define the coach’s role and responsibilities?
  3. How do coaches and principals co-construct the coach’s role and responsibilities?

To answer questions about the micropolitics of the coach-principal relationship, Dr. Sarah Woulfin is collecting data at five elementary schools. She is conducting semi-structured interviews with the Director of Professional Learning, the Director of English Language Arts, principals, and coaches. Interviews will focus on educators' underlying beliefs about coaching, intended goals for coaching, coach-principal negotiation, and enacted coaching practices.

Data collection and analysis began in fall 2015 and will continue through summer 2016.

Juntos Pero No Revueltos: A Latin@ Immigrant Parent Group's Unfolding Struggle Toward Political Legitimization Amid an Anti-Immigrant Climate

Affiliated Faculty: Dr. Erica Fernández

Recent efforts to expand our conceptualization of parental engagement might be threatened amid the current context of anti-immigration legislation (both in how parents engage with schools and education and how educational discourse examines and defines parental engagement). Dr. Fernández is examining the struggles of a Latin@ immigrant parent group, Familias Unidas en la Vecindad/Families United in the Neighborhood (FUV), as they organize as a meaningful, yet contested stakeholder in their school.

The study allows for multiple contributions to the existing knowledge about parent engagement:

  1. Dr. Fernández prioritizes and centers the counter-story of a Latin@ immigrant parent group  amid an anti-immigrant climate using the tenets and analytic tools of Critical Race Theory and Latin@ Critical Race theory. Centering FUV's organizing efforts offers us not only a larger counter-story about collective parental organizing, but also a deeper analysis of the converged, individual parent immigration counter-stories that stand at the beginning of FUV's narrative.
  2. The study explores the space constructed by FUV within an institution that has traditionally ignored, silenced, and disempowered parents of color. FUV's role in valuing an incorporating community cultural wealth within the schooling space is surfaced. This brings into relief the tensions that emerge as parents activate their political capital amid the configurations of relational power inherent in FUV members' status and the institutional power of professionals associated with the school.
  3. FUV's counter-story of Latin@ parent organizing and the consequences that emerged because of their organizing provides an example of how schools can serve as a space to value and encourage parent organizing. The study also provides an example of what micro-politics mean if schools and school leaders are going to actually engage parents and organized parent groups.

Analysis is ongoing.


Evaluation of the Professional Educators Program (PEP)

Affiliated Faculty: Drs. Morgaen Donaldson, Kimberly LeChasseur

Affiliated Students: Jeremy Landa, Liza Makuch

The New Haven Public Schools (NHPS) asked a team of researchers affiliated with CEPA to conduct independent research on the implementation of the Professional Educators Program (PEP) in the New Haven Public Schools. The study seeks to understand how NHPS is implementing a major initiative to reform human capital management, or the ways in which it attracts, develops, evaluates, and rewards its personnel. NHPS has received a Teacher Incentive Fund IV from the U.S. Department of Education to build its human capital system to align teacher and leader recruitment, hiring, professional development, and evaluation to a larger, unified vision of teaching and learning. New Haven is one of the first urban school districts to implement a coordinated approach to developing human capital.

Research Questions:

  1. Have NHPS's human capital practices changed relative to before PEP was implemented?
    1. To what degree does educator evaluation affect educators' practice?
    2. To what degree is educator effectiveness considered in human capital decisions?
    3. To what degree have human capital practices provided targeted support to high-need schools?
  2. How do educators view specific changes to NHPS's human capital practices?
  3. Did student performance improve after PEP implementation?

Data collection is in its third year and is ongoing.


Exploring District-Community Partnerships for Early Childhood Systems

Affiliated Faculty: Drs. Kimberly LeChasseur, Anysia Mayer, Erica Fernández

Affiliated Students: Yaacov Komisar

The Discovery Initiative of the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund has a long, rich history of supporting community partnerships to strengthen local early childhood experiences, systems, and outcomes. Together with a set of funding partners, including the Connecticut State Department of Education and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Funders Collaborativev engaged CEPA faculty member, Dr. Kimberly LeChasseur, to support documentation and knowledge development of these efforts across four years in a growing set of partnerships.

The project was organized to meet several purposes and to support both local district-community partnerships, as well as the Funders Collaborative.

Purpose 1: Inform community collaborative and district practice based on how implementation is unfolding.

  1. Assist partners in seeing and making sense of variations between their intent (espoused practice) and their actions (enacted practice).
  2. Document and provide feedback addressing the extent to which Discovery Collaboratives are implementing the Funder Collaborative's operating assumptions of 1) strengthening relationships with the school district, 2) using performance management to guide partnership work, and 3) leveraging, aligning, and strengthening resources and initiatives.

Purpose 2: Inform the Funders Collaborative about what it takes to get districts and collaboratives to work together to implement a project and to use data for program improvement and public accountability.

  1. Construct standardized rubrics for assessing progress in enacting the operating assumptions across multiple partnerships.
  2. Surface what members of the Discovery Collaboratives see as the critical levers of change in their communities.
  3. Analyze the gaps and overlaps between locally-important levers of change and the Funder Collaborative's theories of action.

Purpose 3: Inform the Memorial Fund and broader fields of philanthropy, community planning and education change about the nuanced understandings of data within a critical, equity-based framing.

Many of the findings from this work involved personalized feedback for district-community partnerships that highlighted progress and areas for improvement. White papers describing the findings for broader audiences include the following:

LeChasseur, K. (2014). Leadership practices within collaborative networks: A comparative case study

LeChasseur, K. (2014). Merging partnerships: A case study of the Coalition for New Britain's Children and the Youth Network


Designing and Evaluating a College Application and Planning Course

Affiliated Faculty: Dr. Josh Hyman

Dr. Josh Hyman is collaborating with the Michigan Department of Education and the Michigan College Access Network to create a new support system for students as they transition from high school to college. Dr. Hyman will lead the development and evaluation of a twelfth grade course with three goals:

  1. teaching students about postsecondary opportunities
  2. guiding students through postseecondary and financial aid application processes
  3. teaching students strategies for succeeding during their first year in postsecondary school and persisting toward a degree

The effects of the course on students' college application, enrollment, and persistence behavior will be evaluated through a school-level randomized control trial in Michigan public high schools using a mix of survey and administrative data.

Hartford Public Schools Acceleration Project

Affiliated Faculty: Drs. Jennie Wiener, Morgaen Donaldson, & Sarah Woulfin

Affiliated Students: Shannon Holder

Dr. Wiener is leading a team of researchers in collaboration with the Hartford Public Schools to gain insights into how a school district can best support its principals in improvement efforts. In particular, the team is investigating a new initiative, Acceleration. Under this new policy, the district will partner with six schools to implement a three pronged approach to reform. The CEPA team will focus their work on one of these prongs: providing each selected school's principal with ongoing coaching and support.

The study asks the following research question:

  1. How do district personnel and principals understand the purpose, goals, and activities of the Acceleration initiative? To what degree are these understandings aligned? To what degree are they different?
  2. To what degree do district personnel and principals feel more effective as a result of this initiative?
  3. In what ways has this initiative served to enhance teachers' and students' experiences and outcomes in these schools?

Data collection is ongoing.



The Effect of Attending Full-Day Kindergarten on Students With and Without Disabilities in Massachusetts

Affiliated Faculty: Dr. Shaun Dougherty

With: Michael A. Gottfried, University of California Santa Barbara, and Vi-Nhuan Le, NORC at the University of Chicago

Affiliated Students: Monique Golden

Dr. Dougherty and colleagues are working with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to examine the effects of full-day kindergarten. In particular, this study will explore possible effects of full-day kindergarten on several non-cognitive student outcomes, including chronic absenteeism, identification of students with disabilities, and any impact on the services provided to students identified as having a disability.

Analyses will be conducted in three areas:

  1. potential causal effects of full-day kindergarten
  2. potential mechanisms underlying any effects (or absence of effects)
  3. potential differences across districts that do and do not receive expansion grants from the state

Longitudinal data from 2004-2014 will be provided through the Massachusetts Department of Education; analyses are on-going.



Connecticut’s Federal Preschool Development Grant Evaluation

Affiliated Faculty: Drs. Shaun Dougherty & Jennie Weiner

With: Drs. Bianca Montrosse-Moorhead, Tamika La Salle, & Hannah Dostal

Affiliated Student: Monique Golden

Connecticut was awarded a Federal Preschool Development Grant in 2014 to extend state-funded prekindergarten. A team of faculty at the Neag School of Education, including Dr. Dougherty and Dr. Weiner with the Center, will be conducting an evaluation of short-term outcomes of this grant. The evaluation team will inform state policy on the effects of expanding prekindergarten, provide perspective on the relative costs and benefits associated with the grant-funded prekindergarten services, and provide feedback to local stakeholders on child and family experiences and outcomes.

The evaluation is organized to address four areas of inquiry:

  1. impact on students
  2. impact on teachers
  3. impact on family engagement & climate
  4. cost estimates of providing prekindergarten in the Connecticut School Readiness Program

Data collection began in Fall 2015 and will continue through Fall 2019; analysis is also on-going.

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