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Published in Print: July 26, 2006, as Research Center to Scour States’ Data Troves

Research Center to Scour States’ Data Troves

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The Urban Institute and six universities have joined forces to start a federal research center to mine the wealth of long-term data now piling up in state education databases.

The newly created Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, or CALDER, is being launched with a five-year, $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

The job of the center, which the Urban Institute announced last week, is to tap into the trove of statistics that states are amassing through new data-collection systems that use unique “identifier” numbers so that students—and teachers—can be tracked anonymously over time as they move from classroom to classroom or district to district.

Center researchers intend to focus their efforts for now on studying issues related to teacher quality—who teaches what kinds of students, what determines quality, and how hiring, compensation, and retention policies affect student achievement.

Prodded by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, most states are building more-comprehensive databases than they had in the past so that they can track student achievement over time.

The center, though, will harvest data from six states—Florida, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington—that have either long-established systems or student populations that are particularly large or diverse.

“It’s an attempt to get all the databases sort of talking to each other,” said Jane Hannaway, the project’s principal investigator and the director of the education policy center at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank based in the nation’s capital. If researchers learn that a new policy or practice leads to improved student learning in one state, for instance, they can immediately try to replicate that finding in other states with the same policy in place, Ms. Hannaway added.

To carry out its work, CALDER will rely on established scholars from the six universities in the consortium. Most of them have already plumbed the state databases in their own research on teacher-related issues.

Established Scholars

Among those researchers are: David N. Figlio, an economics professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville; Dan D. Goldhaber, a research associate professor at the University of Washington in Seattle; Eric A. Hanushek, the chairman of the Texas Schools Project at the University of Texas at Dallas and a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, in California; Helen F. Ladd, a professor of public policy and economics at Duke University in Durham, N.C.; Susanna Loeb, an associate professor of education at Stanford; and Michael Podgursky, an economics professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

The center’s collective database will not be open to researchers outside the consortium, Ms. Hannaway said. That’s in part because state education officials, in an effort to comply with a federal law designed to protect students’ privacy, have placed restrictions on access to the data. ("Scholars Cite Privacy Law as Obstacle," Jan. 18, 2006.)

CALDER is among five new federal research-and-development centers that the Department of Education is poised to announce this summer, according to agency officials. A spokesman for the department was unable to provide information on grant awards for the other centers last week.

Ms. Hannaway said the longitudinal-data center would be part of a new center on state and local policy with Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. She said the Nashville center would focus on studying performance incentives in education.

Vol. 25, Issue 43, Page 12

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