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Understanding the Institutional-Level Factors of Urban School Quality


by Michael A. Gottfried — 2012

Background/Context: This article addresses which school-level factors contribute to school quality. Previous research has focused on assessing the effects of school-level variables on student-level quality (e.g., achievement). However, the field has been limited in not evaluating the effects of school-level factors directly on measured school-level quality. This present study takes this next step.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of the Study: The purpose of this study is to determine which school-level factors across three categories—schoolwide programs, school-level personnel, and institutional environment—are significant predictors of school quality.

Population/Participants/Subjects: Two data sets from the School District of Philadelphia are employed. The first data set is longitudinal and comprises elementary school student data linked to teachers, classrooms, and neighborhoods. The second data set, linked to the first by way of school and year data, is longitudinal and comprises school-level variables for all elementary schools within the district over 3 years.

Research Design: This investigation first derives four quantifiable measures of school quality based on the student- and classroom-level data set. These measures are based on student reading achievement scores, math achievement scores, yearly attendance, and behavior grades. In the main analyses, this study separately tests each measure of quality in an empirical model that relates school-level inputs to school-level outputs. Each model does so while holding constant student, teacher, classroom, and neighborhood covariates as well as principal and school budget data.

Findings: Looking across all four measures of school quality, the study finds school quality to be higher in schools with music and language programs, more disciplinary resources per student with a behavior problem and more special education resources per special education student, having a school nurse, being a smaller sized campus, and being K–5 (versus K–8). Although there is some consistency in the predictors of school quality, this research also indicates that differentiating between all four measures of quality is critical: School-level factors provide distinct outcomes depending on the measure of school quality itself.

Conclusions: By identifying those school-level factors that directly relate school quality to its programs, personnel, and environment, this study has differentiated between the particular institutional resources of urban elementary schools that can potentially influence schooling experiences, above and beyond student or classroom factors. As such, this study can be used to more effectively identify those significant institutional challenges faced by urban schools, how these challenges are actualized, and, moreover, the types and levels of resources necessary to enhance school quality.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 12, 2012, p. 1-32
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16720, Date Accessed: 10/20/2014 8:58:14 AM

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About the Author
  • Michael Gottfried
    Loyola Marymount University
    E-mail Author
    MICHAEL A. GOTTFRIED, PhD, is an assistant professor of urban education at Loyola Marymount University. He is also an adjunct policy researcher in the education division at RAND. His research interests pertain to issues in urban education, including school quality and effectiveness, classroom peer effects, and attendance and truancy. Recent articles include: “The Detrimental Effects of Missing School: Evidence From Urban Siblings” (American Journal of Education) and “Evaluating the Relationship Between Student Attendance and Achievement in Urban Elementary and Middle Schools: An Instrumental Variables Approach” (American Educational Research Journal).
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