Full Document

Full Document

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 2.8 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

Technical Appendixes

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 1.1 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

Research Questions

  1. How did student outcomes in ObD schools compare to outcomes of similar students in other schools in the same districts or across the United States?
  2. How did teachers and other school staff implement the key design principles, and what factors might have facilitated or hindered implementation?
  3. What system-level conditions supported or hindered implementation?
  4. How did ObD teachers' practices and perceptions of implementation enablers and challenges compare with those of a nationally representative sample of high school teachers?

The Carnegie Corporation of New York's (CCNY) Opportunity by Design (ObD) initiative provided support for 16 small schools of choice in seven large, urban districts across the United States to adopt a set of design principles intended to ensure students are prepared for college and careers. CCNY engaged the RAND Corporation in 2014 to conduct a comprehensive study of the ObD initiative. This final report summarizes implementation and outcomes findings from this five-year study and is intended to provide lessons and implementation guidance for the field.

The authors estimate the effects of the ObD initiative on student academic, behavioral, and college-readiness outcomes and describe implementation of innovative instructional practices (personalization of learning, mastery-based instruction, and positive youth development) in the final year of the initiative. Enablers of implementation included alignment of school and district grading policies in some districts and autonomy from district curriculum and professional development (PD) requirements. Barriers to implementation in ObD schools included limited district support for selecting or developing curriculum and PD materials and inflexible district policies.

The study compared ObD teachers' instructional practices to those of high school teachers nationally. ObD teachers reported more extensive use of instructional practices related to mastery-based learning, personalization, and positive youth development.This research did not find much evidence that ObD's principles-based design process and supports led to more effective schools, but limitations of the study design and available data may not have adequately captured ObD's effects.

Key Findings

  • This research did not find much evidence that ObD's principles-based design process and supports led to more effective schools, but limitations of the study design and available data may not have adequately captured ObD's effects.
  • Mastery-based learning was conceptualized as deep knowledge of content and skills but in practice entailed offering students multiple attempts to demonstrate mastery.
  • Personalization entailed accommodating students' interests and did not typically involve such practices as providing students with extensive choices in content or materials.
  • Positive youth development (PYD) emphasized skills to support student academic achievement and positive behavior, but these skills were not explicitly taught or assessed in most schools.
  • A technical assistance provider—Springpoint—played a unique role by providing ObD school leaders with tailored support, but the time limit on Springpoint support posed a challenge to sustainability in schools and districts that experienced leadership turnover.
  • Enablers of implementation in ObD schools included alignment of school and district grading policies in some districts and autonomy from district curriculum and professional development (PD) requirements.
  • Barriers to implementation in ObD schools included limited district support for selecting or developing curriculum and PD materials and inflexible district policies.
  • Compared with a national sample of high school teachers, ObD teachers reported more extensive use of practices related to mastery-based learning, personalization, and PYD.

Research conducted by

This study was commissioned by The Carnegie Corporation of New York and undertaken by RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

Permission is given to duplicate this electronic document for personal use only, as long as it is unaltered and complete. Copies may not be duplicated for commercial purposes. Unauthorized posting of RAND PDFs to a non-RAND Web site is prohibited. RAND PDFs are protected under copyright law. For information on reprint and linking permissions, please visit the RAND Permissions page.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.