Center for Research on Educational Opportunity Research and Publications

 Center for Research on Educational Opportunity Logo

Complexities of High School Tracking Effects on Inequality

Are changes in achievement inequality across several student cohorts (1980-2014) related to changes in high school tracking practices, structures, and effects? Dr. Mark Berends and co-principal investigator Dr. Samuel Lucas from the University of California-Berkley use nationally representative data to study whether changes in the structure of tracking—including the patterns and levels of scope, mobility, and selectivity—are associated with changes in socioeconomic and racial/ethnic achievement inequality. The study will turn the last several decades of data collection amidst policy changes into a coherent narrative of tracking, providing findings of relevance to policy, research, and practice. 

Effects of School and Classroom Contexts on Student Achievement Gains in Indiana

Nationally, school and classroom integration policies are contested. Dr. Bill Carbonaro is examining whether (and how) the school and classroom context affects student learning for high and low income students. “Frog pond effects”—whether students have a relatively high or low rank relative to their classroom and school peers—are critical to understanding how different classroom and school contexts affect student outcomes. Yet, most data sets lack such information. With state administrative data from CREO’s partnership with Indiana DOE, this study is unique because of its ability to examine contextual effects, to track achievement growth within students, and to measure classroom- and school-level frog pond effects with great precision. 

Effects of School Choice in Indiana

Indiana has broadened its school choice offerings with its scholarship (voucher) program and expansion of charter schools. This project, led by Dr. Mark Berends, addresses the impacts of vouchers and charter schools on student achievement gains, engagement, high school graduation, and college atten- dance and graduation. The project also examines whether these impacts differ among groups, thus affecting the racial/ethnic and socioeconomic achievement gaps. The project analyzes several years of longitudinal, student-level demographic and test score records from CREO’s partnership with the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE).In addition, the project team conducted over 100 interviews of principals, teachers, parents, and students in thirteen private schools participating in the voucher program. These interviews provide important information about academice and social integration of studnets receiving vouchers. The team is revisiting these schools in 2017-18 to understand how schools have changed in response to the voucher program.  

How Family Background Shapes Long-Term Effects of School Readiness

Researchers have established the importance of “school readiness”—children’s cognitive and non-cognitive skills when they enter school—for their long-term academic success. Dr. Bill Carbonaro is leading a study that analyzes nationally representative data to examine whether the effects of “school readiness” vary based on students’ family backgrounds. In particular, he is examining whether the achievement and behaviors of students from higher socioeconomic family backgrounds are less strongly affected by their school readiness than students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Latino Students’ Pathways to College

Dr. Amy Langenkamp is leading a project that analyzes how race/ethnicity and social class influence students’ transition to college. Specifically, she is investigating the intersection of race and social class among Latinos using data from nationally representative surveys and interviews with Latino adolescents and parents. Findings from this project will identify distinctions in Latinos’ educational trajectory as well as elements that promote or inhibit college attendance and completion. 

Partnership with Indiana Department of Education

In 2012, the Center for Research on Educational Opportunity (CREO) of University of Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives entered into apartnership with the Indiana Department of Education to improve learning for Indiana children. Rev. Timothy R. Scully, C.S.C., the Institute’s director, and Dr. Tony Bennett, the Superintendent of Public Instruction at the time, announced the partnership on June 21, 2012, and it continues today with Dr. Jennifer McCormick, the current Superintendent of Public Instruction.


The research-practice collaboration allows the nation’s leading educational experts at the Institute and others from around the country to conduct independent, nonpartisan, empirical research to inform policymakers as they seek strategies to improve educational quality in Indiana. Studies focus on such topics as the effects of parental choice programs on schools, teachers, and students; improving the quality of teaching and teacher preparation; organizational and instructional conditions that reduce educational inequalities; the impact of choosing courses on student outcomes; and factors related to students’ applications, attendance, and persistence in higher education. The research effort is led by Dr. Mark Berends, professor of sociology and the director of CREO at Notre Dame. 

School Discipline and Racial Socialization

Dr. Calvin Zimmermann is working on a book project that examines black and white boys' school disciplinary experiences in early childhood. The goal of the project is to uncover the everyday mechanisms that produce racial disproportionality in school discipline. He also considers the social consequences of racialized discipline for black and white boys. Schools are an important site where children come to understand their social selves. He argues that school discipline in early childhood is socializing and sorting these young boys into a larger racial system. Specifically, rather than cultivating the full potential of young black boys, with such an intense focus on discipline and control schools often socialize them into a sense of racial inferiority from the very beginning of their schooling. In contrast, white boys’ disciplinary experiences socialize them into a sense of racial privilege and relative invisibility. 

School Effectiveness in Indiana

Led by Mark Berends, this study addresses the following research questions: (1) What is the impact of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program (vouchers) on student achievement gains and the schools these students attend? (2) What is the impact of the charter schools on student achievement gains? (3) Are these voucher and charter school impacts greater for some groups of students compared with others, having effects on the racial/ethnic and socioeconomic achievement gaps? (4) How do schools of choice (charter or private schools) differ from traditional public schools in terms of organizational and instructional conditions, school leadership, professional capacity, school learning climate and funding conditions, and parent involvement and support that promote achievement?


Because students in traditional public, charter, and private schools all take the same state assessments, we have a unique opportunity to examine achievement gains across students and school sectors using longitudinal student assessment data from the Indian Department of Education. With additional longitudinal data collected from schools and teachers in a representative sample of K-8 traditional public schools, charter schools, and private schools, we examine the conditions under which the impacts of the voucher and charter schools occur (sample of 577 schools, 5,300 teachers).

The Intersection of Race and Gender and Teacher Perceptions

Dr. Calvin Zimmermann is working on several papers using nationally representative data that examine how racial and gender meanings shape teachers’ perceptions and actions in early childhood. For example, one paper coauthored with Dr. Grace Kao from Yale University looks at children’s race and gender classification and the relationship between children’s noncognitive skills and teacher ratings of academic ability. A second paper examines racial and gender disparities in teacher communication with parents about children’s behavior problems, academic problems, and accomplishments. One of the goals of all of these papers is to push scholars to think beyond how race or gender individually shape teacher perceptions and actions but also how the intersectionality of race and gender enhances our understanding of these issues.

Interested in getting involved in critical education research? Click here!