Choice Seminar at Wesleyan University, Spring 2015

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CSPL 341: Choice – A Case Study in Education and Entrepreneurship
Spring 2015 seminar, begins Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 from 7-9:50pm
Room 004, Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, Wesleyan University
Visitor’s directions to our classroom & parking and to the Wesleyan campus

Instructor: Jack Dougherty
Harber Fellow in Education and Entrepreneurship, Wesleyan Univ., Spring 2015
and Associate Professor of Educational Studies at Trinity College
Personal website,  email, and online appointment calendar

Jump to: Week 1: Jan 28th — Week 2: Feb 4th — Week 3: Feb 11th — Week 4: Feb 18th — Week 5: Feb 25th — Week 6: March 4th — Week 7: March 25th — Week 8: April 1st — Week 9: April 8th — Week 10: April 15th — Week 11: April 22nd — Week 12: April 29th — Week 13: May 6th

Teaching Assistant: Elaina Rollins, Trinity Class of ’16, email:
Part-time long-distance support to help Wesleyan students coordinate their field visits to Hartford, and peer-editing support via Google Docs upon request.

Description: In this seminar, we will investigate an increasingly popular reform movement—choice—to better understand what happens when educators act more like entrepreneurs in competing for students, how families navigate both schooling and housing markets, and the outcomes of recent policy innovations. Drawing from the disciplines of history, sociology, and government, we will compare and contrast choice models that have been promoted by magnet schools, charter schools, and move-to-opportunity housing experiments. Enrollment limited to 19. See WesMaps course listing.

Acquire two books in any format:
Richard D. Kahlenberg and Halley Potter, A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education (Teachers College Press, 2014).

Douglas S. Massey et al., Climbing Mount Laurel: The Struggle for Affordable Housing and Social Mobility in an American Suburb (Princeton University Press, 2013).

Additional readings will be made available in our Moodle site and on the public web.

For each seminar, students must bring a laptop (Mac, Windows, Chromebook, or Linux) for in-class writing, peer review, and data analysis. Let me know if you need to borrow one.

Students are expected to arrange a one-time visit to Hartford to conduct site visits for one of our research projects. The instructor will assist students with scheduling and coordinating transportation.

Research projects:
As a community research seminar, we will conduct small-scale studies to answer questions about school and housing choice in Connecticut, discuss what we learn with local researchers and organizations, and share on the public web.

Project 1: How do school choice programs communicate with families at public events in the Hartford region? We will do basic qualitative research at choice school open house events and fairs, discuss what we are learning with Mira Debs (Yale doctoral candidate in sociology and Wesleyan instructor), and share our findings on the public web.

Project 2: What does public education data reveal—or obscure—about equity and outcomes among Connecticut school choice programs? We will do basic quantitative analysis of publicly-accessible magnet, charter, vo-tech, and Open Choice data. We will discuss what we are learning with Robert Cotto, Jr. (co-author of CT Voices Choice Watch report and Director of Urban Educational Initiatives at Trinity College), and share our findings on the public web.

Project 3: Did Connecticut urban residents who received housing choice counseling move into better neighborhoods, and how is this goal defined? We will do basic quantitative and spatial analysis of housing mobility client data, masked by census block group. We will discuss what we are learning with Erin Boggs (executive director of the Connecticut Open Communities Alliance and Wesleyan alumna), and share our findings on the public web.

Project 4: How do low-income Connecticut residents interpret their housing (and schooling) choices before and after using a digital search tool? We will interview people while they explore their options using a open-source digital search tool ( We will discuss what we are learning with Erin Boggs and housing mobility counselors, and share our findings on the public web.

See exercises for each project and additional work in Assignments and assessment.


*Subject to change by instructor, with important revisions marked in red.*

Week 1: Jan 28th – An introduction to school choice
How do school choice programs market themselves? How do different parents navigate this process?

Introduction to seminar, the syllabus, and long-distance TA Elaina Rollins

Public writing and student privacy policy; identifying students on the public syllabus

In-class simulation on school choice parent information: insert your results, and add your meta-questions

How to annotate an online PDF in Moodle (or any website) with tool

Assign online annotators to raise issues and questions on next week’s readings

Assign Project 1 Exercise A: school choice event field notes, due Feb 24th

Sign up on my calendar to chat with me and classmates over lunch, dinner, or hot cocoa. (For example, if 3-4 wish to book a one-hour lunch, sign up for three 20-minute slots)

Week 2: Feb 4th – Competing perspectives on school choice
How do different educational researchers and advocates frame their arguments and evidence?

Read in Moodle and learn how to write thoughtful annotations with tool:

Frederick M Hess, The Same Thing Over and Over: How School Reformers Get Stuck in Yesterday’s Ideas (Harvard University Press, 2010), excerpt from preface and chapter 1.
See sample online annotations by the instructor.

Terry M. Moe and Paul T. Hill, “Moving to a Mixed Model: Without an Appropriate Role for the Market, the Education Sector Will Stagnate,” in The Futures of School Reform, ed. Jal Mehta, Robert B. Schwartz, and Frederick M. Hess (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2012), 65–93.
Online annotations due Feb 3rd at 10pm by CB, JC, AF

Janelle Scott and Amy Stuart Wells, “A More Perfect Union: Reconciling School Choice Policy with Equality of Opportunity Goals,” in Closing the Opportunity Gap: What America Must Do to Give Every Child an Even Chance, ed. Prudence L. Carter and Kevin G. Welner (Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 123–40.
Online annotations due Feb 3rd at 10pm by IF, AG, SG, HH

Howard Fuller with Lisa Frazier Page, No Struggle No Progress: A Warrior’s Life from Black Power to Education Reform (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Marquette Univ Pr, 2014), excerpts from chapters 12, 15, 17.
Online annotations due Feb 3rd at 10pm by EK, AL, AM, CM

Christopher Lubienski, “The Politics of Parental Choice: Theory and Evidence on Quality Information,” in School Choice Policies and Outcomes: Empirical and Philosophical Perspectives, ed. Walter Feinberg and Christopher Lubienski (Albany: SUNY Press, 2008), 99–119.
Online annotations due Feb 3rd at 10pm by SS, LS, NT, RU, EW

View ONE video documentary:
Davis Guggenheim, Waiting for “Superman,” Video documentary, 2010,, available in Moodle,
Madeleine Sackler, The Lottery, Video documentary, 2010,, available on several paid movie streaming services.

In my Education Reform Past & Present course at Trinity, I assigned a video documentary analysis to help students think and write more clearly about this ed reform genre. Read ANY of the sample web essays by students in my previous classes:

  • Veronica Armendariz, “Video Analysis: Waiting for Superman,” Educ 300 web essay, Trinity College, Spring 2013,
  • George Phillips, “On Waiting for Superman,” Educ 300 web essay, Trinity College, Spring 2012,
  • Grace Ryu, “The Lottery: Beyond the Argument Between Charter Schools and the Teachers Union,” Educ 300 web essay, Trinity College, Spring 2014,
  • XRS, “The Lottery: Parents Want and Deserve More for their Children’s Futures,” Educ 300 web essay, Trinity College, Spring 2014,

Presentation: A vocabulary for understanding school choice in Connecticut

In class: Analyze competing arguments on school choice, both in print (with student annotations) and video. List different types of arguments in meta-questions.

In class: Updates on Project 1 Exercise A: scheduling, transportation, waiver forms

Prep for next week

Week 3: Feb 11th – Sheff v O’Neill and School Choice Advocacy in Connecticut

Updated – Read: Jack Dougherty et al., “School Information, Parental Decisions, and the Digital Divide: The SmartChoices Project in Hartford, Connecticut,” in Educational Delusions? Why Choice Can Deepen Inequality and How to Make Schools Fair, ed. Gary Orfield and Erica Frankenberg (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 219–37. See PDF in Moodle, annotations are welcome but not required.

Robert Cotto, Jr. and Kenneth Feder, Choice Watch: Diversity and Access in Connecticut’s School Choice Programs (CT Voices for Children, 2014),
Online annotations due Feb 10th at 10pm on this public copy of PDF (not Moodle) by EW, RU, NT, LS

Recent school choice policy briefs in Connecticut:
ConnCAN, “A Crisis We Can Solve: Connecticut’s Failing Schools and Their Impact,” ConnCAN, November 2014,

Achieve Hartford, “Getting the Options and Opportunities Right: How Listening, Learning, and Revising Can Increase the Impact of Sheff,” December 17, 2014,

Sheff Movement, “Legislative and Advocacy Agenda 2015,” Sheff Movement, December 31, 2014,

Mira Debs, “Pre-Kindergarten Availability and Access in Hartford Region Magnet and Open Choice Schools” (Sheff Movement, January 2015),

Read policy briefs and ask: What do they seek to change? How do they rationalize their views? Where do different views overlap or conflict? Write online annotations by Feb 10th at 10pm on more than one of the seminar’s copies of these public PDFs: ConnCANAchieve HartfordSheff MovementMira Debs (not Moodle) by IF, AF, JC, CB
– see additional comments on GDocs by JC and IF and CB

In-class: Student updates on Project 1 school choice events and exercise A field notes; $20 incentive to collect field notes on up to 5 additional choice events

Presentation: Competing choice policies and parent information research (SmartChoices and AERA 2010 slides)

In class: Answer factual meta-questions in the re-organized GDoc about school choice in Connecticut using these resources; interpretive questions to continue during the semester

In-class: Student annotations on recent policy briefs on CT school choice (see links above), and compare with “The State of North End Schools,” video of public event by J. Stan McCauley, January 31, 2014, (Focus on segment from 29:30 to 34:30 on school choice and neighborhood schools).

In-class: Identify proposed school choice legislation in the Bill Record Book, for review by the Education Committee, Connecticut General Assembly, Recommended: attend a public hearing in March

In-class: Student annotations on Cotto and Feder Choice Watch report (see link above)

Assign Project 2, Exercise C: school choice data compilation and analysis, due on Wed Feb 18th at 4pm

Week 4: Feb 18th – School Choice Data and Equity in Connecticut

Read: Jack Dougherty et al., Who Chooses in Hartford? Report 1: Statistical Analysis of Regional School Choice Office Applicants and Non-Applicants among Hartford-Resident HPS Students in Grades 3-7, Spring 2012 (Hartford, CT: Cities Suburbs Schools Project at Trinity College, May 12, 2014),
and compare with presentation slides

Kevin Welner, “The Dirty Dozen: How Charter Schools Influence Student Enrollment,” Teachers College Record, April 22, 2013,, and publicly available at

Additional background resources on CT charter schools

  • Connecticut State Department of Education, Biennial Report on the Operation of Charter Schools in Connecticut (Hartford, CT, 2014),
  • Connecticut State Department of Education, “Charter School Questions and Answers,” 2014,
  • Connecticut State Department of Education, “Charter School Annual Reports,” 2014,
  • Northeast Charter Schools Network, “Focus on the Facts: Connecticut Charter Schools Fact Sheet 2014-15,” (Since these are difficult to download, see also this scanned PDF of one fact sheet.)
  • Northeast Charter Schools Network, Connecticut Public Charter Schools Guidebook, 2014-15, 2014,
  • Jumoke Academy, Hartford CT,
  • Achievement First, Connecticut schools,

Guest: Robert Cotto, Jr. (7-8pm) to answer our questions about his report, and to discuss our data and preliminary findings in Project 2

Assign Project 2, Exercise D: school choice data analysis and visualization, due before break (March 6)

In-class: Presentation on Who Chooses? magnet schools

In-class: Test Welner’s categories on charter and magnet schools

Student updates on Project 1 school choice events and exercise A field notes (due Feb 24)

Recommended: Thursday Feb 19th
Amanda Cox, “Data Visualization at The New York Times,” presentation at 4:15pm at the Russell House,

Week 5: Feb 25th – Choice Marketing and Family Access in Connecticut

Due night before class (on Feb 24th): Project 1 Exercise A field notes

Read: Mira Debs, “Untouchable Carrots: Marketing School Choice and Realities in Hartford’s Inter-district Magnet Program,” draft article, February 2015. Online comments due Feb 24th at 10pm on Google Document (limited to Wesleyan) by SS, CM, AM, EK

In class: Update on Exercise D (due March 6th); Assign Exercise B thematic analysis of compiled field notes due March 3rd by 10pm.

Guest: Mira Debs (8:30-9:30pm) to discuss our field notes and preliminary findings

See also: Blog posts on school choice by Wesleyan students in the Soc399b seminar, including this exchange of ideas with Chase Knowles, “Perceptions of School Choice,” February 12, 2015, 

See also: Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, “$20m Agreement Will Expand School Choice to Desegregate Hartford Schools,” The CT Mirror, February 23, 2015,

Recommended (by last week’s seminar guest): Robert Cotto Jr., “Charter School Renewal in CT: The Accountability Is Flexible,” The Cities, Suburbs and Schools Project, February 21, 2015,

Recommended: Saturday February 28th
The Power of Bilingual Education workshop, Central Connecticut State University, New Britain,

Recommended: Tuesday March 3rd
Public hearing begins 5pm on elementary and secondary education, Appropriations Committee, Connecticut General Assembly, Hartford,

Week 6: March 4th – Student Achievement and School Choice

Focus on the big questions: What kinds of claims do people make about test scores in school choice programs, and are they supported? What are some of the methodological challenges in evaluating student achievement growth in school choice programs? What is selection bias, and how would you explain it to the general public? How do educational researchers attempt to make use of school choice lotteries to make stronger claims about program effectiveness?

Read: Robert Bifulco, Casey D. Cobb, and Courtney Bell, “Can Interdistrict Choice Boost Student Achievement? The Case of Connecticut’s Interdistrict Magnet School Program,” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 31, no. 4 (2009): 323–45, (OR download from our Moodle site). Post comments and questions on this public Google Doc (OR annotations on the Moodle PDF; Chrome browser recommended) due March 4th at 12 noon by AL, HH, SG, AG. Focus on the broad concepts and don’t worry about details in the equations and results tables.

Presentation: Student Achievement and School Choice

In class: Examine different claims about school choice outcomes in Connecticut

Explore new school data tool (which excludes test scores): Alvin Chang, “About Your School,” CT Mirror, February 2015,

In class: Support with data visualization resources for Exercise D (due before break on March 6th)

Assign response essays for Massey, Kahlenberg & Potter books, due after break.

Break: March 11th and 18th

PS: While you were away. . . . new items worth reading

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, “The Charter Debate: More Schools, Transparency and Oversight?,” The CT Mirror, March 24, 2015,

Kenneth Feder, Sarah Iverson, and Cyd Oppenheimer, “Unequal Schools: Connecticut’s Racial, Socioeconomic, and Geographic Disparities in Kindergarten Class Size and Teaching Experience,” Connecticut Voices for Children, February 2015,; with data visualizations on kindergarten class size and teacher experience.

Week 7: March 25th – Schooling and housing boundaries and choice in CT

New: Please complete a short anonymous mid-semester evaluation before seminar at

Read: Jack Dougherty and contributors, On the Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and Its Suburbs (Hartford, CT: Trinity College, open-access book-in-progress, 2015), See also reading questions for this partial draft. Feedback welcome; see How to Comment at

Read: Michael S. Rosenwald, “Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print. Yes, You Read That Right,” The Washington Post, February 22, 2015,

Elaina Rollins, guest facilitator for On The Line. Anyone may add feedback anonymously to this public Google Doc

Not yet in the book, but helpful concepts for next week’s reading:

New: Simulations-in-progress for On The Line housing chapters

Mid-semester evaluation feedback: What’s working and what can we improve?

Five-minute WordPress tutorial to create a practice post

  • Use Trinity credentials to log into
  • Go to Dashboard to adjust User Profile and display name (see Public/Private policy)
  • Create a New Post and explore Visual Editor buttons to insert links, add images
  • Select the correct Category (use “2015-practice”) and Publish to public web
  • Your published “practice” posts should automatically appear at
  • For help, see this somewhat dated screencast:

500-word response essays for Massey or Kahlenberg & Potter book due on WordPress

Upcoming: Instructor’s talks; Projects 3 and 4; Web essay proposals due April 22nd

Week 8: April 1st – Housing choice and moving to opportunity

New: Suggested reading questions and student response essays on Massey’s book.

Read: Douglas S. Massey et al., Climbing Mount Laurel: The Struggle for Affordable Housing and Social Mobility in an American Suburb (Princeton University Press, 2013).
500-word response essay due March 31st at 10pm on WordPress (category=2015-response-to-Massey): focus on chapters 1-2-9 by AM; 1-3-9 by NT; 1-4-9 by CM; 1-5-9 by CB; 1-6-9 by SG; 1-7-9 by HH; 1-8-9 by IF.

Discussion of the book, led by students who wrote response essays

Presentation on Housing Mobility voucher choice programs,

Stefanie DeLuca, “Learning from Voucher Families: Close Ups of the Search and Relocation Process in Mobile and Baltimore,” Presentation slides for PRRAC, July 2012,

Start Project 3: Did Connecticut urban residents who received housing choice counseling move into better neighborhoods, and how is this goal defined?
Assign Exercise E: Examine our data sources and describe methods or steps our seminar can use to try to answer the question above, due Tues April 7th by 10pm via Google Docs.

Planning Project 4: How do lower-income Connecticut residents interpret housing opportunities when using a digital search tool? We will interview people while they explore the Mobility App tool, created by the Connecticut Open Communities Alliance. ( The staff of Middletown North End Action Team, 654 Main Street, have agreed to help us conduct interviews with lower-income residents on Wed April 15th 6-7pm (they will invite families with our flyer and buy dinner food; we pay for food and also provide kids’ activities while interviewing adults). Each seminar student will receive script and training to interview one adult. You must bring your laptop and a device to digitally record an interview.

Resource: Successful Exercise B essay sample 1 and sample 2 with comments, anonymous

Substitution for Exercise F: Online CITI training on Social & Behavioral modules for Responsible Conduct of Research; email proof of completion by the end of Tuesday April 7

Web essay assignment: proposals due Wed April 22nd at 1pm

Recommended: Monday April 6th

Jack Dougherty, Harber Fellow presentation, “On The Line: How Schooling, Housing, and Civil Rights Shaped Hartford and its Suburbs,” 4:30pm, Allbritton 311. From the announcement: Professor Dougherty researches the history of schooling and housing boundaries that have divided metropolitan Hartford and how families and civil rights activists have struggled to cross over, redraw, or erase these lines over time. His work examines the reversal of fortunes between the city and its suburbs and demonstrates that a dynamic relationship between public education and private housing explains the growth and durability of metropolitan inequality better than either factor alone. Learn more about On The Line, a digital-first, open access, book-in-progress at


Week 9: April 8th – Housing choice and moving-to-opportunity in CT

Read (new link): Connecticut Fair Housing Center, Housing Mobility: What Do Housing Voucher Recipients Want? (Hartford, CT, April 2013),

“Attending a Baltimore Housing Mobility Program Orientation Session,”, March 2014,

Browse: Connecticut Open Communities Alliance website,

Guest: Erin Boggs (7-8:30pm) to provide background about Connecticut housing vouchers, review Project 3 housing mobility data, and help us plan Project 4 Mobility App interviews

Discuss Project 3 Exercise E housing mobility data methods, and interpretation of results

Read about Housing Mobility Voucher counseling data analysis in new report, Connecticut Fair Housing Center, Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice 2015 (Hartford: Connecticut Department of Housing, 2015),,
*see PDF pages 121-126.

Read and refine: Project 4 draft Interview Guide, and interview practice for April 15th 6-7pm event at Middletown North End Action Team (NEAT), 654 Main Street. See also our Wesleyan IRB application and exemption.

Assign Exercise G (interviews at April 15th event, transcribe by April 19th)

To come: Exercise H (thematic analysis or web redesign due by Tues April 28th)

Week 10: April 15th – Rethinking Charter and Magnet Schools

Read: Richard D. Kahlenberg and Halley Potter, A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education (Teachers College Press, 2014), and prepare questions for the authors.

Read 500-word response essays by classmates due April 14th at 10pm on WordPress (category=2015-response-to-Kahlenberg-Potter) by AF, JC, AG, LS, EK, SS, AL, RU.

Recommended: Richard D. Kahlenberg, “Policy Levers for Promoting Socioeconomic and Racial Integration” (Presentation slides, Magnet Schools in a School Choice Arena, Goodwin College, East Hartford CT, December 4, 2014),

Brainstorm questions for video conference with Richard Kahlenberg and Halley Potter, 8-8:30pm

Before seminar: For Project 4, conduct Mobility App interviews at Middletown North End Action Team (NEAT), 654 Main Street, 6-7pm

Rename files of Mobility App interview recordings (Lastname.mp3 and, or similar format) and transfer copies to instructor via USB

Exercise G: Housing Mobility App interview transcript, using recommended format at bottom of this page, on Google Doc shared with, due by end of Sunday April 19th. Recommended: download InqScribe (see video tutorial). Either request 14-day trial license OR copy and paste transcript into a word processor (since the free unlicensed version does not allow saving).

Brainstorm ideas and share sources for web essay proposals, due April 22nd at 1pm

Week 11: April 22nd – Interview data analysis

Assign Exercise H: Mobility App interview thematic analysis or web redesign due by Tues April 28th at 10pm

In-class: Mobility App participant spreadsheet; Thematic analysis of interview transcripts (restricted to research team)

Your advice for me: What should I tell the Commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Housing at tomorrow’s Fair Housing Conference panel on housing mobility?

Feedback on web essay proposals; full drafts due Sunday May 3rd at 6pm.

Prepare questions for guest alumni in next week’s video conference, open to campus.

Week 12: April 29th – Teachers and Choice

Panel discussion (7-8pm via video conference) with Wesleyan alumni working as educators, on how they entered the teaching profession and their personal experiences across different types of public choice schools:


Background reading: Alexandra Hootnick, “Teachers Are Losing Their Jobs, But Teach for America’s Expanding. What’s Wrong With That?,” The Nation, April 15, 2014,

Optional, refers to article above: George Joseph, “This Is What Happens When You Criticize Teach for America,” The Nation, October 29, 2014,

Dana Goldstein, “Teach for America Has Faced Criticism for Years. Now It’s Listening — and Changing.,” Vox, September 5, 2014,

After video conference:

Brief review of Exercise H: Mobility App essays; does anyone wish to switch to this for their final web essay topic?

Web essay workshop: review the evaluation criteria, with suggested resources to help make sure you meet all of them

A handy Google search trick: search any website for a particular term in this format:
“search term” site:

What Google Analytics tells us about our web audience; see also data on student web essays in my “Public Writing and Student Privacy” chapter in Web Writing book

Assign: Web Essay full drafts (category = web-essay-2015-draft) due Sunday May 3rd at 6pm, for guest evaluators to review by Wed May 6th at 9pm). *Make sure that your essay automatically appears at the bottom of this page.*

Week 13: May 6th

My seminar wrap-up:

  • how students’ questions have evolved during the semester
  • my thoughts on the seminar’s big question on choice in education and housing
  • the broader goals of liberal arts learning, and writing for the public web

Students: Mini-presentations of web essay drafts (show your web posts and share your thinking about how you wrote and designed it; no more than 2 minutes each)

Discussion about suggested revisions  (no more than 5 minutes per essay) with guest evaluators Fionnuala Darby-Hudgens (Trinity ’13 and former seminar TA) and Kenny Feder (Wesleyan alumnus, CT Voices for Children policy analyst); with guest Lisa Dabrowski (CTOCA), and Elaina Rollins, Trinity TA

Assign: Peer evaluation of overall contribution to learning in the seminar. Download the spreadsheet template and email your substantive comments and scores to me by Thursday May 7th at 12 noon. Anonymized results will be sent to individual students.

Updated: Tuesday, May 12th by 7pm

Revised web essays due on WordPress, no more than 2800 words. Please copy and paste your old post into a new post (or start fresh if you prefer) and be sure to select the new category (web-essay-2015-final). Your new essays will initially appear at the bottom of this page, then I will manually relocate the links (with both authors’ names) to the archived web essay section of the site for future reference, if you keep your work public. Remember our Public Writing and Student Privacy guidelines.