UCI sociologist Andrew Penner will help explore the role of online charter schools in Oregon. Heather Ashbach / UCI

Andrew Penner, UCI associate professor of sociology, will be part of the first national effort to study how different approaches to school choice, such as voucher programs and charter schools, can better serve disadvantaged students. The National Center for Research on Education Access & Choice has been established with a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences and will be housed at Tulane University in New Orleans. Researchers will focus on how school choice is working for minority, low-income, English language learner and special education students. REACH will track student outcomes and other metrics in, essentially, every school in every state. Experts say that five key areas – transportation, communication strategies, enrollment systems, oversight and teacher supply – are most likely to drive the success of choice policies. Penner will be on a team studying the role of online charter schools in Oregon. “Over the last couple of years, UCI has been working to build administrative data infrastructure, and we’re excited that this setup will be able to help us understand a pressing policy question in education,” he said. “We’re really looking forward to partnering with the Oregon Department of Education to answer a question that will help them better serve their students.”