Wohlstetter, Priscilla (pw2317)

Priscilla Wohlstetter

Distinguished Research Professor Emerita

Office Location:

464 GDodge

Educational Background

B.A., Simmons College; M.Ed., Harvard University; Ph.D., Northwestern University

Scholarly Interests

Policy and politics of K-12 urban education, school governance and school performance, charter schools and charter management organizations (CMOs), parent involvement in schools of choice, public-private partnerships, implementation of the Common Core State Standards, school networks, and intermediary organizations.

Selected Publications

Wohlstetter, P., Buck, B., Houston, D.M., & Smith, C.O. (In press). Common core, uncommon theory of action: CEOs in New York City. In A.J. Daly & K.S. Finnegan (eds.), Thinking systematically: Improving districts under pressure. Washington, DC: AERA.

Wohlstetter, P., Smith, J. & Farrell, C.C. (2015).  The choices and challenges of charter schools, revisited. Journal of School Choice, 9(1), 115-138.

Marsh, J.A. & Wohlstetter, P. (2013). Recent trends in intergovernmental relations: The resurgence of local actors in education policy. Educational Researcher, 42(5), pp. 276-283.

Wohlstetter, P., Smith, J., & Gallagher, A. (2013). New York City's Children First Networks: Turning Accountability on Its Head. Journal of Educational Administration, 51(4), 528-549.

Wohlstetter, P., Smith, J., & Farrell, C.C. (2013). Choices and Challenges: Charter School Performance in Perspective. Harvard Education Press.

Farrell. C., Wohlstetter, P. & Smith, J. (2012). Charter management organizations: An emerging approach to scaling-up what works. Educational Policy, 26(4), 499-532.

Hentschke, G., Wohlstetter, P., Hirman, J., & Zeehandelaar, D. (2011). Using state-wide multiple measures for school leadership and management: Costs incurred vs. benefits gained. School Leadership & Management, 31(1), 21-34.

Wohlstetter, P. & Smith, J. (2010). Uncommon players, common goals: Partnerships in charter schools. In C. Lubienski & P.C. Weitzel, The charter school experiment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Nayfack, M., Hentschke, G. & Wohlstetter, P. (2009, March). Exploring superintendent leadership in smaller urban districts: Does district size influence superintendent behavior? Education and Urban Society, 41(3), 317-337.

Wohlstetter, P., Datnow, A. & Park, V. (2007). Creating a system for data-driven decision-making: Applying the principal-agent framework. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 19(3), 239-259.

Wohlstetter, P., Malloy, C.L., Hentschke, G. & Smith, J. (2004, December). Improving service delivery in education through collaboration: The role of cross-sectoral alliances in the development and support of charter schools. Social Science Quarterly, 85(5), 1078-1096.

Wohlstetter, P. & Chau, D. (2003). Does autonomy matter? Implementing research-based practices in charter and other public schools. In K. Bulkley & P. Wohlstetter (Eds.), Taking account of charter schools: What’s happened and what’s next? New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Wohlstetter, P., Malloy, C.L., Chau, D., & Polhemus, J.L. (2003, September). Improving schools through networks: A new approach to urban school reform. Educational Policy, 17(4), 399-430.

Priscilla Wohlstetter is a Distinguished Research Professor in Education Policy and Politics at Teachers College, Columbia University, and founder and director of the TC Survey Research Initiative. Wohlstetter was TC’s 2011 Tisch Lecturer prior to her faculty appointment in EPSA. Before coming to TC, she held the Diane and MacDonald Becket Professorship in Education Policy at the University of Southern California, where she also founded and directed the Center on Educational Governance.

Wohlstetter has published extensively on issues of education policy, policy implementation and K-12 education reform, with a specific focus on organizational theory and political science.  Her work explores the policy process at the national, state, district and school levels, specializing in intergovernmental and policy-practice relations. Current projects include research on implementation of the college and career standards; charter school accountability; and public schools that, by design, intentionally mix the socioeconomic status of their student populations. In the recent past, she directed a national study of charter schools and public-private partnerships, served as co-director of the National Resource Center for Charter School Finance and Governance, and led studies of school improvement networks in Los Angeles and New York City. Her most recent book, Choices & Challenges: Charter School Performance in Perspective, was published by Harvard Education Press in 2013. 

Charter School Diversity Project 

The Charter School Diversity Project focuses on intentionally diverse charter schools – schools with student populations that are socio-economically mixed. The project is being carried out in two phases. During the first phase (August 2015 – January 2016), the project team collaborated with a national group of 21 charter schools to develop and field test school climate surveys targeted to the unique interests of diverse charters. The survey instruments for parents, staff, and students are being designed to evaluate the benefits and challenges of diverse charter schools. Once the surveys are finalized, they will be available to the hundreds of diverse charters across the U.S. The survey data will allow schools to track their own performance over time as well as benchmark themselves against other similar charters whose mission they share.

In the second phase, the project team, with foundation support, will apply a quasi-experimental design to compare school leadership, curriculum and instruction, and community engagement. The research will draw on a nationally representative sample of diverse charter schools. The research methods, in addition to the school climate surveys, will draw from qualitative approaches, including school-level interviews with teachers and organizational leaders, focus groups with parents and students, and observations of professional development  and classrooms. Student achievement data will also be collected and analyzed to shed new information on the link between integration and student achievement. Through the project, we hope to identify, describe, and disseminate promising practices and strategies, as well as analyze and make sense of emerging patterns for both scholarly and practitioner audiences.


Advisory Board: Rachel Godsil (Seton Hall Law), Richard Kahlenberg (The Century Foundation), James Liebman (Columbia Law), Renita Thukral (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools).

Principal Investigator: Priscilla Wohlstetter 

Funding: TC Diversity Research Award

Contact Information wohlstetter@tc.columbia.edu  212.678.8409


Teachers College Survey Research Initiative

The Teachers College Survey Research Initiative (TC SRI) assists states, districts, charter management organizations, and schools in designing surveys that fit their needs and priorities. We develop surveys for parents, staff, and students to provide feedback to schools about school climate, stakeholder satisfaction and engagement, or program evaluation, and 360 principal evaluations. The surveys are designed to help clients with strategic planning and school improvement efforts.

The TC SRI was created by a diverse group of faculty from across Teachers College with expertise in survey design, measurement and statistics, leadership, parent involvement, and student engagement. All of our surveys meet the high-quality standards of survey design.

With our surveys, clients have 24/7 access to the results. TC SRI analyzes and produces survey reports for clients. TC SRI services include online and paper surveys, free language translation, customized services for clients, and developing presentations for clients to communicate survey results to various stakeholders.


Advisory Board: Alex Bowers (Organization & Leadership), Thomas Corcoran (Consortium for Policy Research in Education - CPRE), Matthew Johnson (Measurement & Statistics), Aaron Pallas (EPSA), and Brian Perkins (Dept. of Organization & Leadership)

Funding: TC Provost Investment Fund & Self-sustaining

Director: Priscilla Wohlstetter

Contact Information wohlstetter@tc.columbia.edu  212.678.8409


School Choice Opportunity Index

School choice programs offer parents more control over their child’s education by giving families the power to opt out of their neighborhood public schools and seek a better education elsewhere. The diversity of program offerings in schools of choice also allows parents to customize their child’s education, depending on the family’s educational philosophy or beliefs. School choice comes in a variety of flavors – charter schools, magnet schools, career and technical education schools (CTE), private schools, homeschooling, online/virtual schools, tax credit scholarships, and vouchers. The purpose of this project was to rate 30 American cities on the school choice opportunities offered to families to assess the reform climate in each city. Data were collected from extant databases and original surveys with representatives from local school districts, philanthropic organizations, and the business community.

The final report will be released in Spring 2016.


Principal Investigator: Priscilla Wohlstetter

Contact Information: wohlstetter@tc.columbia.edu   212.678.8409


Support for the Implementation of the Common Core Learning Standards in New York City Schools

The national education landscape has seen a rise in the use of public, nonprofit, and for-profit school support organizations (SSOs) that operate under the aegis of or alongside traditional school districts. Few analyses have examined the relative functioning of different forms of SSOs. Our knowledge gaps are especially pronounced with respect to how different SSOs facilitate organizational learning within schools, and the ways they leverage institutional capacities to improve teaching and school performance. 

New York City has three-year implementing the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) since 2011. The purpose of this study, funded by the Spencer Foundation, is to examine the role of three kinds of support organizations in the implementation of the CCLS in New York City. These include Charter Management Organizations (CMOs), Affinity Groups (AGs), and Superintendent Offices and Borough Field Support Centers (SOs and BFSCs).

We will examine CCLS implementation at three levels, (1) within the NYC DOE, (2) within SSOs, and (3) within individual schools.  We will conduct a broad examination of nine of these organizations and an intensive examination of six. This study will examine how these three forms work to develop school capacity--to recalibrate practice, access new resources and expertise, and facilitate learning around the Common Core standards. Theoretically, the research contributes to organizational learning theory by examining influences across diverse settings.


Principal Investigator: Priscilla Wohlstetter

Co-Principal Investigator: Diane Massell 

Funding: Spencer Foundation

Contact Information wohlstetter@tc.columbia.edu  212.678.8409





Related Articles

Priscilla Wohlstetter: Helping Educators Implement the Common Core. Jan. 8, 2014

What is helping the Common Core succeed in NYC? Is New York City on track to ensure that the new Common Core standards will address academic achievement gaps and build skills like problem solving and persistence that also are crucial to college and career readiness? What steps should the next administration take to ensure this happens?

Priscilla Wohlstetter in WNYC's School Book blog. Dec. 9, 2013

Love 'em or hate 'em, charter schools are going to be with us for the foreseeable future, argues TC's Priscilla Wohlstetter

Permanent Charter

Love 'em or hate 'em, charter schools are going to be with us for the foreseeable future, argues TC's Priscilla Wohlstetter in WNYC's SchoolBook blog.

Priscilla Wohlstetter featured in TC Media Center, Sept. 25, 2013

Twenty-one years after the first charter schools opened in Minnesota, what do we know about charter school performance in the United States? TC's Priscilla Wohlstetter and co-authors bring new information to a longstanding debate.

The Charter School Difference: Not Quite What We Imagined

TC's Priscilla Wohlstetter and co-authors bring new information to a longstanding debate.

Seven TC Scholars Make 2013 Edu-Scholar Public Presence Rankings

The EducationNext blogger Rick Hess ranks education scholars by the quality of their research and "footprint on the public discourse" in education.

It Takes a Team

Tisch Lecturer Priscilla Wohlstetter believes that partnerships are the road to improving educational outcomes

"Cooperation Matters"

The new Center takes an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving research in the public sector by combining the effort of Priscilla Wolhstetter at TC with Columbia's Schools of Law, Business and Social Work.

Visiting Professor Wohlstetter Comments on CA "Parent Trigger"

Priscilla Wohlstetter, Tisch Visiting Professor from USC, tells L.A. Weekly that California's "Parent Trigger" law shifts "the balance of power" in Los Angeles schools to include parents.

Fit to Learn

Chuck Basch is on a quest to improve the health of the nation's schoolchildren.

Taking Student Health to Scale

Last year, when Colorado began offering a new public school program that enables kids to grab breakfast off a lobby cart and chow down during their first-period classes, some teachers and administrators raised concerns.

2013 Year in Review: Research

2013 Year in Review: Research

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