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Gary T. Henry
Federal education policies gave political and financial support for state education agencies to turnaround low-performing schools on an unprecedented scale. North Carolina’s ambitious program turned around over half of all schools nationwide that underwent turnaround funded by Race to the Top. Exploiting the assignment to turnaround based on schools’ 2009-10 proficiency rates, we implement regression discontinuity designs to estimate the effects of state turnaround services on student achievement in North Carolina’s lowest-performing schools annually from the 2011-12 through 2014-15. Overall, we find modest positive effects of turnaround when including treated schools at all grade levels, but these effects are sensitive to bandwidth. For secondary schools, we find consistently positive effects that vary from modest to large. For elementary and middle schools, we find consistent, modest negative effects of turnaround on student achievement.
In contrast to prior federally mandated school reforms, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) allows states more discretion in reforming their lowest performing schools, removes requirements to disrupt the status quo, and does not allocate substantial additional funds. Using a regression discontinuity design, we evaluate a state turnaround initiative aligned with ESSA requirements. We find the effect on student test score growth was not significant in year one and -0.13 in year two. Also in year two, we find that teachers in turnaround schools were 22.5 percentage points more likely to turn over. Teacher turnover appears to have been voluntary rather than the result of strategic staffing decisions.
One in five schools loses its principal each year. Despite the prevalence of principal turnover, little empirical research has examined its effects on school outcomes. Because principal turnover may occur in response to or contemporaneous with a downturn in student achievement, the effect of a turnover is confounded with unobserved school-level factors. We employ a novel identification strategy that blocks each potential source of endogeneity to isolate plausibly causal effects of within- and between-year principal turnover. Using eight years of North Carolina administrative data from 2009-2018, we find that principal turnover is associated with significant decreases in student achievement and increases in teacher turnover. These effects are similar whether the turnover occurs over the summer or during the school year.
This article contributes to the literature on school turnaround by examining the effect of the North Carolina Transformation (NCT) initiative, which was implemented in 75 low-performing schools after the state’s efforts to turn around the lowest performing schools under Race to the Top ended, on student reading score growth in grades K-3. Reading score growth is measured using the mCLASS Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy (DIBELS) assessment. Utilizing a regression discontinuity design, we find that the NCT intervention had null effects on K-3 reading score growth across both the 2016 and 2017 school years.