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K-12 Education

Ying Shi, John D. Singleton.

In this paper, we study the roles of expertise and independence on governing boards in the context of education. In particular, we examine the causal influence of professional educators elected to local school boards on education production. Educators may bring valuable human capital to school district leadership, thereby improving student learning. Alternatively, the independence of educators may be distorted by interest groups. The key empirical challenge is that school board composition is endogenously determined through the electoral process. To overcome this, we develop and implement a novel research design that exploits California's randomized assignment of the order that candidates appear on election ballots. The insight of our empirical strategy is that ballot order effects generate quasi-random variation in the elected school board's composition. This approach is made possible by a unique dataset that combines election information about California school board candidates with district-level data on education inputs and outcomes. The results reveal that educators on the school board causally increase teacher salaries and reduce district enrollment in charter schools relative to other board members. We do not find accompanying effects on student test scores. We interpret these findings as consistent with educators on school boards shifting bargaining in favor of teachers' unions.

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Miles Davison, Andrew M. Penner, Emily Penner.

The well-documented racial disparities in school discipline have led many school districts in the U.S. to adopt restorative justice practices. The restorative justice philosophy differs from traditional disciplinary action by placing an emphasis on restitution and improving behavior rather than punishment. While models of restorative justice are descriptively and theoretically promising, research on restorative practices in schools is limited. We use student-level administrative data and a difference-in-difference design to measure the changes in student discipline outcomes that occurred under restorative justice in Pacific City schools between the 2008-2017 school years. Results indicate that restorative justice practices led to an overall reduction in disciplinary action. However, results also show that restorative justice practices had differential effects between racial groups, with White students benefiting most from restorative justice. These findings suggest that while the overall effects of restorative justice are promising, these practices may unintentionally widen the racial disproportionality in school discipline they are instituted to mitigate.

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Albert Cheng, Matthew M. Chingos, Paul E. Peterson.

Estimates of school voucher impacts on educational attainment have yet to explore heterogeneities in socioeconomic status among disadvantaged minority students. We theorize reasons for these heterogeneities and then estimate experimentally the differential impacts of voucher offers on college enrollment and graduation rates for minority and non-immigrant students from moderately and severely disadvantaged backgrounds. The findings are obtained from a privately sponsored, lottery-based voucher intervention in New York City that began in 1997. College enrollment and degree attainment as of the fall of 2017 were obtained from the National Student Clearinghouse. We find no significant effects of offers on minority students from severely disadvantaged backgrounds but significant effects of six to eight percentage points on those from moderately disadvantaged households. Similar results are obtained for students born of non-immigrant mothers. Some policy implications are discussed.

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Jeffrey T. Denning, Richard Murphy, Felix Weinhardt.

This paper considers an unavoidable feature of the school environment – what are the long run effects of a student’s ordinal rank in elementary school? Using administrative data from all public school students in Texas, we show that students with a higher third grade academic rank, conditional on ability and classroom fixed effects, have higher subsequent test scores, are more likely to take AP classes, to graduate high school, and to enroll in college, and ultimately have higher earnings 19 years later. The paper concludes by exploring the tradeoff between higher quality schools and higher rank in the presence of these rank-based peer effects.

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Elise Dizon-Ross, Susanna Loeb, Emily Penner, Jane Rochmes.

Despite growing concern over teachers’ ability to live comfortably where they work, we know little about the systematic impacts of affordability on teachers’ well-being, particularly in high-cost urban areas. We use novel survey data from San Francisco Unified School District to identify the patterns and prevalence of economic anxiety among teachers and assess how this anxiety relates to teachers’ attitudes, behaviors, and turnover. We find that San Francisco teachers have far higher levels of economic anxiety on average than a national sample of employed adults, and that younger teachers are particularly financially anxious. Furthermore, such anxiety relates to job performance and teacher retention— economically anxious teachers tend to have more negative attitudes about their jobs, have worse attendance, and are 50 percent more likely to depart the district within two years after the survey.

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Min Sun, Jing Liu, Junmeng Zhu, Zachary LeClair.

Although program evaluations using rigorous quasi-experimental or experimental designs can inform decisions about whether to continue or terminate a given program, they often have limited ability to reveal the mechanisms by which complex interventions achieve their effects. To illuminate these mechanisms, this paper analyzes novel text data from thousands of school improvement planning and implementation reports from Washington State, deploying computer-assisted techniques to extract measures of school improvement processes. Our analysis identified 15 coherent reform strategies that varied greatly across schools and over time. The prevalence of identified reform strategies was largely consistent with school leaders’ own perceptions of reform priorities via interviews. Several reform strategies measures were significantly associated with reductions in student chronic absenteeism and improvements in student achievement. We lastly discuss the opportunities and pitfalls of using novel text data to study reform processes.

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Matthew Ronfeldt, Emanuele Bardelli, Stacey Brockman, Hannah Mullman.

Growing evidence suggests that preservice candidates receive better coaching and are more instructionally effective when they are mentored by more instructionally effective cooperating teachers (CTs). Yet, teacher education program leaders indicate it can be difficult to recruit instructionally effective teachers to serve as CTs, in part because teachers worry that serving may negatively impact district evaluation scores. Using a unique dataset on over 4,500 CTs, we compare evaluation scores during years these teachers served as CTs to years they did not. In years they served as CTs, teachers had significantly better observation ratings and somewhat better achievement gains, though not always at significant levels. These results suggest that concerns over lowered evaluations should not prevent teachers from serving as CTs.

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Alex Eble, Feng Hu.

We study the transmission of beliefs about gender differences in math ability from adults to children and how this affects girls’ math performance relative to boys. We exploit randomly assigned variation in the proportion of a child’s middle school classmates whose parents believe boys are better than girls at learning math. An increase in exposure to peers whose parents report this belief increases a child’s likelihood of believing it, with similar effects for boys and girls and greater effects from peers of the same gender. This exposure also affects children’s perceived difficulty of math, aspirations, and academic performance, generating gains for boys and losses for girls. These effects are not driven by other sources of peer effects, such as peer cognitive ability, peer parent traits such as education and income, or the gender composition of the classroom.

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Adam Kho, Gary T. Henry, Ron Zimmer, Lam Pham.

Many districts and states have begun implementing incentives to attract high-performing teachers to low-performing schools.  Previous research has found that these incentives are effective.  However, effects on the schools and students these teachers leave behind has not been examined.  This study focuses on the general equilibrium effects of recruiting effective teachers to Tennessee’s Innovation Zone (iZone) schools, one of the most successful turnaround initiatives in the nation (Zimmer, Henry, & Kho, 2017).  While there is some variation in the effects of losing these teachers, we find they range between -0.04 and -0.12 standard deviations in student test score gains.  However, an estimate including both these negative effects and the positive effects in iZone schools yields overall net positive effects.

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Thurston Domina, Andrew McEachin, Paul Hanselman, Priyanka Agarwal, NaYoung Hwang, Ryan Lewis.

Schools utilize an array of strategies to match curricula and instruction to students’ heterogeneous skills. While generations of scholars have debated “tracking” and its consequences, the literature fails to account for diversity of school-level sorting practices. In this paper we draw upon the work of Sørenson (1970) to articulate and develop empirical measures of five distinct dimensions of school cross-classroom tracking systems: (1) the degree of course differentiation, (2) the extent to which sorting practices generate skills-homogeneous classrooms, (3) the rate at which students enroll in advanced courses, (4) the extent to which students move between tracks over time, and (5) the relation between track assignments across subject areas. Analyses of longitudinal administrative data following 24,000 8th graders enrolled in 23 middle schools through the 10th grade indicate that these dimensions of tracking are empirically separable and have divergent effects on student achievement and the production of inequality.

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