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K-12 Education

Carolyn Abott, Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, Zachary Peskowitz.

We use close tax elections to estimate the impact of school district funding increases on operational spending and education outcomes across seven states. The analysis indicates that districts where tax levies passed spent $400-$500 more annually per pupil through 5-7 years after the election. They directed most of these funds toward increasing instructor salaries. These spending increases correspond to student test score gains of approximately 0.1 of a standard deviation and gains in graduation rates of approximately 3-4 percentage points. There is some evidence of diminishing returns, as these effects are driven by districts below the median in spending per pupil.

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Beth Schueler, Martin West.

Public support for school improvement policies can increase the success and durability of those reforms. However, little is known about public views on turnaround. We deployed questions and embedded experiments in a nationally representative 2017 survey (n=4,214) to uncover opinions regarding (a) which level of government should lead on turnaround and (b) state takeover of troubled districts. We find a large plurality prefers states play the greatest role in identifying and fixing failing schools. However, a substantial share prefers local governments increase their role. We find high levels of support for state takeover, yet support is greater in cases of financial mismanagement than academic underperformance. Those most likely to be directly affected express the least support for state takeover. 

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Hans Fricke, Susanna Loeb, Robert Meyer, Andrew Rice, Libby Pier, Heather Hough.

Recent attempts to measure schools’ influence on students' SEL show differences across schools, but whether these differences measure the true effect of schools is unclear. We examine the stability of school-by-grade effects on students' SEL across two years using a large-scale survey. Correlations among effects in the same grades across different years are positive but lower than those for math and English. Schools in the top or bottom of the effect distribution have more persistent impacts across years than those in the middle. Overall, the results suggest that these school effects measure real contributions to students' SEL. However, their low stability draws into question whether including school value-added measures of self-reported SEL in school performance systems would be beneficial.

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Jing Liu, Monica Lee, Seth Gershenson.

We provide novel evidence on the causal impact of student absences in middle and high school on state test scores, course grades, and educational attainment using a rich administrative dataset that includes the date and class period of each absence. Our identification strategy addresses potential endogeneity due to time-varying student-level shocks by exploiting the fact that in a given year, there exists within-student, between-class variation in absences. We also leverage information on the timing of absences to show that absences that occur after the annual window for state standardized testing do not appear to affect test scores, which provides a further check of our identification strategy. We find that absences in middle and high school harm contemporaneous student achievement and longer-term educational attainment: On average, missing 10 math classes reduces math test scores by 7% of a standard deviation, math course grades by 19% of a standard deviation, the probability of on-time graduation by 8%, and the probability of immediate college enrollment by 7%. Similar results hold for absences in English Language Arts classes. These results suggest that absences in middle school and high school are just as harmful, if not more so, than absences in elementary school. Moreover, the timing of absences during the school year matters, as both the occurrence and the impact of absences are dynamic phenomena.

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Oded Gurantz, Matea Pender, Zachary Mabel, Cassandra Larson, Eric Bettinger.

We examine whether virtual advising – college counseling using technology to communicate remotely – increases postsecondary enrollment in selective colleges. We test this approach using a sample of approximately 16,000 high-achieving, low- and middle-income students identified by the College Board and randomly assigned to receive virtual advising from the College Advising Corps. The offer of virtual advising had no impact on overall college enrollment, but increased enrollment in high graduation rate colleges by 2.7 percentage points (5%), with instrumental variable impacts on treated students of 6.1 percentage points. We also find that non-white students who were randomly assigned to a nonwhite adviser exhibited stronger treatment effects.

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Christopher A. Candelaria, Kenneth A. Shores.

Use of education finance data is ubiquitous. Yet, because the academic calendar circumscribes two calendar years, researchers have linked the Consumer Price Index to three different dates: the Fall, Spring and academic fiscal years. We demonstrate that linking the CPI to these different academic year results in identifying different trends in U.S. educational spending during the Great Recession. Descriptive inferences should not be sensitive to researcher discretion about merge years. We provide an easy-to-use software package to facilitate implementation of NCES guidelines in the hope that future analyses of education finance data will explicitly and consistently apply inflation adjustments.  

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Matthew Kraft, Heather Hill.

This paper describes and evaluates a web-based coaching program designed to support teachers in implementing Common Core-aligned math instruction. Web-based coaching programs can be operated at relatively lower costs, are scalable, and make it more feasible to pair teachers with coaches who have expertise in their content area and grade level. Results from our randomized field trial document sizable and sustained effects on both teachers’ ability to analyze instruction and on their instructional practice, as measured the Mathematical Quality of Instruction (MQI) instrument and student surveys. However, these improvements in instruction did not result in corresponding increases in math test scores as measured by state standardized tests or interim assessments. We discuss several possible explanations for this pattern of results.

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Matthew Kraft.

Researchers commonly interpret effect sizes by applying benchmarks proposed by Cohen over a half century ago. However, effects that are small by Cohen’s standards are large relative to the impacts of most field-based interventions. These benchmarks also fail to consider important differences in study features, program costs, and scalability. In this paper, I present five broad guidelines for interpreting effect sizes that are applicable across the social sciences. I then propose a more structured schema with new empirical benchmarks for interpreting a specific class of studies: causal research on education interventions with standardized achievement outcomes. Together, these tools provide a practical approach for incorporating study features, cost, and scalability into the process of interpreting the policy importance of effect sizes.

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Michal Kurlaender, Jacob Jackson, Eric Grodsky, Jessica Howell.

In this paper we investigate the impact of a statewide program aimed at better aligning K-12 to higher education and improving college readiness. We replicate an earlier study focused on the effects of this program at one campus by employing detailed administrative data on the census of California students that enroll at all twenty-three campuses of the California State University (CSU) system. We evaluate whether the program has reduced remediation rates at CSU statewide and investigate whether program effects differ by student background. We find that participation in the Early Assessment Program reduces the average student’s probability of needing remediation at California State University by about 2-3 percentage points overall. Investigating heterogeneous treatment effects, we find the program effects are largely concentrated among students at the margin of remediation risk.

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Patrick J. Wolf, John F. Witte, Brian Kisida.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the first modern private school choice program in the United States, has grown from 341 students attending 7 private schools in 1990 to 27,857 students attending 126 private schools in 2019. The MPCP has been subject to extensive study focused largely on student performance on standardized tests. This study presents new data on the college enrollment, persistence, and graduation of MPCP and MPS students who were tracked over 12 years beginning in 2006. MPCP participants are compared with a matched sample of MPS students who lived in the same neighborhood and had similar demographic characteristics and test scores at the beginning of the study. The collective evidence in this paper indicates that students in the MPCP program have greater educational attainment than the comparison group, as measured by college experience and outcomes. Most of the college attainment benefits of the MPCP are clear for both students who were in ninth grade at the beginning of the study, for whom positive attainment effects have previously been reported, and students who were initially enrolled in grades three through eight, who we examine here for the first time. As of 2018, MPCP students have spent more total years in a four-year college than their MPS peers. The MPCP students in the grade three through eight sample attained college degrees at rates that are statistically significantly higher than their matched MPS peers.

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