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Evidence-based policy is the practice of basing policy decisions on rigorous research evidence, such as randomized experiments. But it is unclear how often evidence-based decisions produce more effective policy. We evaluate an evidence-based policy implemented in 1989-93, after the state of Tennessee completed the famous Project STAR randomized experiment, which showed that reducing average class sizes from 23 to 15 could raise test scores by nearly 0.2 standard deviations (SD). After Project STAR, the state launched Project Challenge, which tried to achieve similar score gains by earmarking $5 million to reduce class sizes in the state’s 17 poorest districts.
We evaluate the effects of Project STAR by applying regression discontinuity and difference in differences analysis to data from district report cards. Our analysis offers no evidence that Project Challenge districts raised test scores, and even raises questions about whether districts reduced class sizes. After Project Challenge, Tennessee’s Basic Education Plan did reduce class sizes, but only by a token amount, from 26 to 25. In this example, it seems that a successful randomized experiment did not lead to successful policy.
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.
We document patterns and trends in school segregation by racial/ethnic group and by family income in North Carolina between 1998 and 2016, a period of rapid immigration, decline in federal oversight, and growth of charter schools. Accounting for students in both public and private schools, we find that segregation generally increased over the period, with the increase concentrated in urban areas. In addition, low-income students became more segregated from other students during the period. We measure and decompose segregation in metropolitan areas, finding that more than half can be attributed to racial disparities inside school districts, but in some counties private schools, charter schools, or multiple districts played a deciding role. We also find that segregation between white and Hispanic students increased sharply. We note several policy levers available at the local and state level.
Debates in education policy draw on different theories about how to raise children’s achievement. The school competition theory holds that achievement rises when families can choose among competing schools. The school resource theory holds that achievement rises with school spending and resources that spending can buy. The family resources theory holds that children’s achievement rises with parental education and income. We test all three theories in Chile between 2002 and 2013, when reading and math scores rose by 0.2-0.3 standard deviations, while school competition, school resources, and family resources all increased. In a difference in differences analysis, we ask which Chilean municipalities saw the greatest increases in test scores. Test scores did not rise faster in municipalities with greater increases in competition, but did rise faster in municipalities with greater increases in school resources (teachers per student) and especially family resources (parental education, not income). Student grade point averages show similar patterns. Results contradict the school competition theory but fit the family resource theory and, to a lesser extent, the school resource theory.
We examine the dynamic nature of teacher skill development using panel data on principals’ subjective performance ratings of teachers. Past research on teacher productivity improvement has focused primarily on one important but narrow measure of performance: teachers’ value-added to student achievement on standardized tests. Unlike value-added, subjective performance ratings provide detailed information about specific skill dimensions and are available for the many teachers in non-tested grades and subjects. Using a within-teacher returns to experience framework, we find, on average, large and rapid improvements in teachers’ instructional practices throughout their first ten years on the job as well as substantial differences in improvement rates across individual teachers. We also document that subjective performance ratings contain important information about teacher effectiveness. In the district we study, principals appear to differentiate teacher performance throughout the full distribution instead of just in the tails. Furthermore, prior performance ratings and gains in these ratings provide additional information about teachers’ ability to improve test scores that is not captured by prior value-added scores. Taken together, our study provides new insights on teacher performance improvement and variation in teacher development across instructional skills and individual teachers.
A research synthesis points to the added-value—benefits to social and emotional development, as well as learning outcomes—for students of color taught by teachers of color. Given ongoing education debates, policymakers can use this evidence base to craft legislation aimed at increasing the ethnoracial diversity of the U.S. educator workforce. To begin, historical research shows how Latinx and Black teachers have supported their Latinx and Black students’ social and emotional development during state-sanctioned school segregation. Contemporary qualitative and quantitative research highlights how teachers of color improve social and emotional development, as well as learning, for their students of color. Implications for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act are discussed.
The vast majority of literature on school choice, and charter schools in particular, focus on attending an elementary or middle school and often focus on test scores or other proximal outcomes. Much less is known about the long-term effects of attending a charter high school. It is important to fill this information void for a few reasons. First, schools in general affect more than just students’ test scores. Second, high schools make up a larger share of the charter sector. Third, school choice depends on freely available information for parents and students to make informed decisions about where to attend, including potential long-term benefits. We add to the empirical research on charter school effects by using a doubly-robust regression-adjusted propensity score matching approach to evaluate the impacts of charter high school attendance on 9th grade behavioral outcomes and individuals propensity to commit crime and participate in elections as young adults in North Carolina, a state with a large and growing charter school sector.
Prior research has shown that EL classification is consequential for students, however, less is known about how EL classification impacts students’ outcomes. In this study, we examine one hypothesized mechanism: teacher perceptions. Using nationally-representative data (ECLS-K:2011), we use coarsened exact matching to estimate the effect of EL status on teachers’ perceptions of students’ skills in language arts, math, science, and social studies in kindergarten through second grade. We further explore whether that impact is moderated by instructional setting (bilingual versus English immersion). We find evidence that EL classification results in lower teacher perceptions across content areas and grade levels. This impact is, however, moderated by bilingual environments. This study adds to research on teacher perceptions and the effects of EL classification.
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.
It has long been argued that cash balance (CB) pension plans offer a more equitable distribution of benefits than traditional final-average-salary (FAS) plans for teachers, particularly between short-termers and career teachers. However, it has also been understood that the impetus for reform would come from fiscal distress, rather than a concern for equity. In this paper I examine how the nation’s first CB plan for teachers, in Kansas, adopted under such conditions, has played out for the level and distribution of benefits and system costs, compared to the FAS plan it replaced. My key findings are: (1) employer-funded benefits were modestly reduced, despite the surface appearance of somewhat generous employer matches; (2) more importantly, the cost of the pension guarantee, which is off-the-books under standard actuarial accounting, was reduced quite substantially. Thus, although much of the distributional benefit, originally put forth, did materialize, the primary gain for states considering reform may well be the reduction in the cost of risk-bearing.