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K-12 Education

Sule Alan, Teodora Boneva, Seda Ertac.

We show that grit, a skill that has been shown to be highly predictive of achievement, is malleable in childhood and can be fostered in the classroom environment. We evaluate a randomized educational intervention implemented in two independent elementary school samples. Outcomes are measured via a novel incentivized real effort task and performance in standardized tests. We find that treated students are more likely to exert effort to accumulate task-specific ability, and hence, more likely to succeed. In a follow up 2.5 years after the intervention, we estimate an effect of about 0.2 standard deviations on a standardized math test.

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Sule Alan, Seda Ertac, Ipek Mumcu.

We study the effect of elementary school teachers’ beliefs about gender roles on student achievement. We exploit a natural experiment where teachers are prevented from self-selecting into schools, and conditional on school, students are allocated to teachers randomly. We show that girls who are taught for longer than a year by teachers with traditional gender views have lower performance in objective math and verbal tests, and this effect is amplified with longer exposure to the same teacher. We find no effect on boys. We show that the effect is partly mediated by teachers transmitting traditional beliefs to girls.

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Sule Alan, Seda Ertac.

We evaluate the impact on competitiveness of a randomized educational intervention that aims to foster grit, a skill that is highly predictive of achievement. The intervention is implemented in elementary schools, and we measure its impact using a dynamic competition task with interim performance feedback. We find that when children are exposed to a worldview that emphasizes the role of effort in achievement and encourages perseverance, the gender gap in the willingness to compete disappears. We show that the elimination of this gap implies significant efficiency gains. We also provide suggestive evidence on a plausible causal mechanism that runs through the positive impact of enhanced grit on girls’ optimism about their future performance.

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David D. Liebowitz.

Teacher evaluation policies seek to improve student outcomes by increasing the effort and skill levels of current and future teachers. Current policy and most prior research treats teacher evaluation as balancing two aims: accountability and growth. Proper teacher evaluation design has been understood as successfully weighting the accountability and growth dimensions of policy and practice. I detail six assumptions underlying teacher evaluation for growth and accountability and assess their reasonableness in light of empirical evidence from the personnel economics, social psychology and management literatures. I simulate a set of teacher evaluation policies and find that those that treat evaluation for accountability and evaluation for growth as substitutes modestly outperform policies that treat them as complements. The teachers’ rates of learning through evaluation and the labor market effects of evaluation are critical in determining its impact. I conclude with recommendations for the design of teacher evaluation policies.

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David D. Liebowitz, Lorna Porter, Dylan Bragg.

Despite frequent political and policy debates, the effects of imposing accountability pressures on public school teachers are empirically indeterminate. In this paper, we study the effects of accountability in the context of teacher responses to student behavioral infractions in the aftermath of teacher evaluation reforms. We leverage cross-state variation in the timing of state policy implementation to estimate whether teachers change the rate at which they remove students from their classrooms. We find that higher-stakes teacher evaluation had no causal effect on the rates of disciplinary referrals, and we find no evidence of heterogeneous effects for grades subject to greater accountability pressures or in schools facing differing levels of disciplinary infractions. Our results are precisely estimated and robust to a battery of specification checks. Our findings provide insights on the effects of accountability policy on the black-box of classroom practice and highlight the loose-coupling of education policy and teacher behaviors.

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Alex Eble, Chris Frost, Alpha Camara, Baboucarr Bouy, Momodou Bah, Maitri Sivaraman, Jenny Hsieh, Chitra Jayanty, Tony Brady, Piotr Gawron, Peter Boone, Diana Elbourne.

Despite large schooling and learning gains in many developing countries, children in highly deprived areas are often unlikely to achieve even basic literacy and numeracy. We study how much of this problem can be resolved using a multi-pronged intervention combining several distinct interventions known to be effective in isolation. We conducted a cluster-randomized trial in The Gambia evaluating a literacy and numeracy intervention designed for primary-aged children in remote parts of poor countries. The intervention combines para teachers delivering after-school supplementary classes, scripted lesson plans, and frequent monitoring focusing on improving teacher practice (coaching). A similar intervention previously demonstrated large learning gains in a cluster-randomized trial in rural India. After three academic years, Gambian children receiving the intervention scored 46 percentage points (3.2 SD) better on a combined literacy and numeracy test than control children.  This intervention holds great promise to address low learning levels in other poor, remote settings.

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Susana Claro, Susanna Loeb.

While the importance of social-emotional learning for student success is well established, educators and researchers have less knowledge and agreement about which social-emotional skills are most important for students and how these skills distribute across student subgroups. Using a rich longitudinal dataset of 221,840 fourth through seventh grade students in California districts, this paper describes growth mindset gaps across student groups, and confirms, at a large scale, the predictive power of growth mindset for achievement gains, even with unusually rich controls for students’ background, previous achievement, and measures of other social-emotional skills. Average annual growth in English language arts and math corresponding to differences between students with fixed and growth mindset in a same school and grade level is 0.07 and 0.05 standard deviations respectively, after adjusting for students’ characteristics and previous achievement. This estimate is equivalent to 48 and 35 additional days of learning.

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Ron Zimmer, Richard Buddin, Sarah Ausmus Smith, Danielle Duffy.

When charter schools first entered the landscape, the debate was contentious, with both advocates and critics using strong rhetoric. Advocates often sold charter schools as a silver bullet solution for not only the students who attend these schools, but the broader traditional public school system as well. Similarly, critics painted charter schools as an apocalyptic threat to public schools. To inform this debate, research has evolved over time, with much of the first generation (through about 2005) of research studies focusing on the effect charter schools have on test scores almost exclusively using non-experimental designs. The second generation of studies more frequently used experimental designs and broadened the scope of outcomes beyond test scores. Furthermore, the second generation of studies has also included studies seeking to explain the variance in performance. In this survey of the research, we summarize the findings across both generations of studies, but we put a greater emphasis on the second generation than prior literature reviews. This includes an examination of indirect effects, examination of explanation of charter effectiveness, and the recent use of charter schools as a mechanism of turning around low-performing schools.

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Alex Eble, Feng Hu.

Children routinely benefit from being assigned a teacher who shares an identity with them, such as gender or ethnicity. We study how student beliefs impact teacher-student gender match effects, and how this varies across subjects with different societal beliefs about differential ability by gender. A simple model of belief formation predicts that match effects will be larger for students who believe they are of low ability, and be greater in subjects with more salient societal beliefs. We test these using data from Chinese middle schools, exploiting random assignment of students to teachers. In China, many people believe boys are innately better than girls at math. We find that being assigned a female math teacher helps low-perceived-ability girls and slightly harms low-perceived-ability boys, with no effects for other children. In English and Chinese – subjects with less salient societal beliefs – these patterns persist but diminish. This yields policy implications for the assignment of teachers to students.

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Andrew McEachin, Thurston Domina, Andrew M. Penner.

We identify 510 California public middle schools (and 753 school-years) that use a 7th grade achievement threshold to place students into 8th grade Algebra, and we use these schools to estimate fuzzy regression discontinuity effects of 8th grade Algebra placement. We find that enrolling in 8th grade Algebra boosts students’ chances of taking advanced math courses in high school by 30 percentage points in 9th grade and 16 percentage points in 11th grade, as well as boosting achievement on the 10th grade math California High School Exit Exam by .031sd (ITT) and .053sd (LATE). Eighth-grade algebra has a smaller, positive effect on student ELA achievement in grades 9 through 11. Importantly, we also find that the effects of 8th grade Algebra vary substantially across students and schools. Encouragingly, women, students of color, and English-Language Learners benefit disproportionately from access to accelerated coursework. However, school-level decisions about how to implement accelerated coursework in middle school appear to matter. In particular, we find that the benefits of 8th grade  algebra are substantially larger in schools that enroll students whose 7th grade math scores are at least “Proficient” (or grade level).

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