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K-12 Education

David M. Houston, Jeffrey R. Henig.

We conduct an online survey experiment in which participants are asked to imagine that they are parents moving to a new metropolitan area. They then choose between the five largest school districts in that area. All participants receive demographic data for each district. In addition, some participants are randomly assigned to receive average achievement and/or average growth data for each district. While there are strong relationships between student demographics and student achievement, the links between student demographics and student growth are much weaker. We find that, on average, the provision of growth data causes participants to choose less white and less wealthy districts. Moreover, the provision of both achievement and growth data causes participants to choose less white and less wealthy districts than the provision of achievement data alone.

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Amy Ellen Schwartz, Bryant Gregory Hopkins, Leanna Stiefel.

In the forty plus years since passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), special education has grown in the number of students and amount spent on services. Despite this growth, the academic performance of students with disabilities (SWDs) remains troubling low compared to general education students (GENs). To some extent, these differences reflect persistent underlying disabilities, but they may also reflect ineffective special education services. Does special education improve academic outcomes for students with disabilities? There is surprisingly little evidence to guide policy and answer this question. This paper provides an answer for the largest disability group, students with learning disabilities (LDs), using rich data from New York City public schools. Because the majority of LDs are classified after school entry, we observe outcomes both before and after classification, allowing us to gauge impact using within-student pre/post comparisons and, ultimately, student fixed effects in regression models exploring impacts. We find that academic outcomes improve for LDs following classification into special education, and impacts are largest for those entering special education in earlier grades. Results are robust to alternative specifications and falsification tests bolster confidence in a causal interpretation. Differences in impacts by gender and race/ethnicity, grade of classification, and settings shed light on possible mechanisms. 

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James Soland.

Research has begun to investigate whether teachers and schools are as effective with certain student subgroups as they are with the overall student population.  Most of this research has examined the issue by trying to produce causal estimates of school contributions to short-term student growth (usually using value-added models) and has emphasized rank orderings of schools by subgroup.  However, not much is known about whether schools contributing to long-term growth for all students are also contributing to student growth by subgroup in ways that might close achievement gaps.  In this study, schools’ contributions to student growth are estimated separately for Black versus White students.  Results show that focusing on rank orderings of schools alone can mask troubling trends in relative achievement over time.  Options for how policymakers can sensibly hold schools accountable for student growth, including under The Every Student Succeeds Act, are discussed.

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Michael Gilraine, Uros Petronijevic, John D. Singleton.

While school choice may enhance competition, incentives for public schools to raise productivity may be muted if public education is viewed as imperfectly substitutable with alternatives. This paper estimates the aggregate effect of charter school expansion on education quality while accounting for the horizontal differentiation of charter school programs. To do so, we combine student-level administrative data with novel information about the educational programs of charter schools that opened in North Carolina following the removal of the statewide cap in 2011. The dataset contains students' standardized test scores as well as geocoded residential addresses, which allow us to compare the test score changes of students who lived near the new charters prior to the policy change with those for students who lived farther away. We apply this research design to estimate separate treatment effects for exposure to charter schools that are and are not differentiated horizontally from public school instruction. The results indicate learning gains for treated students that are driven entirely by non-horizontally differentiated charter schools: we find that non-horizontally differentiated charter school expansion causes a 0.05 SD increase in math scores. These learning gains are driven by public schools responding to increased competition.

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Allison Atteberry, Andrew McEachin.

The field is generally aware of the summer learning loss (SLL) phenomenon. However key characteristics of SLL are not broadly established. What proportion of students’ school-year gains are lost in the subsequent summer? Is the magnitude of SLL generally similar across students or across grades? We describe the role summers play in the end-of-schooling achievement disparities using a unique dataset that spans eight grades, 200 million test scores, 18 million students, 50 states, and school-years 2008-2016. On average, 19% of students’ pathways from their 1st to 8th grade test-score occur during summers. We show that—even if all inequality in school-year learning rates could be eliminated, students would still end school with very different achievement due to SLL alone.

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Carolyn J. Heinrich, Jennifer Darling-Aduana.

Recent substantial increases in high school graduation rates have been linked anecdotally to the expansion of online course-taking for credit recovery. Online course-taking that supports high school completion could open new opportunities for postsecondary education pursuits. Alternatively, poorer quality online instruction could diminish student engagement and learning and discourage persistence toward graduation and further education. Using fixed-effect models and inverse probability weighting with regression adjustment with data from an eight-year longitudinal study of online course-taking in high schools, we find positive associations between online course-taking in high school and credits earned, high school graduation, and college enrollment. Our results leave open the question of whether online course-taking supports learning that will lead to longer-term postsecondary education and labor market success.

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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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