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K-12 Education

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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Lucy C. Sorensen, Helen F. Ladd.

High teacher turnover imposes numerous costs on the schools and districts from which teachers depart. This study asks how schools respond to spells of high teacher turnover, and assesses organizational and human capital losses in terms of the changing composition of the teacher pool. Our analysis uses more than two decades of linked administrative data on math and ELA teachers at middle schools in North Carolina to determine school responses to turnover across different policy environments and macroeconomic climates. We find that, even after accounting for school contexts and trends, turnover has marked, and lasting, negative consequences for teacher quality and student achievement. Our results highlight the need for heightened policy attention to issues of teacher retention and working conditions.

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Matthew Kraft, Alvin Christian.

Starting in 2011, Boston Public Schools (BPS) implemented major reforms to its teacher evaluation system with a focus on promoting teacher development. We administered independent district-wide surveys in 2014 and 2015 to capture BPS teachers’ perceptions of the evaluation feedback they receive. Teachers generally reported that evaluators were fair and accurate, but that they struggled to provide high-quality feedback. We conduct a randomized controlled trial to evaluate the district’s efforts to improve this feedback through an intensive training program for evaluators. We find little evidence the program affected evaluators’ feedback, teacher retention, or student achievement. Our results suggest that improving the quality of evaluation feedback may require more fundamental changes to the design and implementation of teacher evaluation systems.

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Brendan Bartanen, Jason A. Grissom.

Exploiting variation from principal and teacher transitions over long administrative data panels in Missouri and Tennessee, we estimate the effects of principal race on the hiring and turnover of racially diverse teachers. Evidence from the two states is strikingly similar. Black principals increase the probability that a newly hired teacher is Black by 5–7 percentage points. This result appears to be partially driven by principals hiring from within their networks of educators with whom they have worked before. Black principals also decrease Black teacher mobility, reducing the probability that a Black teacher changes schools by 2–5 percentage points. Increases in Black teacher hiring and reductions in turnover mean that a change from a White to a Black principal increases the fraction of Black teachers working in a school by about 3 percentage points, on average, increasing exposure of students to Black teachers. Further evidence suggests that assignment to a Black teacher increases the math achievement of Black students, though the presence of a Black principal appears to have positive impacts on Black students’ math achievement that is not explained by assignment to Black teachers.

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Angela R. Watson, Jay P. Greene, Heidi H. Erickson, Molly I. Beck.

In recent decades, institutions, teachers, and students report a decline in field trip attendance. The impact of this decline on educational and societal outcomes such as social-emotional skill acquisition is unknown. Social-emotional learning (SEL) are skills thought to be important to life and relationship success and are associated with better long-term student outcomes. This study describes the results of the first-ever longitudinal experiment of the effects of multiple arts-related field trips on elementary school students of color in a large urban school district. Treated students attended three field trips to an art museum, a live theater production, and a symphony performance. We find significant educational benefits from attending multiple arts field trips on social-emotional outcomes, including increased feelings of tolerance and social perspective taking. Our findings also suggest that female treatment students exhibit increased conscientiousness as compared to their control group peers; however, these effects dissipate when treatment ceases. Further, female students who receive three additional field trips in a second treatment year act more conscientious than in the prior year of treatment. Increased exposure to the arts through field trip experiences does not, however, appear to increase students’ desire to consume or participate in the arts, nor do we find an impact of treatment on empathy. These findings suggest that arts-related field trips elicit meaningful changes in students’ social-emotional attitudes and actions and that a decline in field trip attendance may be detrimental.

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