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Friedman (1955) argued that giving parents freedom to choose schools would improve education. His argument was simple and compelling because it extended results from markets for consumer goods to education. We review the evidence, which yields surprisingly mixed results on Friedman's prediction. A key reason is that households often seem to choose schools based on their absolute achievement rather than their value added. We show this can be rational in a model based on three ingredients economists have highlighted since Friedman worked on the issue. First, education is an investment into human capital (Becker, 1964). Second, labor markets can feature wage premia: individuals of a given skill level may receive higher wages if they match to more productive firms (Card et al., 2018). Third, distance influences school choice and the placements schools produce (Abdulkadiroglu et al., 2017, Weinstein, 2017). These imply that choice alone is too crude a mechanism to ensure the effective provision of schooling.
Governments around the world have privatized public services in the name of efficiency and citizen empowerment, but some argue that privatization could also affect citizen participation in democratic governance. We explore this possibility by estimating the impact of charter schools (which are publicly funded but privately operated) on school district elections. The analysis indicates that the enrollment of district students in charter schools reduced the number of votes cast in district school board contests and, correspondingly, reduced turnout in the odd-year elections in which those contests are held. This impact is concentrated in districts that serve low-achieving, impoverished, and minority students, leading to a modest decline in the share of voters in those districts who are black and who have children. There is little evidence that charter school expansion affected the outcomes of school board elections or turnout in other elections
We use close tax elections to estimate the impact of school district funding increases on operational spending and education outcomes. The analysis indicates that districts where tax levies passed spent 3-5 percent more per pupil annually through 6-8 years after the election. This spending came in the form of higher salaries per employee—as opposed to more teachers or staff—and corresponds to positive achievement effects in districts with a high proportion of impoverished students. Specifically, among districts above the sample median in the proportion of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, the results imply that spending an extra $700 per pupil annually for 6-8 years leads to achievement gains of approximately 0.06-0.08 standard deviations. We find no achievement effects in districts with relatively advantaged students, and there are no attainment effects regardless of district demographics.
Ten years ago, the reform of teacher evaluation was touted as a mechanism to improve teacher effectiveness. In response, virtually every state redesigned its teacher evaluation system. Recently, a growing narrative suggests these reforms failed and should be abandoned. This response may be overly simplistic. We explore the variability of New York City principals’ implementation of policies intended to promote teaching effectiveness. Drawing on survey, interview, and administrative data, we analyze whether principals believe they can use teacher evaluation and tenure policies to improve teaching effectiveness, and how such perceptions influence policy implementation. We find that principals with greater perceived agency are more likely to strategically employ tenure and evaluation policies. Results have important implications for principal training and policy implementation.
Contradictory evidence of the relationship between education funding and student achievement could reflect heterogeneous effects by revenue source or student characteristics. This study examines potential heterogeneous effects of a particular type of local revenue – bond funds for capital investments – on achievement by socioeconomic status. Comparing California school districts within a narrow window on either side of the cutoff of voter support required to pass a general obligation bond measure, this study uses dynamic regression discontinuity models to estimate effects of passing a bond on academic achievement among low- and high-SES students. Results consistently suggest that passing a bond measure increases achievement among low- but not high-SES students. However, these benefits for low-SES students are delayed and emerge 6 years after an election.
We examine the long-run impacts of having a same-race teacher. First, we leverage data from the Tennessee STAR class-size experiment to show that black students randomly assigned to a black teacher in grades K-3 are 5 percentage points (7%) more likely to graduate from high school and 4 percentage points (13%) more likely to enroll in college than their same-school, same-race peers not assigned to a black teacher. Second, we replicate these results in North Carolina using quasi-experimental methods. Finally, we formally define "role model effects" as information provision, which facilitates an exploration of possible mechanisms that drive these results.
Can schools that boost student outcomes reproduce their success at new campuses? We study a policy reform that allowed effective charter schools in Boston, Massachusetts to replicate their school models at new locations. Estimates based on randomized admission lotteries show that replication charter schools generate large achievement gains on par with those produced by their parent campuses. The average effectiveness of Boston’s charter middle school sector increased after the reform despite a doubling of charter market share. An exploration of mechanisms shows that Boston charter schools reduce the returns to teacher experience and compress the distribution of teacher effectiveness, suggesting the highly standardized practices in place at charter schools may facilitate replicability.
We demonstrate that heat inhibits learning and that school air-conditioning may mitigate this effect. Student fixed effects models using 10 million PSAT-retakers show hotter school days in years before the test reduce scores, with extreme heat being particularly damaging. Weekend and summer temperature has little impact, suggesting heat directly disrupts learning time. New nationwide, school-level measures of air-conditioning penetration suggest patterns consistent with such infrastructure largely offsetting heat’s effects. Without air-conditioning, a 1°F hotter school year reduces that year’s learning by one percent. Hot school days disproportionately impact minority students, accounting for roughly five percent of the racial achievement gap.
Free and reduced-price meal (FRM) data are used ubiquitously to proxy for student disadvantage in education research and policy applications. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)—a recently-implemented policy change to the federally-administered National School Lunch Program—allows schools serving low-income populations to identify all students as FRM-eligible regardless of individual circumstances. We study the CEP’s effect on FRM eligibility as a proxy for student disadvantage, and relatedly, we examine the viability of direct certification (DC) status as an alternative disadvantage measure. Our findings on whether the CEP degrades the informational content of FRM data are mixed. At the individual level there is essentially no effect, but the CEP does meaningfully change the information conveyed by the FRM-eligible share of students in a school. Our comparison of FRM and DC data in the post-CEP era shows that these measures are similarly informative as proxies for disadvantage, despite the CEP-induced information loss in FRM data. Using both measures together can improve the identification of disadvantaged students, but only marginally.
Teachers’ impact on student long-run success is only partially explained by their contributions to students’ short-run academic performance. For this study, we explore a second dimension of teacher effectiveness by creating measures of teachers’ contributions to student class-attendance. We find systematic variation in teacher effectiveness at reducing unexcused class absences at the middle and high school level. These differences across teachers are as stable as those for student achievement, but teacher effectiveness on attendance only weakly correlates with their effects on achievement. We link these measures of teacher effectiveness to students’ long-run outcomes. A high value-added to attendance teacher has a stronger impact on students’ likelihood of finishing high school than does a high value-added to achievement teacher. Moreover, high value-added to attendance teachers can motivate students to pursue higher academic goals as measured by Advanced Placement course taking. These positive effects are particularly salient for low-achieving and low-attendance students.