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K-12 Education

Kenneth A. Shores, Christopher A. Candelaria, Sarah E. Kabourek.

Sixty-seven school finance reforms (SFRs) in 26 states have taken place since 1990; however, there is little empirical evidence on the heterogeneity of SFR effects. We provide a comprehensive description of how individual reforms affected resource allocation to low- and high-income districts within states, including both financial and non-financial outcomes. After summarizing the heterogeneity of individual SFR impacts, we then examine its correlates, identifying both policy and legislative/political factors. Taken together, this research aims to provide a rich description of variation in states’ responses to SFRs, as well as explanation of this heterogeneity as it relates to contextual factors.

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Matthew Kraft.

Researchers commonly interpret effect sizes by applying benchmarks proposed by Cohen over a half century ago. However, effects that are small by Cohen’s standards are often large in the context of field-based education interventions. This focus on magnitude also obscures important differences in study features, program costs, and scalability. In this paper, I propose a new framework for interpreting effect sizes of education interventions, which consists of five broadly applicable guidelines and a detailed schema for interpreting effects from causal studies with standardized achievement outcomes. The schema introduces new effect-size and cost benchmarks, while also considering program scalability. Together, the framework provides scholars and research consumers with an empirically-based, practical approach for interpreting the policy importance of effect sizes from education interventions.

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Robert Garlick, Joshua Hyman.

We use a natural experiment to evaluate sample selection correction methods' performance. In 2007, Michigan began requiring that all students take a college entrance exam, increasing the exam-taking rate from 64 to 99%. We apply different selection correction methods, using different sets of predictors, to the pre-policy exam score data. We then compare the corrected data to the complete post-policy exam score data as a benchmark. We find that performance is sensitive to the choice of predictors, but not the choice of selection correction method. Using stronger predictors such as lagged test scores yields more accurate results, but simple parametric methods and less restrictive semiparametric methods yield similar results for any set of predictors. We conclude that gains in this setting from less restrictive econometric methods are small relative to gains from richer data. This suggests that empirical researchers using selection correction methods should focus more on the predictive power of covariates than robustness across modeling choices.

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Eric Brunner, Joshua Hyman, Andrew Ju.

School finance reforms caused some of the most dramatic increases in intergovernmental aid from states to local governments in U.S. history. We examine whether teachers’ unions affected the fraction of reform-induced state aid that passed through to local spending and the allocation of these funds. Districts with strong teachers’ unions increased spending nearly dollar-for-dollar with state aid, and spent the funds primarily on teacher compensation. Districts with weak unions used aid primarily for property tax relief, and spent remaining funds on hiring new teachers. The greater expenditure increases in strong union districts led to larger increases in student achievement.

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