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K-12 Education

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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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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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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James Soland, Yeow Meng Thum.

Effect sizes in the Cohen’s d family are often used in education to compare estimates across studies, measures, and sample sizes.  For example, effect sizes are used to compare gains in achievement students make over time, either in pre- and post-treatment studies or in the absence of intervention, such as when estimating achievement gaps.  However, despite extensive research dating back to the paired t-test literature showing that such growth effect sizes should account for within-person correlations of scores over time, such achievement gains are often standardized relative to the standard deviation from a single timepoint or two timepoints pooled.  Such a tendency likely occurs in part because there are not many large datasets from which a distribution of student- or school-level gains can be derived.  In this study, we present a novel model for estimating student growth in conjunction with a national dataset to show that effect size estimates for student and school growth are often quite different when standardized relative to a distribution of gains rather than static achievement.  In particular, we provide nationally representative empirical benchmarks for student achievement and gains, including for male-female gaps in those gains, and examine the sensitivity of those effect sizes to how they are standardized.  Our results suggest that effect sizes scaled relative to a distribution of gains are less likely to understate the effects of interventions over time, and that resultant effect sizes often more closely match the estimand of interest for most practice, policy, and evaluation questions.

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Daniel Kreisman, Matthew P. Steinberg.

We leverage an obscure set of rules in Texas’s school funding formula granting some districts additional revenue as a function of size and sparsity. We use variation from kinks and discontinuities in this formula to ask how districts spend additional discretionary funds, and whether these improve student outcomes. A $1,000 annual increase in foundation funding, or 10% increase in expenditures, yields a 0.1 s.d. increase in reading scores and a near 0.08 increase in math. In addition, dropout rates decline, graduation rates marginally increase, as does college enrollment and to a smaller degree graduation. These gains accrue in later grades and largely among poorer districts. An analysis of budget allocations reveals that additional funding only marginally affects budget shares.

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

Field trips to see theater performances are a long-standing educational practice, however, there is little systematic evidence demonstrating educational benefits. This article describes the results of five random assignment experiments spanning two years where school groups were assigned by lottery to attend a live theater performance, or for some groups, watch a movie-version of the same story. We find significant educational benefits from seeing live theater, including higher levels of tolerance, social perspective taking, and stronger command of the plot and vocabulary of those plays. Students randomly assigned to watch a movie did not experience these benefits. Our findings also suggest that theater field trips may cultivate the desire among students to frequent the theater in the future.

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Nicole S. Simon, Susan Moore Johnson, Stefanie K. Reinhorn.

Effective teacher hiring is fundamental to improving schools and yet few studies investigate this process. In this exploratory study of six successful, high-poverty schools (three charter, three district) in one Massachusetts city, we analyze the policy contexts that influenced hiring and examine the schools’ hiring practices. Through interviews with 142 teachers and administrators, we learned that, despite significant differences, these schools’ approaches were strikingly similar. Each used a two-way, information-rich hiring process that provided schools and candidates with opportunities to exchange information and assess one another before making an offer or signing a contract. Participants viewed their investment in hiring as an essential part of their school’s success. Based on our findings, we provide recommendations for policymakers, practitioners, and researchers.

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Samantha Viano, Lam Pham, Gary T. Henry, Adam Kho, Ron Zimmer.

Recruiting and retaining teachers can be challenging for many schools, especially in low-performing urban schools in which teachers turn over at higher rates. In this study, we examine three types of school-level attributes that may influence teachers’ decisions to enter or transfer schools: malleable school processes, structural features of employment, and school characteristics. Using adaptive conjoint analysis survey design with a sample of teachers from low-performing, urban, turnaround schools in Tennessee, we find that five of the seven most highly valued features of schools are malleable processes: consistent administrative support, consistent enforcement of discipline, school safety, small class sizes, and availability of high-quality professional development. In particular, teachers rated as effective are more likely to prefer performance-based pay than teachers rated ineffective. We validate our results using administrative data from Tennessee on teachers’ actual mobility patterns.

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