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Multiple outcomes of education
New advances in neurobiology are revealing that brain development and the learning it enables are directly dependent on social-emotional experience. Growing bodies of research reveal the importance of socially-triggered epigenetic contributions to brain development and brain network configuration, with implications for social-emotional functioning, cognition, motivation and learning. Brain development is also impacted by health-related and physical developmental factors, such as sleep, toxin exposure, and puberty, which in turn influence social-emotional functioning and cognition. An appreciation of the dynamic interdependencies of social-emotional experience, health-related factors, brain development and learning underscores the importance of a “whole child” approach to education reform, and leads to important insights for research on Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). To facilitate these interdisciplinary conversations, here we conceptualize within a developmental framework current evidence on the fundamental and ubiquitous biological constraints and affordances undergirding SEL-related constructs and learning more broadly. Learning indeed depends on how nature is nurtured.
The sustaining environments hypothesis refers to the popular idea, stemming from theories in developmental, cognitive, and educational psychology, that the long-term success of early educational interventions is contingent on the quality of the subsequent learning environment. Several studies have investigated whether specific kindergarten classroom and other elementary school factors account for patterns of persistence and fadeout of early educational interventions. These analyses focus on the statistical interaction between an early educational intervention – usually whether the child attended preschool – and several measures of the quality of the subsequent educational environment. The key prediction of the sustaining environments hypothesis is a positive interaction between these two variables. To quantify the strength of the evidence for such effects, we meta-analyze existing studies that have attempted to estimate interactions between preschool and later educational quality in the United States. We then attempt to establish the consistency of the direction and a plausible range of estimates of the interaction between preschool attendance and subsequent educational quality by using a specification curve analysis in a large, nationally representative dataset that has been used in several recent studies of the sustaining environments hypothesis. Both analyses yield interaction estimates of approximately 0. We consider a range of plausible explanations, including 1) the null hypothesis is true, 2) we did not have statistical power to detect interactions of a realistic magnitude, 3) model misspecification because of theoretical ambiguity, and 4) heterogeneity of these interactions across treatments, contexts, and children. We offer a set of recommendations for future research on the sustaining environments hypothesis.
Using novel variation in special education and English Language Learner classification from admissions lotteries, I find that students can achieve large academic gains without specialized services. Enrolling in a Boston charter school doubles the likelihood that students lose their special education or English Language Learner status, but exposes students to a high-performing general education program that includes high intensity tutoring, data driven instruction, and increased instructional time. The positive effects extend to college: charters nearly double the likelihood that English Language Learners enroll in four-year colleges and quadruple the likelihood that special education students graduate from two-year college. A multiple instrument strategy suggests that high quality general education practices drive the gains and finds no detrimental effect from lower classification rates.
The vast majority of literature on school choice, and charter schools in particular, focus on attending an elementary or middle school and often focus on test scores or other proximal outcomes. Much less is known about the long-term effects of attending a charter high school. It is important to fill this information void for a few reasons. First, schools in general affect more than just students’ test scores. Second, high schools make up a larger share of the charter sector. Third, school choice depends on freely available information for parents and students to make informed decisions about where to attend, including potential long-term benefits. We add to the empirical research on charter school effects by using a doubly-robust regression-adjusted propensity score matching approach to evaluate the impacts of charter high school attendance on 9th grade behavioral outcomes and individuals propensity to commit crime and participate in elections as young adults in North Carolina, a state with a large and growing charter school sector.
Student loan borrowing for higher education has emerged as a top policy concern. Policy makers at the institutional, state, and federal levels have pursued a variety of strategies to inform students about loan origination processes and how much a student has cumulatively borrowed, and to provide students with greater access to loan counseling. We conducted an experiment to evaluate the impact of an outreach campaign that prompted loan applicants at a large community college to make informed and active borrowing decisions and that offered them access to remote, one-onone assistance from a loan counselor. The intervention led students to reduce their unsubsidized loan borrowing by 7 percent, resulted in worse academic performance, and increased the likelihood of loan default during the three years after the intervention occurred. Our results suggest policy makers and higher education leaders should carefully examine the potential unintended consequences of efforts to reduce student borrowing, particularly in light of growing evidence regarding the counter-intuitive positive relationship between reduced borrowing levels and worse student academic and financial outcomes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The rise of accountability standards has pressed higher education organizations to oversee the production and publication of data on student outcomes more closely than in the past. However, the most common measure of student outcomes, average bachelor's degree completion rates, potentially provides little information about the direct impacts of colleges and universities on student success. Extending scholarship in the new institutionalist tradition, I hypothesize that higher education organizations today exist as, “superficially coupled systems,” where colleges closely oversee their technical outputs but where those technical outputs provide limited insight into the direct role of colleges and universities in producing them. I test this hypothesis using administrative data from the largest, public, urban university system in the United States together with fixed effects regression and entropy balancing techniques, allowing me to isolate organizational effects. My results provide evidence for superficial coupling, suggesting that inequality in college effectiveness exists both between colleges and within colleges, given students' racial background and family income. They also indicate that institutionalized norms surrounding accountability have backfired, enabling higher education organizations, and other bureaucratic organizations like them, to maintain legitimacy without identifying and addressing inequality.