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Program and policy effects
Despite wide achievement gaps across California between students from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, some school districts have excelled at supporting the learning of all their students. This analysis identifies these positive outlier districts—those in which students of color, as well as White students, consistently achieve at higher levels than students from similar racial/ethnic backgrounds and from families of similar income and education levels in most other districts. These results are predicted, in significant part, by the qualifications of districts’ teachers, as measured by their certification and experience. In particular, the proportion of underprepared teachers—those teaching on emergency permits, waivers, and intern credentials—is associated with decreased achievement for all students, while teaching experience is associated with increased achievement, especially for students of color.
In recent years, states have sought to increase accountability for public school teachers by implementing a package of reforms centered on high-stakes evaluation systems. We examine the effect of these reforms on the supply and quality of new teachers. Leveraging variation across states and time, we find that accountability reforms reduced the number of newly licensed teacher candidates and increased the likelihood of unfilled teaching positions, particularly in hard-to-staff schools. Evidence also suggests that reforms increased the quality of new labor supply by reducing the likelihood new teachers attended unselective undergraduate institutions. Decreases in job security, satisfaction, and autonomy are likely mechanisms for these effects.
Ten years ago, many policymakers viewed the reform of teacher evaluation as a highly promising mechanism to improve teacher effectiveness and student achievement. Recently, that enthusiasm has dimmed as the available evidence suggests the subsequent reforms had a mixed record of implementation and efficacy. Even in districts where there was evidence of efficacy, the early promise of teacher evaluation may not sustain as these systems mature and change. This study examines the evolving design of IMPACT, the teacher evaluation system in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). We describe the recent changes to IMPACT which include higher performance standards for lower-performing teachers and a reduced emphasis on value-added test scores. Descriptive evidence on the dynamics of teacher retention and performance under this redesigned system indicate that lower-performing teachers are particularly likely to either leave or improve. Corresponding causal evidence similarly indicates that imminent dismissal threats for persistently low-performing teachers increased both teacher attrition and the performance of returning teachers. These findings suggest teacher evaluation can provide a sustained mechanism for improving the quality of teaching.
Few topics in education policy have received more attention than teacher turnover—and rightly so. The cost of losing a good teacher can be substantial and is born most directly by students. It is now widely recognized that teachers differ considerably in their ability to improve student outcomes, but discussions of teacher turnover rarely reflect these differences. Instead, we typically treat teacher turnover as uniformly negative. In this paper, we examine teacher turnover in the context of rigorous teacher evaluation to explore three questions. How does teacher turnover affect the quality of teaching and student achievement? How does teacher turnover vary by measured teaching effectiveness? And to what extent is the turnover of effective teachers associated with the evaluation system? We examine these questions employing data from the District of Columbia Public Schools. We find that in general turnover improves teacher quality and student achievement, but that this result masks large differences between teachers identified as more and less effective. Turnover among more effective teachers is relatively low, and when more-effective teachers exit, they infrequently report the evaluation system as a reason.
We show that grit, a skill that has been shown to be highly predictive of achievement, is malleable in childhood and can be fostered in the classroom environment. We evaluate a randomized educational intervention implemented in two independent elementary school samples. Outcomes are measured via a novel incentivized real effort task and performance in standardized tests. We find that treated students are more likely to exert effort to accumulate task-specific ability, and hence, more likely to succeed. In a follow up 2.5 years after the intervention, we estimate an effect of about 0.2 standard deviations on a standardized math test.
We evaluate the impact on competitiveness of a randomized educational intervention that aims to foster grit, a skill that is highly predictive of achievement. The intervention is implemented in elementary schools, and we measure its impact using a dynamic competition task with interim performance feedback. We find that when children are exposed to a worldview that emphasizes the role of effort in achievement and encourages perseverance, the gender gap in the willingness to compete disappears. We show that the elimination of this gap implies significant efficiency gains. We also provide suggestive evidence on a plausible causal mechanism that runs through the positive impact of enhanced grit on girls’ optimism about their future performance.
We evaluate the impact of a randomized educational intervention on children’s intertemporal choices. The intervention aims to improve the ability to imagine future selves, and encourages forward-looking behavior using a structured curriculum delivered by children’s own trained teachers. We find that treated students make more patient intertemporal decisions in incentivized experimental tasks. The results persist almost 3 years after the intervention, replicate well in a different sample, and are robust across different experimental elicitation methods. The effects also extend beyond experimental outcomes: we find that treated students are significantly less likely to receive a low “behavior grade”.
We examine the effects of a comprehensive college transition program (CCTP) on four psychosocial outcomes associated with postsecondary success: sense of belonging, mattering, and academic and social self-efficacy. The CCTP operates on three four-year campuses and includes a range of supports, including shared academic courses, peer mentoring, and residential or common community spaces. We leverage the randomization of Angrist et al. (2014), but restrict our comparison to scholarship recipients with and without CCTP exposure. To account for differential attrition from the experimental sample, we rely on a “selection on observables” assumption for our primary analysis. Results suggest that the program significantly and substantially increased students’ sense of belonging and mattering, but had no effect on academic or social self-efficacy.
Despite large schooling and learning gains in many developing countries, children in highly deprived areas are often unlikely to achieve even basic literacy and numeracy. We study how much of this problem can be resolved using a multi-pronged intervention combining several distinct interventions known to be effective in isolation. We conducted a cluster-randomized trial in The Gambia evaluating a literacy and numeracy intervention designed for primary-aged children in remote parts of poor countries. The intervention combines para teachers delivering after-school supplementary classes, scripted lesson plans, and frequent monitoring focusing on improving teacher practice (coaching). A similar intervention previously demonstrated large learning gains in a cluster-randomized trial in rural India. After three academic years, Gambian children receiving the intervention scored 46 percentage points (3.2 SD) better on a combined literacy and numeracy test than control children. This intervention holds great promise to address low learning levels in other poor, remote settings.
While the importance of social-emotional learning for student success is well established, educators and researchers have less knowledge and agreement about which social-emotional skills are most important for students and how these skills distribute across student subgroups. Using a rich longitudinal dataset of 221,840 fourth through seventh grade students in California districts, this paper describes growth mindset gaps across student groups, and confirms, at a large scale, the predictive power of growth mindset for achievement gains, even with unusually rich controls for students’ background, previous achievement, and measures of other social-emotional skills. Average annual growth in English language arts and math corresponding to differences between students with fixed and growth mindset in a same school and grade level is 0.07 and 0.05 standard deviations respectively, after adjusting for students’ characteristics and previous achievement. This estimate is equivalent to 48 and 35 additional days of learning.