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Program and policy effects

Andrew C. Barr, Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman.

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.

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David M. Houston, Jeffrey R. Henig.

We conduct an online survey experiment in which participants are asked to imagine that they are parents moving to a new metropolitan area. They then choose between the five largest school districts in that area. All participants receive demographic data for each district. In addition, some participants are randomly assigned to receive average achievement and/or average growth data for each district. While there are strong relationships between student demographics and student achievement, the links between student demographics and student growth are much weaker. We find that, on average, the provision of growth data causes participants to choose less white and less wealthy districts. Moreover, the provision of both achievement and growth data causes participants to choose less white and less wealthy districts than the provision of achievement data alone.

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Amy Ellen Schwartz, Bryant Gregory Hopkins, Leanna Stiefel.

In the forty plus years since passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), special education has grown in the number of students and amount spent on services. Despite this growth, the academic performance of students with disabilities (SWDs) remains troubling low compared to general education students (GENs). To some extent, these differences reflect persistent underlying disabilities, but they may also reflect ineffective special education services. Does special education improve academic outcomes for students with disabilities? There is surprisingly little evidence to guide policy and answer this question. This paper provides an answer for the largest disability group, students with learning disabilities (LDs), using rich data from New York City public schools. Because the majority of LDs are classified after school entry, we observe outcomes both before and after classification, allowing us to gauge impact using within-student pre/post comparisons and, ultimately, student fixed effects in regression models exploring impacts. We find that academic outcomes improve for LDs following classification into special education, and impacts are largest for those entering special education in earlier grades. Results are robust to alternative specifications and falsification tests bolster confidence in a causal interpretation. Differences in impacts by gender and race/ethnicity, grade of classification, and settings shed light on possible mechanisms. 

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Harry J. Holzer, Zeyu Xu.

In this paper we estimate the impacts of the “pathways” chosen by community college students—in terms of desired credentials and fields of study, as well as other choices and outcomes along the paths—on the attainment of credentials with labor market value. We focus on the extent to which there are recorded changes in students’ choices over time, whether students make choices informed by their chances of success and by labor market value of credentials, and the impacts of choices on outcomes. We find that several characteristics of chosen pathways, such as field of study and desired credential as well as early “momentum,” affect outcomes. Student choices of pathways are not always driven by information about later chances of success, in terms of probabilities of completing programs and attaining strong earnings. Students also change pathways quite frequently, making it harder to accumulate the credits needed in their fields. Attainment of credentials with greater market value could thus likely be improved by appropriate guidance and supports for students along the way, and perhaps by broader institutional changes as well.

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James Soland.

Research has begun to investigate whether teachers and schools are as effective with certain student subgroups as they are with the overall student population.  Most of this research has examined the issue by trying to produce causal estimates of school contributions to short-term student growth (usually using value-added models) and has emphasized rank orderings of schools by subgroup.  However, not much is known about whether schools contributing to long-term growth for all students are also contributing to student growth by subgroup in ways that might close achievement gaps.  In this study, schools’ contributions to student growth are estimated separately for Black versus White students.  Results show that focusing on rank orderings of schools alone can mask troubling trends in relative achievement over time.  Options for how policymakers can sensibly hold schools accountable for student growth, including under The Every Student Succeeds Act, are discussed.

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Carolyn J. Heinrich, Jennifer Darling-Aduana.

Recent substantial increases in high school graduation rates have been linked anecdotally to the expansion of online course-taking for credit recovery. Online course-taking that supports high school completion could open new opportunities for postsecondary education pursuits. Alternatively, poorer quality online instruction could diminish student engagement and learning and discourage persistence toward graduation and further education. Using fixed-effect models and inverse probability weighting with regression adjustment with data from an eight-year longitudinal study of online course-taking in high schools, we find positive associations between online course-taking in high school and credits earned, high school graduation, and college enrollment. Our results leave open the question of whether online course-taking supports learning that will lead to longer-term postsecondary education and labor market success.

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Michael Gilraine, Uros Petronijevic, John D. Singleton.

While school choice may enhance competition, incentives for public schools to raise productivity may be muted if public education is viewed as imperfectly substitutable with alternatives. This paper estimates the aggregate effect of charter school expansion on education quality while accounting for the horizontal differentiation of charter school programs. To do so, we combine student-level administrative data with novel information about the educational programs of charter schools that opened in North Carolina following the removal of the statewide cap in 2011. The dataset contains students' standardized test scores as well as geocoded residential addresses, which allow us to compare the test score changes of students who lived near the new charters prior to the policy change with those for students who lived farther away. We apply this research design to estimate separate treatment effects for exposure to charter schools that are and are not differentiated horizontally from public school instruction. The results indicate learning gains for treated students that are driven entirely by non-horizontally differentiated charter schools: we find that non-horizontally differentiated charter school expansion causes a 0.05 SD increase in math scores. These learning gains are driven by public schools responding to increased competition.

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Allison Atteberry, Daphna Bassok, Vivian C. Wong.

This study is a randomized control trial of full- versus half-day pre-kindergarten in a school district near Denver, Colorado. Four-year-old children were randomly assigned an offer of half-day (four days/week) or full-day (five days/week) pre-k that increased class time by over 600 hours. The offer of full-day pre-k produced substantial, positive effects on children’s receptive vocabulary skills (0.267 standard deviations) by the end of pre-k. Among children enrolled in district schools, full-day participants also outperformed their peers on teacher-reported measures of cognition, literacy, math, and physical development. At kindergarten entry, children offered pre-k still outperformed peers on a widely-used measure of basic literacy. The study provides the first rigorous evidence on the impact of full-day preschool on children’s school readiness skills.

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Albert Cheng, Matthew M. Chingos, Paul E. Peterson.

Estimates of school voucher impacts on educational attainment have yet to explore heterogeneities in socioeconomic status among disadvantaged minority students. We theorize reasons for these heterogeneities and then estimate experimentally the differential impacts of voucher offers on college enrollment and graduation rates for minority and non-immigrant students from moderately and severely disadvantaged backgrounds. The findings are obtained from a privately sponsored, lottery-based voucher intervention in New York City that began in 1997. College enrollment and degree attainment as of the fall of 2017 were obtained from the National Student Clearinghouse. We find no significant effects of offers on minority students from severely disadvantaged backgrounds but significant effects of six to eight percentage points on those from moderately disadvantaged households. Similar results are obtained for students born of non-immigrant mothers. Some policy implications are discussed.

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Miles Davison, Andrew M. Penner, Emily Penner.

The well-documented racial disparities in school discipline have led many school districts in the U.S. to adopt restorative justice practices. The restorative justice philosophy differs from traditional disciplinary action by placing an emphasis on restitution and improving behavior rather than punishment. While models of restorative justice are descriptively and theoretically promising, research on restorative practices in schools is limited. We use student-level administrative data and a difference-in-difference design to measure the changes in student discipline outcomes that occurred under restorative justice in Pacific City schools between the 2008-2017 school years. Results indicate that restorative justice practices led to an overall reduction in disciplinary action. However, results also show that restorative justice practices had differential effects between racial groups, with White students benefiting most from restorative justice. These findings suggest that while the overall effects of restorative justice are promising, these practices may unintentionally widen the racial disproportionality in school discipline they are instituted to mitigate.

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