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Program and policy effects

Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson, Laura M. Talpey, Ludger Woessmann.
Concerns about the breadth of the U.S. income distribution and limited intergenerational mobility have led to a focus on educational achievement gaps by socio-economic status (SES).  Uintertemporally linked assessments from NAEP, TIMSS, and PISA, we trace the achievement of U.S. student cohorts born between 1954 and 2001.  Achievement gaps between the top and bottom deciles and the top and bottom quartiles of the SES distribution have been large and remarkably constant for a near half century.  These unwavering gaps have not been offset by overall improvements in achievement levels, which have risen at age 14 but remained unchanged at age 17 for the most recent quarter century.  The long-term failure of major educational policies to alter SES gaps suggests a need to reconsider standard approaches to mitigating disparities.

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Remy Pages, Dylan Lukes, Drew Bailey, Greg J. Duncan.

Using an additional decade of CNLSY data, this study replicated and extended Deming’s (2009) evaluation of Head Start’s life-cycle skill formation impacts in three ways. Extending the measurement interval for Deming’s adulthood outcomes, we found no statistically significant impacts on earnings and mixed evidence of impacts on other adult outcomes. Applying Deming’s sibling comparison framework to more recent birth cohorts born to CNLSY mothers revealed mostly negative Head Start impacts. Combining all cohorts shows generally null impacts on school-age and early adulthood outcomes.

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Tyler Watts, Greg J. Duncan, Mariela Rivas.

We present a reanalysis of the Tennessee Voluntary Prekindergarten Program (TNVPK), a state-funded program designed to promote the school readiness of 4-year-olds from low-income families. Oversubscribed programs used a lottery to randomly assign prospective enrollees a chance to attend TNVPK. We found that assignment to the program had largely null effects on measures of behavior, attendance, and retention collected during elementary school. TNVPK increased enrollment in special education by 4% between kindergarten and grade 3, and generated negative but generally statistically insignificant impacts on third-grade state test scores. We explore reasons for fadeout as well as threats to internal validity.

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Joshua Hyman.

I conduct a statewide experiment in Michigan with nearly 50,000 high-achieving high school seniors. Treated students are mailed a letter encouraging them to consider college and providing them with the web address of a college information website. I find that very high-achieving, low-income students, and very high-achieving, minority students are the most likely to navigate to the website. Small changes to letter content affect take-up. For example, highlighting college affordability induces 18 percent more students to the website than highlighting college choice, and 37 percent more than highlighting how to apply to college. I find a statistically precise zero impact on college enrollment among all students mailed the letter. However, low-income students experience a small increase in the probability that they enroll in college, driven by increases at four-year institutions. An examination of persistence through college, while imprecise, suggests that the students induced into college by the intervention persist at a lower rate than the inframarginal student.

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Joshua Goodman, Michael Hurwitz, Jisung Park, Jonathan Smith.

We demonstrate that heat inhibits learning and that school air-conditioning may mitigate this effect. Student fixed effects models using 10 million PSAT-retakers show hotter school days in years before the test reduce scores, with extreme heat being particularly damaging. Weekend and summer temperature has little impact, suggesting heat directly disrupts learning time. New nationwide, school-level measures of air-conditioning penetration suggest patterns consistent with such infrastructure largely offsetting heat’s effects. Without air-conditioning, a 1°F hotter school year reduces that year’s learning by one percent. Hot school days disproportionately impact minority students, accounting for roughly five percent of the racial achievement gap.

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Jing Liu, Susanna Loeb.

Teachers’ impact on student long-run success is only partially explained by their contributions to students’ short-run academic performance. For this study, we explore a second dimension of teacher effectiveness by creating measures of teachers’ contributions to student class-attendance. We find systematic variation in teacher effectiveness at reducing unexcused class absences at the middle and high school level. These differences across teachers are as stable as those for student achievement, but teacher effectiveness on attendance only weakly correlates with their effects on achievement. We link these measures of teacher effectiveness to students’ long-run outcomes. A high value-added to attendance teacher has a stronger impact on students’ likelihood of finishing high school than does a high value-added to achievement teacher. Moreover, high value-added to attendance teachers can motivate students to pursue higher academic goals as measured by Advanced Placement course taking. These positive effects are particularly salient for low-achieving and low-attendance students.

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Kalena Cortes, Hans Fricke, Susanna Loeb, David Song.

Text-message based parenting programs have proven successful in improving parental engagement and preschoolers’ literacy development. The tested programs have provided a combination of (a) general information about important literacy skills, (b) actionable advice (i.e., specific examples of such activities), and (c) encouragement. The regularity of the texts – each week throughout the school year – also provided nudges to focus parents’ attention on their children. This study seeks to identify mechanisms of the overall effect of such programs. It investigates whether the actionable advice alone drives previous study’s results and whether additional texts of actionable advice improve program effectiveness. The findings provide evidence that text messaging programs can supply too little or too much information. A single text per week is not as effective at improving parenting practices as a set of three texts that also include information and encouragement, but a set of five texts with additional actionable advice is also not as effective as the three-text approach. The results on children’s literacy development depend strongly on the child’s pre-intervention literacy skills. For children in the lowest quarter of the pre-treatment literacy assessments, only providing one example of an activity decreases literacy scores by 0.15 standard deviations relative to the original intervention. Literacy scores of children in higher quarters are marginally higher with only one tip per week. We find no positive effects of increasing to five texts per week.

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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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