- John Papay
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Preparing K-12 students for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields is an ongoing challenge confronting state policymakers. We examine the implementation of a science graduation testing requirement for high-school students in Massachusetts, beginning with the graduating class of 2010. We find that the design of the new requirement was quite complicated, reflecting the state’s previous experiences with test-based accountability, a broad consensus on policy goals among key stakeholders, and the desire to afford flexibility to local schools and districts. The consequences for both students and schools, while largely consistent with the goals of increasing students’ skills and interest in STEM fields, were in many cases unexpected. We find large differences by demographic subgroup in the probabilities of passing the first science exam and of succeeding on retest, even when conditioning on previous test-score performance. Our results also show impacts of science exit-exam performance for students scoring near the passing threshold, particularly on the high-school graduation rates of females and on college outcomes for higher-income students. These findings demonstrate the importance of equity considerations in designing and evaluating ambitious new policy initiatives.
Many states use high-school exit examinations to assess students’ career and college readiness in core subjects. We find meaningful consequences of barely passing the mathematics examination in Massachusetts, as opposed to just failing it. However, these impacts operate at different educational attainment margins for low-income and higher-income students. As in previous work, we find that barely passing increases the probability of graduating from high school for low-income (particularly urban low-income) students, but not for higher-income students. However, this pattern is reversed for 4-year college graduation. For higher-income students only, just passing the examination increases the probability of completing a 4-year college degree by 2.1 percentage points, a sizable effect given that only 13% of these students near the cutoff graduate.
We examine the dynamic nature of student-teacher match quality by studying the effect of having a teacher for more than one year. Using data from Tennessee and panel methods, we find that having a repeat teacher improves achievement and decreases absences, truancy, and suspensions. These results are robust to a range of tests for student and teacher sorting. High-achieving students benefit most academically and boys of color benefit most behaviorally. Effects increase with the share of repeat students in a class suggesting that classroom assignment policies intended to promote sustained student-teacher relationships such as looping may have even larger benefits.
We explore the dynamics of competitive search in the K-12 public education sector. Using data from Boston Public Schools, we document how teacher labor supply varies substantially by position types, schools, and the timing of job postings. We find that early-posted positions are more likely to be filled and end up securing new hires that are better-qualified, more-effective, and more likely to remain at a school. In contrast, the number of applicants to a position is largely unassociated with hire quality, suggesting that schools may struggle to identify and select the best candidates even when there is a large pool of qualified applicants. Our findings point to substantial unrealized potential for improving teacher hiring.
Many prior studies have examined whether there are average differences in levels of teaching effectiveness among graduates from different teacher preparation programs (TPPs); other studies have investigated which features of preparation predict graduates’ average levels of teaching effectiveness. This is the first study to examine whether there are average differences between TPPs in terms of graduates’ average growth, rather than levels, in teaching effectiveness, and to consider which features predict this growth. Examining all graduates from Tennessee TPPs from 2010 to 2018, we find meaningful differences between TPPs in terms of both levels and growth in teaching effectiveness. We also find that different TPP features, including areas of endorsement, program type, clinical placement type and length, program size, and faculty composition explain part of these differences. Yet, the features that predict initial teaching effectiveness are not the same features that predict growth.
Numerous high-profile efforts have sought to “turn around” low-performing schools. Evidence on the effectiveness of school turnarounds, however, is mixed, and research offers little guidance on which models are more likely to succeed. We present a mixed-methods case study of turnaround efforts led by the Blueprint Schools Network in three schools in Boston. Using a difference-in-differences framework, we find that Blueprint raised student achievement in ELA by at least a quarter of a standard deviation, with suggestive evidence of comparably large effects in math. We document qualitatively how differential impacts across the three Blueprint schools relate to contextual and implementation factors. In particular, Blueprint’s role as a turnaround partner (in two schools) versus school operator (in one school) shaped its ability to implement its model. As a partner, Blueprint provided expertise and guidance but had limited ability to fully implement its model. In its role as an operator, Blueprint had full authority to implement its turnaround model, but was also responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the school, a role for which it had limited prior experience.
We examine the dynamic nature of teacher skill development using panel data on principals’ subjective performance ratings of teachers. Past research on teacher productivity improvement has focused primarily on one important but narrow measure of performance: teachers’ value-added to student achievement on standardized tests. Unlike value-added, subjective performance ratings provide detailed information about specific skill dimensions and are available for the many teachers in non-tested grades and subjects. Using a within-teacher returns to experience framework, we find, on average, large and rapid improvements in teachers’ instructional practices throughout their first ten years on the job as well as substantial differences in improvement rates across individual teachers. We also document that subjective performance ratings contain important information about teacher effectiveness. In the district we study, principals appear to differentiate teacher performance throughout the full distribution instead of just in the tails. Furthermore, prior performance ratings and gains in these ratings provide additional information about teachers’ ability to improve test scores that is not captured by prior value-added scores. Taken together, our study provides new insights on teacher performance improvement and variation in teacher development across instructional skills and individual teachers.