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Seth Gershenson

Seth Gershenson, Stephen B. Holt, Adam Tyner.

Teachers are among the most important inputs in the education production function. One mechanism by which teachers might affect student learning is through the grading standards they set for their classrooms. However, the effects of grading standards on student outcomes are relatively understudied. Using administrative data that links individual students and teachers in 8th and 9th grade Algebra I classrooms from 2006 to 2016, we examine the effects of teachers’ grading standards on student learning and attendance. High teacher grading standards in Algebra I increase student learning both in Algebra I and in subsequent math classes. The effect on student achievement is positive and similar in size across student characteristics and levels of ability, students’ relative rank within the classroom, and school context. High teacher grading standards also lead to a modest reduction in student absences.

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Victoria Hunter Gibney, Kristine L. West, Seth Gershenson.

The burnout, stress, and work-life balance challenges faced by teachers have received renewed interest due to the myriad disruptions and changes to K-12 schooling brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, even prior to the pandemic relatively little was known about teachers’ time use outside of the classroom, the blurring of work and home boundaries, and how teachers compare to similar professionals in these regards. We use daily time-diary data from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) for 3,227 teachers and 1,947 professionals in similarly prosocial occupations from 2003 to 2019 to examine occupational differences in time use. Compared to observationally similar non-teachers, teachers spend significantly more time volunteering at their workplace and completing work outside the workplace. On average, teachers spend 12 more minutes working outside of the workplace on weekdays than observably similar non-teachers, and 39 more minutes on weekends. The weekend disparity is particularly large among secondary school teachers. This suggests that before the widespread switch to online and hybrid learning necessitated by the COVID pandemic, teachers were already navigating blurrier work-life boundaries than their counterparts in similar professions. This has important implications for teacher turnover and for the effectiveness and wellness of teachers who remain in the profession.

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Jing Liu, Michael S. Hayes, Seth Gershenson.

We use novel data on disciplinary referrals, including those that do not lead to suspensions, to better understand the origins of racial disparities in exclusionary discipline. We find significant differences between Black and white students in both referral rates and the rate at which referrals convert to suspensions. An infraction fixed-effects research design that compares the disciplinary outcomes of white and non-white students who were involved in the same multi-student incident identifies systematic racial biases in sentencing decisions. On both the intensive and extensive margins, Black and Hispanic students receive harsher sentences than their white co-conspirators. This result is driven by high school infractions and mainly applies to “more severe” infractions that involve fights or drugs. Reducing racial disparities in exclusionary discipline will require addressing underlying gaps in disciplinary referrals and the systematic biases that appear in the adjudication process.

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Jing Liu, Monica Lee, Seth Gershenson.

We provide novel evidence on the causal impacts of student absences in middle and high school on state test scores, course grades, and educational attainment using a rich administrative dataset that tracks the date and class period of each absence. We use two similar but distinct identification strategies that address potential endogeneity due to time-varying student-level shocks by exploiting within-student, between-subject variation in class-specific absences. We also leverage information on the timing of absences to show that absences that occur after the annual window for state standardized testing do not affect test scores, providing a further check of our identification strategy. Both approaches yield similar results. We nd that absences in middle and high school harm contemporaneous student achievement and longer-term educational attainment: On average, missing 10 classes reduces math or English Language Arts test scores by 3-4% of a standard deviation and course grades by 17-18% of a standard deviation. 10 total absences across all subjects in 9th grade reduce both the probability of on-time graduation and ever enrolling in college by 2%. Learning loss due to school absences can have profound economic and social consequences.

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Seth Gershenson.

Teachers are among the most important school-provided determinants of student success. Effective teachers improve students’ test scores as well as their attendance, behavior, and earnings as adults. However, students do not enjoy equal access to effective teachers. This article reviews some of the key challenges associated with teacher policy confronted by school leaders and education policymakers, and how the tools of applied economics can help address those challenges. The first challenge is that identifying effective teachers is difficult. Economists use value-added models to estimate teacher effectiveness, which works well in certain circumstances, but should be just one piece of a multi-measure strategy for identifying effective teachers. We also discuss how different policies, incentives, school characteristics, and professional-development interventions can increase teacher effectiveness; this is important, as schools face the daunting challenge of hiring effective teachers, helping teachers to improve, and removing ineffective teachers from the classroom. Finally, we discuss the supply and mobility of teachers, including the consequences of teacher absenteeism, the distribution of initial teaching placements, and the characteristics and preferences of those who enter the profession.

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Stephen B. Holt, Rui Wang, Seth Gershenson.

Teaching is often assumed to be a relatively stressful occupation and occupational stress among teachers has been linked to poor mental health, attrition from the profession, and decreased effectiveness in the classroom. Despite widespread concern about teachers’ mental health, however, little empirical evidence exists on long-run trends in teachers’ mental health or the prevalence of mental health problems in teaching relative to other professions. We address this gap in the literature using nationally representative data from the 1979 and 1997 cohorts of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY). In the 1979 cohort, women who become teachers have similar mental health to non-teachers prior to teaching but enjoy better mental health than their non-teaching peers, on average, while working as teachers. However, in the 1997 cohort teachers self-report worse mental health, on average, than the 1979 cohort and fare no better than their non-teaching professional peers while teaching. Overall, teachers seem to enjoy mental health outcomes that are as good or better than their peers in other professions.

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Seth Gershenson, Cassandra M. D. Hart, Joshua Hyman, Constance Lindsay, Nicholas W. Papageorge.

We examine the long-run impacts of having a same-race teacher. First, we leverage data from the Tennessee STAR class-size experiment to show that black students randomly assigned to a black teacher in grades K-3 are 5 percentage points (7%) more likely to graduate from high school and 4 percentage points (13%) more likely to enroll in college than their same-school, same-race peers not assigned to a black teacher. Second, we replicate these results in North Carolina using quasi-experimental methods. Finally, we formally define "role model effects" as information provision, which facilitates an exploration of possible mechanisms that drive these results.

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