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David M. Houston, Matthew P. Steinberg.

In spring 2020, nearly every public school in the U.S. closed at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Existing evidence suggests that initial decisions to re-open schools for in-person instruction were generally unrelated to Covid case and death rates. Instead, local political partisanship and teachers union strength were better predictors of school re-opening status in fall 2020. We replicate and extend these analyses using data collected over the entire 2020-21 academic year. We demonstrate that Covid case and death rates were, in fact, meaningfully related to initial rates of in-person instruction. We also show that all three of these factors—Covid, partisanship, and teachers unions—became less predictive of in-person instruction as the school year continued. Conversely, the relationship between prior student achievement and the rate of in-person instruction increased in salience. We then leverage data from two nationally representative surveys of Americans’ attitudes toward education and identify an as-yet-undiscussed factor that predicts in-person instruction: pre-pandemic public support for increasing teacher salaries. We speculate that education leaders were better able to manage the logistical and political complexities of school reopenings in communities with greater support for educators.

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Elizabeth S. Park, Peter McPartlan, Sabrina Solanki, Di Xu.

Existing research indicates that racially minoritized students with similar academic preparation are less likely than their represented peers to persist in STEM, raising the question of factors that may contribute to racial disparities in STEM participation beyond academic preparation. We extend the current literature by first examining race-based differences in what students expect to receive and their actual grades in introductory STEM college courses, a phenomenon termed as overestimation. Then, we assess whether overestimation differentially influences STEM interest and persistence in college. Findings indicate that first-year STEM students tend to overestimate their performance in general, and the extent of overestimation is more pronounced among racially minoritized students. Subsequent analyses indicate that students who overestimate are more likely to switch out of STEM, net academic preparation. Results from regression models suggest that race-based differences in overestimation can be explained by pre-college academic and contextual factors, most notably the high school a student attended.

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Elizabeth S. Park, Di Xu.

Growing literature documents the promise of active learning instruction in engaging students in college classrooms. Accordingly, faculty professional development (PD) programs on active learning have become increasingly popular in postsecondary institutions; yet, quantitative evidence on the effectiveness of these programs is limited. Using administrative data and an individual fixed effects approach, we estimate the effect of an active learning PD program on student performance and persistence at a large public institution. Findings indicate that the training improved subsequent persistence in the same field. Using a subset of instructors whose instruction was observed by independent observers, we identify a positive association between training and implementation of active learning teaching practices. These findings provide suggestive evidence that active learning PD has the potential to improve student outcomes. 

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Andrew Bacher-Hicks, Olivia L. Chi, Alexis Orellana.

The unprecedented challenges of teaching during COVID-19 prompted fears of a mass exodus from the profession. We examine the extent to which these fears were realized using administrative records of Massachusetts teachers between 2015-16 and 2021-22. Relative to pre-pandemic levels, average turnover rates were similar going into the fall of 2020 but increased by 17 percent going into the fall of 2021. The fall 2021 increases were particularly high among newly hired teachers (31 percent increase), but were lower among Black and Hispanic/Latinx teachers (5 percent increases among both groups). Ethnoracial diversity of new hires increased during the pandemic, in part due to reduced professional licensure requirements. Together, these changes led to small increases in the overall ethnoracial diversity of Massachusetts teachers, but improvements to early-career retention will be needed to ensure long-term stability and diversity within the workforce.

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David Blazar, Doug McNamara, Genine Blue.

Instructional coaching is an attractive alternative to one-size-fits-all teacher training and development in part because it is purposefully differentiated: programming is aligned to individual teachers’ needs and implemented by an individual coach. But, how much of the benefit of coaching as an instructional improvement model depends on the specific coach with whom a teacher works? Collaborating with a national teacher training and development organization, TNTP, we find substantial variability in effectiveness across coaches in terms of changes in teachers’ classroom practice (0.43 standard deviations). The magnitude of coach effectiveness heterogeneity is close to average coaching program effects identified in other research. These findings suggest that identifying, recruiting, and supporting highly skilled coaches will be key to scaling instructional coaching programs.

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Sarah Guthery, Lauren P. Bailes.

Texas reduced new teacher preparation requirements in 2001 to allow more alternate paths to licensure. Within five years, this policy change resulted in over half the state’s new teachers being alternatively licensed. Using a series of first difference models, this study examines the relationship between the increased supply of new teachers in Texas and new teacher salaries prior to the policy change and in the fifteen years thereafter. We find that the policy change did increase the supply of new teachers via alternative licensing, but pay for new EC-6 teachers declined by 2 to 13 percent with differential effects based on the rate at which districts hired alternatively licensed teachers.

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Heather McCambly, Quinn Mulroy.

Public discussions of racial inclusion and equal opportunity initiatives in the U.S. are often met with claims that expanding access to an institution, space, or public good is likely to diminish its quality. Examples of this pattern include: anticipated (and real) property value declines when predominantly white neighborhoods become more racially diverse; fears that the excellence of white schools will decline when the population of Black and brown students grows; apprehensions that equitable hiring practices necessarily entail lower standards for job candidates. In this paper, we examine how a federal agency, the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), charged with addressing the aftermath of the ‘access wave’ of new college students promulgated by the Higher Education Act of 1965, came to reconcile its commitments to educational equity and quality. Through a novel examination of the historical development of what we term (e)quality politics in the administration of civil rights policy in higher education, we trace how two concepts - equity and quality – became discursively linked and contested in American politics. (E)quality politics refers to the introduction of a policy paradigm that reframes equity discussions and goals around the professed need to preserve and advance institutional “quality” using measures and standards that are, importantly, defined and instantiated under the era of segregation that precedes equal access policies. In particular, we uncover the discursive patterns by which the perceived threats to “quality” posed by racial diversity can prompt administrators to compensate, protect, and maintain the prerogatives of high-status institutions or groups that benefited under previous eras of exclusion. Understood as part of a backlash to egalitarian reforms, we argue, these quality measures undermine equity goals.

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Vladimir Kogan.

How do adult "culture wars" in education affect student learning in the classroom? I explore this question by combining information on nearly 500 school district political controversies with data on state test scores. Leveraging variation in the location and timing of these events as the basis for a difference-in-differences design, I show that student achievement declines in the wake of adult political battles. The effects are concentrated in math achievement -- the equivalent of approximately 10 days of lost learning -- and persist for at least four years. The declines are particularly pronounced for controversies surrounding racial issues and the teaching of evolution. These results suggest that well-intentioned education advocacy efforts focused on salient social justice issues may backfire, producing in unintended negative impacts on student achievement, and raise new questions about the adequacy of local democratic processes for the governance of public schools.

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Taylor Odle, Lauren Russell.

Reverse transfer associate degrees are credentials retroactively awarded to current bachelor’s degree seekers that combine current four-year credits with credits previously earned at a community college. Providing students with an associate degree may not only increase motivation and persistence en route to completing a bachelor’s but may also provide important labor market benefits by way of increased marketability and earnings potential. Despite the proliferation of reverse transfer policies across at least 15 states to date, there is no causal evidence documenting their effect on students’ outcomes. Leveraging administrative data from Tennessee matched with records on its statewide reverse transfer program and a difference-in-differences design, we find reverse transfer degrees generally have little impact on students’ short- and intermediate-term academic and labor market outcomes. Our results point to suggestive yet small positive gains in GPA and short-term employment for recipients, but these estimates accompany no impacts on bachelor’s degree attainment and estimates that confidently reject any meaningful impacts on recipients’ earnings. Our findings contrast those of existing descriptive works on reverse transfer that reported large benefits for students, due in part to our methodological improvements and more robust data. These findings should guide policymakers considering the adoption, design, and ongoing operation of reverse transfer programs.

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Brian Heseung Kim, Katharine Meyer, Alice Choe.

Interactive, text message-based advising programs have become an increasingly common strategy to support college access and success for underrepresented student populations. Despite the proliferation of these programs, we know relatively little about how students engage in these text-based advising opportunities and whether that relates to stronger student outcomes – factors that could help explain why we’ve seen relatively mixed evidence about their efficacy to date. In this paper, we use data from a large-scale, two-way text advising experiment focused on improving college completion to explore variation in student engagement using nuanced interaction metrics and automated text analysis techniques (i.e., natural language processing). We then explore whether student engagement patterns are associated with key outcomes including persistence, GPA, credit accumulation, and degree completion. Our results reveal substantial variation in engagement measures across students, indicating the importance of analyzing engagement as a multi-dimensional construct. We moreover find that many of these nuanced engagement measures have strong correlations with student outcomes, even after controlling for student baseline characteristics and academic performance. Especially as virtual advising interventions proliferate across higher education institutions, we show the value of applying a more codified, comprehensive lens for examining student engagement in these programs and chart a path to potentially improving the efficacy of these programs in the future.

Open source code on GitHub.

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