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Daniel Rodriguez-Segura, Savannah Tierney.

While learning outcomes in low- and middle-income countries are generally at low levels, the degree to which students and schools more broadly within education systems lag behind grade-level proficiency can vary significantly. A substantial portion of existing literature advocates for aligning curricula closer to the proficiency level of the “median child” within each system. Yet, amidst considerable between-school heterogeneity in learning outcomes, choosing a single instructional level for the entire system may still leave behind those students in schools far from this level. Hence, establishing system-wide curriculum expectations in the presence of significant between-school heterogeneity poses a significant challenge for policymakers — especially as the issue of between-school heterogeneity has been relatively unexplored by researchers so far. This paper addresses the gap by leveraging a unique dataset on foundational literacy and numeracy outcomes, representative of six public educational systems encompassing over 900,000 enrolled children in South Asia and West Africa. With this dataset, we examine the current extent of between-school heterogeneity in learning outcomes, the potential predictors of this heterogeneity, and explore its potential implications for setting national curricula for different grade levels and subjects. Our findings reveal that between-school heterogeneity can indeed present both a severe pedagogical hindrance and challenges for policymakers, particularly in contexts with relatively higher levels of performance and in the higher grades. In response to meaningful between-system heterogeneity, we also demonstrate through simulation that a more nuanced, data-driven targeting of curricular expectations for different schools within a system could empower policymakers to effectively reach a broader spectrum of students through classroom instruction.

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Jordan S. Berne, Brian A. Jacob, Tareena Musaddiq, Anna Shapiro, Christina Weiland.

Transitional Kindergarten (TK) is a relatively recent entrant into the U.S. early education landscape, combining features of public pre-K and regular kindergarten. We provide the first estimates of the impact of Michigan’s TK program on 3rd grade test scores. Using an augmented regression discontinuity design, we find that TK improves 3rd grade math scores by 0.29 standard deviations relative to a counterfactual that includes other formal and informal learning options. This impact is notably large relative to the prior pre-K literature. Estimates for English Language Arts (ELA) are imprecise but suggestive of a positive effect as well.

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Henning Finseraas, Ole Henning Nyhus, Kari Vea Salvanes, Astrid Marie Jorde Sandsør.

Recent research suggests that using additional teachers to provide small-group instruction or tutoring substantially improves student learning. However, treatment effects on test scores can fade over time, and less is known about the lasting effects of such interventions. We leverage data from a Norwegian large-scale field experiment to examine the effects of small-group instruction in mathematics for students aged 7-9. This intervention shares many features with other high-impact tutoring programs, with some notable exceptions: instruction time was kept fixed, it had a lower dosage, and it targeted students of all ability levels. The latter allows us to assess fadeout across the ability distribution. Previous research on this intervention finds positive short-run effects. This paper shows that about 60% of the effect persists 3.5 years later. The effect size and degree of fadeout are surprisingly similar across the ability distribution. The study demonstrates that small-group instruction in mathematics successfully targets student performance and that effects can be sustained over time.

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Seth B. Hunter, Katherine M. Bowser.

We extend teacher evaluation research by estimating a reformed evaluation system's plausibly causal average effects on rural student achievement, identifying the settings where evaluation works, and incorporating evaluation expenditures. That the literature omits these contributions is concerning as research implies it hinders evidence-based teacher evaluation policymaking for rural districts, which outnumber urban districts. We apply a difference-in-differences framework to Missouri administrative data. Missouri districts could design and maintain reformed systems or outsource these tasks for a small fee to organizations like the Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE), an evaluation system created for rural users. NEE does not affect student achievement on average but it improves math, and possibly reading, achievement in rural schools where the average student's prior-year achievement score is below the state average or the average teacher's years of experience are below the state average.

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Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman.

Recent work highlights the challenge of scaling evidence-based educational programs. We report on a randomized controlled trial of a financial incentive program designed to increase the efficacy of a national remote college advising initiative for high-achieving students. We find substantial positive effects of the program on student engagement with college advisors; applications to well-matched colleges and universities; and review of financial aid awards. Yet treated students were no more likely to enroll at higher-quality institutions. Student survey responses suggest that institutional admissions and affordability barriers, alongside student preferences to attend institutions closer to home, explain the lack of enrollment effects.

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S. Michael Gaddis, Charles Crabtree, John B. Holbein, Steven Pfaff.

Correspondence audits document causal evidence of racial/ethnic discrimination in many contexts. However, few studies have examined whether local political party voting context influences individuals to engage in “stakeholder-centric” discrimination on behalf of or in response to expectations of others. We examine heterogeneity in racial/ethnic discrimination by the county-level Republican vote share with a correspondence audit of 52,792 K-12 public-school principals across 33 states. We email principals posing as parents considering a move to the school district and requesting a meeting. We find evidence that the county-level Republican vote share strongly moderates racial/ethnic discrimination against Black and Chinese American families. While all groups are less likely to receive a response from principals as the Republican vote share increases, the declines for Black and Chinese American families are largest. Thus, discrimination against Black and Chinese American families is sizable in counties with the highest Republican vote share. These findings shed light on how partisanship can shape the experiences of historically marginalized groups. Furthermore, there may be benefits to targeting limited resources to geographies where discrimination is more likely to occur.

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Benjamin L. Castleman, Denise Deutschlander, Gabrielle Lohner.

While Hispanic students represent the fasting-growing segment of the American school-age population, substantial gaps exist in college enrollment and Bachelor’s attainment between Hispanic and White and Asian students. Numerous factors contribute to these disparities and disproportionally affect Hispanic youth. In this paper, we contribute evidence on the impact of an intensive college advising program on Hispanic students’ college participation and degree attainment. We report on a multi-cohort randomized controlled trial of College Forward, which provides individualized advising from junior year of high school through college for a majority Hispanic, lower-income student population in Texas. Students who receive College Forward advising are 7.1 percentage points more likely to earn a Bachelor’s degree within 5 years of high school graduation; this effect appears largely driven by shifting high school graduates from the extensive margin of not going to college at all to instead enroll at four-year colleges and universities. Despite the costs associated with intensive advising programs like College Forward, back of the envelope calculations suggest that the benefit from increased college graduation induced by the program outweighs operating costs in less than three years following college completion.

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Kevin J. Mumford, Richard W. Patterson, Anthony Yim.

What happens when college students are not able to enroll in the courses they want? We use a natural experiment at Purdue University in which first-year students are conditionally randomly assigned to oversubscribed courses. Compared to students who are assigned a requested course, those who are shut out are 40% less likely to ever take the oversubscribed course and 30% less likely to ever take a course in the same subject. While a course shutout is equally likely to occur to female and male students who requested the course, shutouts are much more disruptive for female students. In the short run, shutouts decrease the credits female students earn as well as their GPA. In the long-run, shutouts increase the probability female students drop out of school in the first year, decrease the probability they choose majors in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), decrease cumulative GPA, and decrease the probability of graduating within four years. In contrast, shutouts have no effects on short-run credits earned, dropout, majoring in STEM, cumulative GPA, or four-year graduation for male students. Shutouts do have one large measurable long-run impact on male students---shutouts significantly increase the probability that men choose a major from the business school.

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Jeremy Singer.

Educational policymakers, leaders, and researchers are paying increasing attention to student attendance and chronic absenteeism, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though researchers have documented the consequences and causes of absenteeism, there is limited empirical evidence about what schools and districts are actually doing to improve attendance. This study presents evidence about the types of attendance practices that forty-seven high-absenteeism districts in Michigan are planning and implementing. I draw on a combination of quantitative and qualitative data from principal surveys, case studies, observations, and school improvement plans. In the 2022-23 school year, principals reported using communication practices, incentives, and to an extent providing resources to address barriers to attendance. In improvement plans, districts planned to create new organizational infrastructure and hire new personnel, with less emphasis on specific practices. These findings highlight a reliance on communication-based strategies and limited existing organizational infrastructure for addressing attendance. Though these districts have planned to develop new attendance systems and practices, it is unclear whether they will substantially reduce absenteeism, since they do not substantially address social and economic inequalities at the root of high absenteeism rates. I conclude with recommendations for monitoring new attendance practices, addressing root causes, and avoiding counterproductive practices.

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Reuben Hurst, Andrew Simon, Michael Ricks.

To understand the causes and consequences of polarized demand for government expenditure, we conduct three field experiments in the context of public higher education. The first two experiments study polarization in taxpayer demand. We provide information to shape beliefs about social returns on investment. Our treatments narrow the political partisan gap in ideal policies---a reduction in ideological polarization---by up to 32%, with differences in partisan reasoning as a key mechanism. Providing information also affects how people communicate their ideal policies to elected officials, increasing their propensity to write a (positive) letter to an official of the other party---a reduction in affective polarization. In the third experiment, we send these letters to a randomized subset of elected officials to study how policymakers respond to constituent demand. We find that officials who receive their constituents' demands engage more with higher education issues in our correspondences.

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