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Joshua Bleiberg

Joshua Bleiberg, Eric Brunner, Erica Harbatkin, Matthew A. Kraft, Matthew Springer.

Federal incentives and requirements under the Obama administration spurred states to adopt major reforms to their teacher evaluation systems. We examine the effects of these reforms on student achievement and attainment at a national scale by exploiting their staggered implementation across states. We find precisely estimated null effects, on average, that rule out impacts as small as 0.017 standard deviations for achievement and 1.2 percentage points for high school graduation and college enrollment. We highlight five factors that likely limited the efficacy of teacher evaluation at scale: political opposition, decentralization, capacity constraints, limited generalizability, and the absence of compensating wages.

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Melissa Arnold Lyon, Joshua Bleiberg, Beth E. Schueler.

State takeover of school districts—a form of political centralization that shifts decision-making power from locally elected leaders to the state—has increased in recent years, often with the purported goal of improving district financial condition. Takeover has affected millions of students throughout the U.S. since the first takeover in 1988 and is most common in larger districts and communities serving large shares of low-income students and students of color. While previous research finds takeovers do not benefit student academic achievement on average, we investigate whether takeovers achieve their goal of improving financial outcomes. Using an event study approach, we find takeovers from 1990 to 2019 increased annual school spending by roughly $2,000 per pupil after five years, on average, leading to improvements in financial condition. Increased funding came primarily from state sources and funded districts’ legacy costs. However, takeover did not affect spending for districts with majority-Black student populations—which are disproportionately targeted for takeover—adding to a growing literature suggesting that takeover unequally affects majority-Black communities.

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Joshua Bleiberg, Matthew A. Kraft.

The COVID-19 pandemic upended the U.S. education system and the economy in ways that dramatically affected the jobs of K-12 educators. However, data limitations have led to considerable uncertainty and conflicting reports about the nature of staffing challenges in schools. We draw on education employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and State Education Agencies (SEA) to describe patterns in K-12 education employment and to highlight the limitations of available data. Data from the BLS suggest overall employment in the K-12 labor market declined by 9.3 percent at the onset of the pandemic and remains well below pre-pandemic levels. SEA data suggest that teachers have not (yet) left the profession in mass as many predicted, but that turnover decreased in the summer of 2020. We explore possible explanations for these patterns including (1) weak hiring through the summer of 2020 and (2) high attrition among K-12 instructional support staff. State vacancy data also suggest that schools are facing substantial challenges filling open positions during the 2021-22 academic year. Our analyses illustrate the imperative to build more timely, detailed, and nationally representative data systems on the K-12 education labor market to better inform policy.  

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Matthew A. Kraft, Joshua Bleiberg.

Economic downturns can cause major funding shortfalls for U.S. public schools, often forcing districts to make difficult budget cuts including teacher layoffs. In this brief, we synthesize the empirical literature on the widespread teacher layoffs caused by the Great Recession. Studies find that teacher layoffs harmed student achievement and were inequitably distributed across schools, teachers, and students. Research suggests that specific elements of the layoff process can exacerbate these negative effects. Seniority-based policies disproportionately concentrate layoffs among teachers of color who are more likely to be early career teachers. These “last-in first-out” policies also disproportionately affect disadvantaged students because these students are more likely to be taught by early career teachers. The common practice of widely distributing pink slips warning about a potential job loss also appears to increase teacher churn and negatively impact teacher performance. Drawing on this evidence, we outline a set of policy recommendations to minimize the need for teacher layoffs during economic downturns and ensure that the burden of any unavoidable job cuts does not continue to be borne by students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

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Beth E. Schueler, Joshua Bleiberg.

Local school boards have primary authority for running educational systems in the U.S. but little is known empirically about the merits of this arrangement. State takeovers of struggling districts represent a rare alternative form of educational governance and have become an increasingly common response to low performance. However, limited research explores whether this effectively improves student outcomes. We track all takeovers nationwide from the late 1980s, when the first takeovers occurred, through 2016 and describe takeover districts. While these districts are low performing, we find academic performance plays less of a role in predicting takeover for districts serving larger concentrations of African American students. We then use a new data source allowing for cross-state comparisons of student outcomes to estimate the effect of takeovers that occurred between 2011 and 2016. On average, we find no evidence that takeover generates academic benefits. Takeover appears to be disruptive in the early years of takeover, particularly to English Language Arts achievement, although the longer-term effects are less clear. We also observe considerable heterogeneity of effects across districts. Takeovers were least effective in districts with higher baseline achievement and least harmful in majority Latinx communities. Leaders should be cautious about using takeover without considering local context and a better understanding of why some takeovers are more effective than others.

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Joshua Bleiberg.

Policymakers have sought to increase the rigor of content standards since the 1990s. However, the literature examining the effects of reforms to content standards on student outcomes is still developing. This study examines the extent to which the Common Core State Content Standards (CC) affected student achievement and the size of achievement gaps. To identify the effect of CC I compare early implementors of the CC to late implementors of the CC in a Difference-in-Differences framework. I conducted a document analysis to measure preparation for and implementation of the CC standards, which I merge together with the National Assessment of Educational Progress student-level data. I then exploit variation in the timing of state implementation of the CC to identify its effect on students overall and academically vulnerable groups. I find that the CC has a positive effect on math scores in 4th and 8th grade, but not in reading. The CC had a large positive effect on economically advantaged students, but a null effect for economically disadvantaged students. Demanding better results without addressing the structural issues burdening economically disadvantaged students may result in unintended consequences.

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