- Joshua Goodman
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The extent to which pandemic-induced public school enrollment declines will persist is unclear. Student-level data from Michigan through fall 2021 yields three relevant findings. First, relative to pre-pandemic trends, fall 2021 enrollment had partially recovered for low-income, Black, and Hispanic students, but had declined further for non-low-income, White, and Asian students. Second, annual public school exit rates remained elevated for elementary students and accelerated further for middle school students. Third, public school exit is sticky and varies by chosen alternative. Only 21 percent of those who left for private schools in fall 2020 had returned by fall 2021, while 50 percent of those who left for homeschooling had returned. These findings suggest that pandemic-driven public school enrollment declines may persist, and more so among higher income families.
The Covid-19 pandemic drastically disrupted the functioning of U.S. public schools, potentially changing the relative appeal of alternatives such as homeschooling and private schools. Using longitudinal student-level administrative data from Michigan and nationally representative data from the Census Household Pulse Survey, we show how the pandemic affected families’ choices of school sector. We document four central facts. First, public school enrollment declined noticeably in fall 2020, with about 3 percent of Michigan students and 10 percent of kindergartners using other options. Second, most of this was driven by homeschooling rates jumping substantially, driven largely by families with children in elementary school. Third, homeschooling increased more where schools provided in-person instruction while private schooling increased more where instruction was remote, suggesting heterogeneity in parental concerns about children’s physical health and instructional quality. Fourth, kindergarten declines were highest among low income and Black families while declines in other grades were highest among higher income and White families, highlighting important heterogeneity by students’ existing attachment to public schools. Our results shed light on how families make schooling decisions and imply potential longer-run disruptions to public schools in the form of decreased enrollment and funding, changed composition of the student body, and increased size of the next kindergarten cohort.
School bullying is widespread and has substantial social costs. One in five U.S. high school students report being bullied each school year and these students face greater risks of serious mental health challenges that extend into adulthood. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced most students into online education, many have worried that cyberbullying prevalence would grow dramatically. We use data from Google internet searches to examine changing bullying patterns as COVID-19 disrupted in-person schooling. Pre-pandemic historical patterns show that internet searches provide useful information about actual bullying behavior. Real-time data then shows that searches for school bullying and cyberbullying both dropped about 30-40 percent as schools shifted to remote learning in spring 2020. This drop is sustained through the fall and winter of the 2020-21 school year, though the gradual return to in-person instruction partially returns bullying searches to pre-pandemic levels. These results highlight how in-person interaction is an important mechanism underlying not only in-person school bullying, but also cyberbullying. We discuss how this otherwise damaging shock to students and schools provides insight into the mixed impact of the pandemic on student well-being.
The growing phenomenon of private tutoring has received minimal scholarly attention in the United States. We use 20 years of geocoded data on the universe of U.S. private tutoring centers to estimate the size and growth of this industry and to identify predictors of tutoring center locations. We document four important facts. First, from 1997-2016, the number of private tutoring centers grew steadily and rapidly, more than tripling from about 3,000 to nearly 10,000. Second, the number and growth of private tutoring centers is heavily concentrated in geographic areas with high income and parental education. Nearly half of tutoring centers are in areas in the top quintile of income. Third, even conditional on income and parental education, private tutoring centers tend to locate in areas with many immigrant and Asian-American families, suggesting important differences by nationality and ethnicity in demand for such services. Fourth, we see little evidence that prevalence of private tutoring centers is related to the structure of K-12 school markets, including the prevalence of private schools and charter or magnet school options. The rapid rise in high-income families’ demand for this form of private educational investment mimics phenomena observed in other spheres of education and family life, with potentially important implications for inequality in student outcomes.
We use high frequency internet search data to study in real time how US households sought out online learning resources as schools closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. By April 2020, nationwide search intensity for both school- and parent-centered online learning resources had roughly doubled relative to baseline. Areas of the country with higher income, better internet access and fewer rural schools saw substantially larger increases in search intensity. The pandemic will likely widen achievement gaps along these dimensions given schools' and parents' differing engagement with online resources to compensate for lost school-based learning time. Accounting for such differences and promoting more equitable access to online learning could improve the effectiveness of education policy responses to the pandemic. The public availability of internet search data allows our analyses to be updated when schools reopen and to be replicated in other countries.
We provide the first estimated economic impacts of students’ access to an entire sector of public higher education in the U.S. Approximately half of Georgia high school graduates who enroll in college do so in the state’s public four-year sector, which requires minimum SAT scores for admission. Regression discontinuity estimates show enrollment in public four-year institutions boosts students’ household income around age 30 by 20 percent, and has even larger impacts for those from low income high schools. Access to this sector has little clear impact on student loan balances or other measures of financial health. For the marginal student, enrollment in such institutions has large private returns even in the short run and positive returns to state budgets in the long run.
Family and social networks are widely believed to influence important life decisions but identifying their causal effects is notoriously difficult. Using admissions thresholds that directly affect older but not younger siblings’ college options, we present evidence from the United States, Chile, Sweden and Croatia that older siblings’ college and major choices can significantly influence their younger siblings’ college and major choices. On the extensive margin, an older sibling’s enrollment in a better college increases a younger sibling’s probability of enrolling in college at all, especially for families with low predicted probabilities of enrollment. On the intensive margin, an older sibling’s choice of college or major increases the probability that a younger sibling applies to and enrolls in that same college or major. Spillovers in major choice are stronger when older siblings enroll and succeed in more selective and higher-earning majors. The observed spillovers are not well-explained by price, income, proximity or legacy effects, but are most consistent with older siblings transmitting otherwise unavailable information about the college experience and its potential returns. The importance of such personally salient information may partly explain persistent differences in college-going rates by geography, income, and other determinants of social networks.
We study within-family spillovers in college enrollment to show college-going behavior is transmissible between peers. Because siblings’ test scores are weakly correlated, we exploit college-speciﬁc admissions thresholds that directly affect older but not younger siblings’ college options. Older siblings’ admissibility substantially increases their own four-year college enrollment rate and quality of college attended. Their improved college choices in turn raise younger siblings’ college enrollment rate and quality of college chosen, particularly for families with low predicted probabilities of college enrollment. Some younger siblings follow their older sibling to the same campus but many upgrade by choosing other colleges. The observed spillovers are not well-explained by price, income, proximity or legacy effects, but are most consistent with older siblings transmitting otherwise unavailable information about the college experience and its potential returns. The importance of such personally salient information may partly explain persistent differences in college-going rates by income, geography and other characteristics that deﬁne a community.
Do nudge interventions that have generated positive impacts at a local level maintain efficacy when scaled state or nationwide? What specific mechanisms explain the positive impacts of promising smaller-scale nudges? We investigate, through two randomized controlled trials, the impact of a national and state-level campaign to encourage students to apply for financial aid for college. The campaigns collectively reached over 800,000 students, with multiple treatment arms to investigate different potential mechanisms. We find no impacts on financial aid receipt or college enrollment overall or for any student subgroups. We find no evidence that different approaches to message framing, delivery, or timing, or access to one-on-one advising affected campaign efficacy. We discuss why nudge strategies that work locally may be hard to scale effectively.
Only half of SAT-takers retake the exam, with even lower retake rates among low income and underrepresented minority (URM) students. We exploit discontinuous jumps in retake probabilities at multiples of 100, driven by left-digit bias, to estimate retaking’s causal effects. Retaking substantially improves SAT scores and increases four-year college enrollment rates, particularly for low income and URM students. Eliminating disparities in retake rates could close up to 10 percent of the income-based gap and up to seven percent of the race-based gap in four-year college enrollment rates of high school graduates.