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Explaining the productivity paradox—the phenomenon where an introduction of information and communication technology (ICT) does not lead to improvements in labor productivity—is difficult, as changes in technology often coincide with adjustments to working hours and substitution of labor. I conduct a cluster-randomized trial in India to investigate the effects of a program that provides teachers with continuous training and materials, encouraging them to blend their instruction with high-quality videos. Teaching hours, teacher-to-student assignments, and the curriculum are held constant. Eleven months after its launch, I document negative effects on student learning in grades 9 and 10 in mathematics, and no effects in science. I also find detrimental effects on instructional quality, instructional practices, and student perceptions and attitudes towards mathematics and science. These findings suggest adjustment costs can serve as one explanation for the paradox.
In response to widening achievement gaps and increased demand for post-secondary education, local and federal governments across the US have enacted policies that have boosted high school graduation rates without an equivalent rise in student achievement, suggesting a decline in academic standards. To the extent that academic standards can shape effort decisions, these trends can have important implications for human capital accumulation. This paper provides both theoretical and empirical evidence of the causal effect of academic standards on student effort and achievement. We develop a theoretical model of endogenous student effort that depends on grading policies, finding that designs that do not account for either the spread of student ability or the magnitude of leniency can increase achievement gaps. Empirically, under a research design that leverages variation from a statewide grading policy and school entry rules, we find that an increase in leniency mechanically increased student GPA without increasing student achievement. At the same time, this policy induced students to increase their school absences. We uncover stark heterogeneity of effects across student ability, with the gains in GPA driven entirely by high ability students and the reductions in attendance driven entirely by low ability students. These differences in responses compound across high school and ultimately widen long-term achievement gaps as measured by ACT scores.
Decisions to invest in human capital depend on people’s time preferences. We show that differences in patience are closely related to substantial subnational differences in educational achievement, leading to new perspectives on longstanding within-country disparities. We use social-media data – Facebook interests – to construct novel regional measures of patience within Italy and the United States. Patience is strongly positively associated with student achievement in both countries, accounting for two-thirds of the achievement variation across Italian regions and one-third across U.S. states. Results also hold for six other countries with more limited regional achievement data.
Students’ college choices can affect their chances of earning a degree, but many lack the support to navigate the opaque college application and admissions process. This paper evaluates whether guaranteeing four-year college admissions based on transparent academic standards affected community college students’ enrollment choices and graduation rates. Guaranteed admissions increased high-GPA graduates’ transfer rates to highly-selective colleges by 30 percent. Increased transfers to highly-selective colleges also accompanied higher graduation rates and lower student debt. Gains were largest for students with historically lower transfer rates. Transparent admissions standards can increase access to selective colleges at low to no cost.
Generally, need-based financial aid improves students’ academic outcomes. However, the largest source of need-based grant aid in the United States, the Federal Pell Grant Program (Pell), has a mixed evaluation record. We assess the minimum Pell Grant in a regression discontinuity framework, using Kentucky administrative data. We focus on whether and how year-to-year changes in aid eligibility and interactions with other sources of aid attenuate Pell’s estimated effects on post-secondary outcomes. This evaluation complements past work by assessing explanations for the null or muted impacts found in our analysis and other Pell evaluations. We also discuss the limitations of using regression discontinuity methods to evaluate Pell—or other interventions with dynamic eligibility criteria—with respect to generalizability and construct validity.
Novice teachers improve substantially in their first years on the job, but we know remarkably little about the nature of this skill development. Using data from Tennessee, we leverage a feature of the classroom observation protocol that asks school administrators to identify an item on which the teacher should focus their improvement efforts. This “area of refinement” overcomes a key measurement challenge endemic to inferring from classroom observation scores the development of specific teaching skills. We show that administrators disproportionately identify two teaching skills when observing novice teachers: classroom management and presenting content. Struggling with classroom management, in particular, is linked to high rates of novice teacher attrition. Among those who remain, we observe subsequent improvement in these skills.
Does student-teacher match quality exist? Prior work has documented large disparities in teachers' impacts across student types but has not distinguished between sorting and causal effects as the drivers of these disparities. I propose a disparate value-added model and derive a novel measure of teacher quality---revealed comparative advantage---that captures the degree to which teachers affect student outcome gaps. Quasi-experimental changes in teaching staff show that the comparative advantage measure accurately predicts teachers’ disparate impacts: a teacher with a 1 standard deviation in revealed comparative advantage for black students increases black students' test scores by 1 standard deviation and has no effect on non-black students' test scores. Teacher removal and teacher-to-classroom re-allocation simulations show substantial efficiency and equity gains of considering teachers’ comparative advantage.
This paper discusses the importance of incorporating personal assistance into interventions aimed at improving long-term education and labor market success. While existing research demonstrates the cost-effectiveness of low-touch behavioral nudges, this paper argues that the dynamic nature of human capital accumulation requires sustained habits over time. To foster better habits, social connections are critical for encouraging enduring effort and intrinsic motivation. The paper showcases examples from various stages of human capital accumulation, including early childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, in which interventions that incorporate personal assistance substantially out-perform less intensive nudges. We underscore the importance of interactive support, guidance, and motivation in facilitating significant progress and explore the challenges associated with implementing cost-effective policies to provide such assistance.
School board candidates supported by local teachers' unions overwhelmingly win and we examine the causes and consequences of the "teachers' union premium" in these elections. First, we show that union endorsement information increases voter support. Although the magnitude of this effect varies across ideological and partisan subgroups, an endorsement never hurts a candidate's prospects among any major segment of the electorate. Second, we benchmark the size of the endorsement premium to other well-known determinants of vote-choice in local elections. Perhaps surprisingly, we show the endorsement effect can be as large as the impact of shared partisanship, and substantially larger than the boost from endorsements provided by other stakeholders. Finally, examining real-world endorsement decisions, we find that union support for incumbents hinges on self-interested pecuniary considerations and is unaffected by performance in improving student academic outcomes. The divergence between what endorsements mean and how voters interpret them have troubling normative democratic implications.