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Classroom teachers in the US are absent on average approximately six percent of a school year. Despite the prevalence of teacher absences, surprisingly little research has assessed the key source of replacement instruction: substitute teachers. Using detailed administrative and survey data from a large urban school district, we document the prevalence, predictors, and variation of substitute coverage across schools. Less advantaged schools systematically exhibit lower rates of substitute coverage compared with peer institutions. Observed school, teacher, and absence characteristics account for only part of this school variation. In contrast, substitute teachers’ preferences for specific schools, mainly driven by student behavior and support from teachers and school administrators, explain a sizable share of the unequal distribution of coverage rates above and beyond standard measures in administrative data.
Nationwide, school principals are given wide discretion to use disciplinary tools like suspension and expulsion to create a safe learning environment. There is legitimate concern that this power can have negative consequences, particularly for the people who are excluded. This study uses linked disciplinary, education, and criminal justice records from 2008 to 2016 in North Carolina to examine the impact of principal-driven disciplinary decisions on middle school student outcomes. We find that principals who are more likely to remove students do appear to create safer schools through a reduction in minor student misconduct. However, this deterrence comes at a high cost – these harsher principals generate more juvenile justice complaints and reduce high school graduation rates for all students in their schools. Students who committed minor disciplinary infractions in a school with a harsh principal suffer declines in attendance and test scores. Revealed racial bias in principal disciplinary decisions incurs additional negative consequences specific to Black and Hispanic students.
Important educational policy decisions, like whether to shorten or extend the school year, often require accurate estimates of how much students learn during the year. Yet, related research relies on a mostly untested assumption: that growth in achievement is linear throughout the entire school year. We examine this assumption using a data set containing math and reading test scores for over seven million students in kindergarten through 8th grade across the fall, winter, and spring of the 2016-17 school year. Our results indicate that assuming linear within-year growth is often not justified, particularly in reading. Implications for investments in extending the school year, summer learning loss, and racial/ethnic achievement gaps are discussed.
This paper identifies the achievement impact of installing air filters in classrooms for the first time. To do so, I leverage a unique setting arising from the largest gas leak in United States history, whereby the offending gas company installed air filters in every classroom, office and common area for all schools within five miles of the leak (but not beyond). This variation allows me to compare student achievement in schools receiving air filters relative to those that did not using a spatial regression discontinuity design. I find substantial improvements in student achievement: air filter exposure led to a 0.20 standard deviation increase in mathematics and English scores, with test score improvements persisting into the following year. Air testing conducted inside schools during the leak (but before air filters were installed) showed no presence of natural gas pollutants, implying that the effectiveness of air filters came from removing common air pollutants and so these results should extend to other settings. The results indicate that air filter installation is a highly cost-effective policy to raise student achievement and, given that underprivileged students attend schools in highly polluted areas, one that can reduce the pervasive test score gaps that plague public education.
Improving schools depends on attracting high-caliber teachers and increasing retention, both made possible by appealing to teacher preferences. Since these preferences cannot be estimated from traditional choice records, I deploy a discrete-choice experiment in a setting where teachers have reason to reveal their preferences. This generates three main findings: (1) I calculate willingness-to-pay for a series of workplace attributes including salary structure, retirement benefits, performance pay, class size, and time-to-tenure; schools can improve the appeal of teaching by shifting compensation into vehicles with greater WTP-to-cost ratios. (2) Highly rated teachers have stronger preferences for schools offering performance pay, which may be used to differentially attract and retain them. (3) Using preferences, I simulate how a school would structure compensation to maximize (i) teacher welfare, (ii) teacher retention, or (iii) student achievement. Under each criterion, the results suggest that schools underpay in salary and performance pay while overpaying in retirement benefits.
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.
The vast majority of literature on school choice, and charter schools in particular, focus on attending an elementary or middle school grades and often focus on test scores or other proximal outcomes. Much less is known about the long-term effects of attending a charter school in 9th grade. It is important to fill this information void for a few reasons. First, schools in general affect more than just students’ test scores. Second, secondary schools (including grades 9 to 12) make up a larger share of the charter sector. Third, school choice depends on freely available information for parents and students to make informed decisions about where to attend, including potential long-term benefits. We add to the empirical research on charter school effects by using a doubly-robust inverse probability weighted approach to evaluate the impacts of secondary charter school attendance on 9th grade behavioral outcomes and individuals propensity to commit crime and participate in elections as young adults in North Carolina, a state with a large and growing charter school sector.
We provide novel evidence on the causal impact of student absences in middle and high school on state test scores, course grades, and educational attainment using a rich administrative dataset that includes the date and class period of each absence. Our identification strategy addresses potential endogeneity due to time-varying student-level shocks by exploiting the fact that in a given year, there exists within-student, between-class variation in absences. We also leverage information on the timing of absences to show that absences that occur after the annual window for state standardized testing do not appear to affect test scores, which provides a further check of our identification strategy. We find that absences in middle and high school harm contemporaneous student achievement and longer-term educational attainment: On average, missing 10 math classes reduces math test scores by 7% of a standard deviation, math course grades by 19% of a standard deviation, the probability of on-time graduation by 8%, and the probability of immediate college enrollment by 7%. Similar results hold for absences in English Language Arts classes. These results suggest that absences in middle school and high school are just as harmful, if not more so, than absences in elementary school. Moreover, the timing of absences during the school year matters, as both the occurrence and the impact of absences are dynamic phenomena.
We investigate the male–female gap in principal compensation in state and national data: detailed longitudinal personnel records from the state of Missouri and repeated cross-sections from the nationally representative Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). In both data sets, we estimate substantively important compensation gaps for school leaders. In Missouri, female principals make approximately $1,400 less annually than their male colleagues with similar characteristics leading the same school in different years. SASS analyses show that women make about $900 less than men nationally, on average. These gaps are only partially explained by sorting, career paths, and other labor supply-side mechanisms, suggesting that gender discrimination contributes to male–female pay differences in school leadership.
High school graduation rates have increased dramatically in the past two decades. Some skepticism has arisen, however, because of the confluence of the graduation rise and the starts of high-stakes accountability for graduation rates with No Child Left Behind (NCLB). In this study we provide some of the first evidence about the role of accountability versus strategic behavior, especially the degree to which the recent graduation rate rise represents increased human capital. First, using national DD analysis of within-state, cross-district variation in proximity to state graduation rate thresholds, we confirm that NCLB accountability increased graduation rates. However, we find limited evidence that this is due to strategic behavior. To test for lowering of graduation standards, we examined graduation rates in states with and without graduation exams and trends in GEDs; neither analysis suggests that the graduation rate rise is due to strategic behavior. We also examined the effects of “credit recovery” courses using Louisiana micro data; while our results suggest an increase in credit recovery, consistent with some lowering of standards, the size of the effect is not nearly enough to explain the rise in graduation rates. Finally, we examine other forms of strategic behavior by schools, though these can only explain inflation of school/district-level graduation rates, not rational rates. Overall, the evidence suggests that the rise in the national graduation rates reflects some strategic behavior, but also a substantial increase in the nation’s stock of human capital. Graduation accountability was a key contributor.