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K-12 Education

Sarah Komisarow.

StudentU is a comprehensive program that provides education, nutrition, and social support services to disadvantaged students outside of the regular school day. In this paper I investigate the effects of this multi-year program on the early high school outcomes of participating students by exploiting data from oversubscribed admissions lotteries. I estimate that lottery winners who entered the comprehensive program with low baseline achievement earned more course credits (0.82 credits), achieved higher grade point averages (0.37 grade points), and were less likely to be suspended (17.1 percentage points) during ninth grade than their lottery loser counterparts. Investigation of candidate channels indicates that increased student effort and improved behavior in school are likely mechanisms. Using an index of early high school outcomes, I predict that lottery winners are around 4 percentage points more likely to graduate from high school than lottery losers (5 percent effect). These results suggest that comprehensive services delivered outside of the regular school day have the potential to improve the educational outcomes of disadvantaged students.

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Plamen Nikolov, Nusrat Jimi.

Evidence on educational returns and the factors that determine the demand for schooling in developing countries is extremely scarce. We use two surveys from Tanzania to estimate both the actual and perceived schooling returns and subsequently examine what factors drive individual misperceptions regarding actual returns. Using ordinary least squares and instrumental variable methods, we find that each additional year of schooling in Tanzania increases earnings, on average, by 9 to 11 percent. We find that on average, individuals underestimate returns to schooling by 74 to 79 percent, and three factors are associated with these misperceptions: income, asset poverty, and educational attainment. Shedding light on what factors relate to individual beliefs about educational returns can inform policy on how to structure effective interventions to correct individuals' misperceptions.

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Heidi H. Erickson, Angela R. Watson, Jay P. Greene.

This paper presents results of a multi-visit, longitudinal experiment on the academic and social-emotional effects of arts-based field trips. We randomly assign fourth and fifth grade students to receive arts-based field trips throughout the school year or to serve as a control. Treatment students express greater tolerance for people with different opinions and a desire to consume arts. Additionally, treatment students have fewer behavioral infractions, attend school more frequently, score higher on their end-of-grade exams, and receive higher course grades. Effects are strongest when students enter middle school. We find no effect on students’ desire to participate in the arts, empathy, or social perspective taking.

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Jing Liu, Susanna Loeb, Ying Shi.

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.

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Plamen Nikolov, Nusrat Jimi.

Numerous studies have considered the important role of cognition in estimating the returns to schooling. How cognitive abilities affect schooling may have important policy implications, especially in developing countries during periods of increasing educational attainment. Using two longitudinal labor surveys that collect direct proxy measures of cognitive skills, we study the importance of specific cognitive domains for the returns to schooling in two samples. We instrument for schooling levels and we find that each additional year of schooling leads to an increase in earnings by approximately 18-20 percent. The estimated effect sizes—based on the two-stage least squares estimates—are above the corresponding ordinary least squares estimates. Furthermore, we estimate and demonstrate the importance of specific cognitive domains in the classical Mincer equation. We find that executive functioning skills (i.e., memory and orientation) are important drivers of earnings in the rural sample, whereas higher-order cognitive skills (i.e., numeracy) are more important for determining earnings in the urban sample. Although numeracy is tested in both samples, it is only a statistically significant predictor of earnings in the urban sample. (JEL I21, F63, F66, N37)

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Christian Buerger, Seung Hyeong Lee, John D. Singleton.

A recent literature provides new evidence that school resources are important for student outcomes. In this paper, we show that school finance reform-induced increases in student performance are driven by those states that had test-based accountability policies in place at the time. By incentivizing school improvement, accountability systems (such as the federal No Child Left Behind act) may raise the efficiency with which additional school funding gets spent. Our empirical approach leverages the timing of school finance reforms to compare funding impacts on student test scores between states that had accountability in place at the time of the reform with states that did not. The results indicate that finance reforms are three times more productive in low-income school districts when also accompanied by test-based accountability. These findings shed new light on the role of accountability incentives in education production and the mechanisms supporting the effectiveness of school resources.

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Jason A. Grissom, David S. Woo, Brendan Bartanen.

High rates of principal turnover nationally mean that school districts constantly are called on to recruit and select new principals. The importance of a school’s principal makes choosing candidates who will be effective paramount, yet we have little evidence linking information known to school districts at time of selection to principal’s future job performance. Using data from Tennessee, we test the degree to which observable information about novice principals from prior to entry, including qualifications, work history information, and effectiveness in prior roles, predicts practice ratings assigned to them in their initial years in the principalship. We find that educational attainment and years of experience in other jobs hold little predictive power. Performance ratings received as an assistant principal (AP) or teacher, however, do predict principal effectiveness. Moreover, APs who previously worked in schools with highly rated principals are more likely to be effective upon transitioning into the principalship.

 

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Brendan Bartanen, Laura K. Rogers, David S. Woo.

Assistant principals are important education personnel, both as essential members of school leadership teams and apprentice principals. However, empirical evidence on their career outcomes remains scarce. Using statewide administrative data from Tennessee and Missouri, we provide the first comprehensive analysis of AP mobility. While prior work focuses only on AP promotions into principal positions, we also account for APs who exit school leadership and transfer to a different school. We find yearly mobility rates of 25–28%, with 10% of APs leaving school leadership, 7.5% changing schools, and 7.5–10% becoming principals. We also document a strong relationship between AP mobility and principal turnover, where higher-performing APs are substantially more likely to replace their departing principal. Principal transitions also appear to increase the likelihood that APs exit school leadership and change schools, highlighting an additional cost of high rates of principal churn.

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Michael Gilraine, Valentina Duque.

We examine the effect of air pollution from power production on students' cognitive outcomes by leveraging year-to-year production variation, wind patterns, and plant closures. We find that every one million megawatt hours of coal-fired power production decreases student performance in schools within ten kilometers by 0.02 standard deviations. Gas-fired plants exhibit no such relationship. Extrapolating our results nationwide indicates that the decline in coal use over the last decade raises test scores by 0.008 standard deviations and reduces the black-white test score gap by 0.006 standard deviations. The nationwide effect obscures substantial spatial variation: The respective numbers for the Midwest are 0.016 and 0.023.

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Beth E. Schueler, Catherine Armstrong Asher, Katherine E. Larned, Sarah Mehrotra, Cynthia Pollard.

The public narrative surrounding efforts to improve low-performing K-12 schools in the U.S. has been notably gloomy. Observers argue that either nothing works or we don’t know what works. At the same time, the federal government is asking localities to implement evidence-based interventions. But what is known empirically about whether school improvement works, how long it takes, which policies are most effective, and which contexts respond best to intervention? We meta-analyze 141 estimates from 67 studies of turnaround policies implemented post-NCLB. On average, these policies have had a moderate positive effect on math but no effect on ELA achievement as measured by high-stakes exams. We find evidence of positive impacts on low-stakes exams in STEM and humanities subjects and no evidence of harm on non-test outcomes. Some elements of reform, namely extended learning time and teacher replacements, predict greater effects. Contexts serving majority-Latinx populations have seen the largest improvements.

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