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K-12 Education

Quynh Tien Le, Morgan Polikoff.

Castañeda v. Pickard (1981) mandated that educational programs for emergent bilinguals be tested for program efficacy. Since English language development (ELD) curricular materials are one part of an instructional program, we assess this mandate by examining the effectiveness of ELD materials in Texas. Using local linear matching, we find that schools that do not purchase any ELD curricula have significantly lower English language proficiency scores relative to schools that purchase state-adopted ELD materials. These results are robust across various matching models—inverse probability weights with regression adjustment, kernel matching, and nearest neighbor matching--and a comparative interrupted time series design. There is no significant difference between schools that adopt the two most popular ELD curricula—Rigby On Our Way to English and National Geographic Reach. This study suggests that emergent bilinguals (EBs) who attend schools that have instructional materials that explicitly foreground English language proficiency standards outperform those in schools that do not have such materials.

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Albert Cheng, Paul E. Peterson.

Although qualitative research suggests that school choice and other interventions are more beneficial for moderately disadvantaged than severely deprived students, the subject has barely been explored by quantitative studies with either observational or experimental designs.  We estimate experimentally the impact of a voucher offer on college attainment of poor minority students by household income and parental education. Estimates are obtained from a 1997 private, lottery-based voucher intervention in New York City.  National Student Clearinghouse provided 2017 postsecondary outcomes.  Positive impacts on moderately disadvantaged students do not extend to the severely deprived.

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Cory Koedel, Eric Parsons.

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a policy change to the federally-administered National School Lunch Program that allows schools serving low-income populations to classify all students as eligible for free meals, regardless of individual circumstances. This has implications for the use of free and reduced-price meal (FRM) data to proxy for student disadvantage in education research and policy applications, which is a common practice. We document empirically how the CEP has affected the value of FRM eligibility as a proxy for student disadvantage. At the individual student level, we show that there is essentially no effect of the CEP. However, the CEP does meaningfully change the information conveyed by the share of FRM-eligible students in a school. It is this latter measure that is most relevant for policy uses of FRM data.

Note: Portions of this paper were previously circulated under the title “Using Free Meal and Direct Certification Data to Proxy for Student Disadvantage in the Era of the Community Eligibility Provision.” We have since split the original paper into two parts. This is the first part.

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Zeyu Xu, Ben Backes, Amanda Oliveira, Dan Goldhaber.

This study adds to the currently limited evidence base on the efficacy of interventions targeting non-college-ready high school students by examining the impact of Kentucky’s Targeted Interventions (TI) program. We focus on interventions that students received under TI in the senior year of high school based on their 11th grade ACT test scores. Using difference-in-regression discontinuity and difference-in-difference designs with seven cohorts of 11th grade students, we find that, for an average per-student cost of about $600, TI significantly reduces the likelihood that students enroll in remedial course in both 2- and 4-year postsecondary institutions by 5–10 percentage points in math and 3–4 percentage points in English. These effects are similar among students who are eligible for free-or reduced-price lunch, Black and Hispanic students, students with remediation needs in multiple subjects, and students in lower-performing schools. Evidence also shows that TI increases the likelihood that students enroll in and pass college math before the end of the first year by four percentage points in 4-year universities. However, little evidence exists for TI affecting credit accumulation or persistence.

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Umut Özek.

This study examines the effects of internal migration driven by severe natural disasters on students in host communities, and the mechanisms behind these effects, using the large influx of migrant students into Florida public schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. I find significant adverse effects of the influx in the first year on existing student test scores, disciplinary problems, and student mobility that vanish entirely in the second year. These adverse effects are particularly pronounced among higher-performing students who were proficient on prior year tests: A 5-percentage point increase in migrant share at the school-cohort level decreases test scores of these students by 0.09 standard deviations in math (0.07σ in ELA), increases disciplinary incidents by 50 percent, and student mobility by 44 percent in the first year. I also find evidence that compensatory resource allocation within schools is an important factor driving the adverse effects. In particular, the results provide evidence that schools reallocate resources – teachers in particular – in a compensatory fashion when faced with a large influx of high-need students, increasing the likelihood that higher-performing students are assigned to less effective teachers. 

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Lucy C. Sorensen, Shawn D. Bushway, Elizabeth J. Gifford.

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.

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Megan Kuhfeld, James Soland.

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.

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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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Michael Gilraine.

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.

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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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