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Politics, governance, philanthropy, and organizations

Margot Jackson, Daniel Schneider.

Families and governments are the primary sources of investment in children, proving access to basic resources and other developmental opportunities.  Recent research identifies significant class gaps in parental investments that contribute to high levels of inequality by family income and education and, potentially, to inequality in children’s development.  State-level public investments in children and families have the potential to reduce class inequality in children’s developmental environments by affecting parents’ behavior.  Using newly assembled administrative data from 1998-2014, linked to household-level data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey, we examine how public sector investment in income support, health and education is associated with the private expenditures of low and high-SES parents on developmental items for children. Are class gaps in parental investments in children narrower in contexts of higher public investment for children and families?  We find that more generous public spending for children and families is associated with significantly narrower class gaps in private parental investments.  Moreover, we find that equalization is driven by bottom up increases in low-SES household spending for the progressive investments of income support and health, and by top down decreases in high-SES household spending for the universal investment of public education.

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Mark J. Chin, Lena Shi.
Given states’ balanced budget requirements, investment decisions often involve trade-offs between policymakers’ budget priorities. How does political party control affect investment decisions and outcomes? Using a regression discontinuity design based on close state elections between 1984-2013, we find that marginally Democratic legislatures spend more on higher education in states with higher unemployment and poverty rates. However, Democrats spend less on K-12 education, particularly in more liberal states. Democrats do not appear to decrease K-12 spending to increase higher education, but rather, to fund welfare. Gains in local revenue offset party differences in K-12 spending such that current expenditures in K-12 increase and student-teacher ratios decrease under Democrats, though not enough to change attendance rates. Increased welfare spending under Democrats appear consistent with their redistributive goals that also benefit their constituents, as health insurance coverage for non-White children also expand. Altogether our results indicate that policymakers make spending decisions while considering constituents’ needs and the availability of external budget sources.

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Bradley D. Marianno, Stefani R. Relles.

This case study offers an organizational perspective on the ways in which a collective bargaining agreement shaped the administrative functioning of schools within an urban district. The data demonstrate how rational choice assumptions failed to account for the everyday site interactions between principals and teachers. Using complexity theory as an analytic tool, the authors consider the interference of external pressures on a system defined by internal interdependence. Reforms that address the complexity of workplace conditions in K-12 contexts are offered.

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Matt Grossmann, Sarah Reckhow, Katharine Strunk, Meg Turner.

The COVID-19 pandemic created enormous challenges for public education. We assess the role of political factors and public health in state and local education decisions, especially the continuation of learning during COVID-19. Using an original dataset of state education policies since the start of the pandemic, we find that governors took the lead on ordering school closures in Spring 2020 but left decisions to districts in the Fall, regardless of partisanship. Partisanship played a much stronger role in local decisions than state decisions. We analyze local district reopening plans and public opinion on reopening in the politically competitive state of Michigan. Partisanship was much more associated with district reopening plans than COVID-19 rates. Republicans in the Michigan public were also far more favorable than were Democrats toward in-person learning. States' decisions to leave reopening plans to their districts opened the way for students’ experiences to be shaped by their area's partisanship.

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Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, Zachary Peskowitz.

Political scientists have largely overlooked the democratic challenges inherent in the governance of U.S. public education—despite profound implications for educational delivery and, ultimately, social mobility and economic growth. In this study, we consider whether the interests of adult voters who elect school boards in each community are likely to be aligned with the educational needs of local students. Specifically, we compare voters and students in four states on several policy-relevant dimensions. Using official voter turnout records and rich microtargeting data, we document considerable demographic differences between voters who participate in school board elections and the students attending the schools that boards oversee. These gaps are most pronounced in majority nonwhite jurisdictions and school districts with the largest racial achievement gaps. Our novel analysis provides important context for understanding the political pressures facing school boards and their likely role in perpetuating educational and, ultimately, societal inequality.

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Jason B. Cook, Stéphane Lavertu, Corbin Miller.

We explore how teachers unions affect education production by comparing outcomes between districts allocating new tax revenue amidst collective bargaining negotiations and districts allocating tax revenue well before. Districts facing union pressure increase teacher salaries and benefits, spend down reserves, and experience no student achievement gains. Conversely, districts facing less pressure hire more teachers (instead of increasing compensation) and realize significant student achievement gains. We interpret these results as causal evidence of the negative impact of teacher rent seeking on education production, as the timing of district tax elections relative to collective bargaining appears to be as good as random.

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Tomas Monarrez, Brian Kisida, Matthew M. Chingos.

We conduct a comprehensive examination of the causal effect of charter schools on school segregation, using a triple differences design that utilizes between-grade differences in charter expansion within school systems, and an instrumental variable approach that leverages charter school opening event variation. Charter schools increase school segregation for Black, Hispanic, White, and Asian students. The effect is of modest magnitude; segregation would fall 6 percent were charter schools eliminated from the average district. Analysis across varied geographies reveals countervailing forces. In metropolitan areas, charters improve integration between districts, especially in areas with intense school district fragmentation.

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Heather C. Hill, Derek C. Briggs.

Federal policy has both incentivized and supported better use of research evidence by educational leaders.  However, the extent to which these leaders are well-positioned to understand foundational principles from research design and statistics, including those that underlie the What Works Clearinghouse ratings of research studies, remains an open question. To investigate educational leaders’ knowledge of these topics, we developed a construct map and items representing key concepts, then conducted surveys containing those items with a small pilot sample (n=178) and a larger nationally representative sample (n=733) of educational leaders. We found that leaders’ knowledge was surprisingly inconsistent across topics. We also found most items were answered correctly by less than half of respondents, with cognitive interviews suggesting that some of those correct answers derived from guessing or test-taking techniques. Our findings identify a roadblock to policymakers’ contention that educational leaders should use research in decision-making.  

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Melissa Arnold Lyon, Shani S. Bretas, Douglas D. Ready.

Philanthropic investment in education has evolved considerably over the past several decades. This paper provides early evidence of another distinct adaptation, which we dub design philanthropy. In contrast to the macro-level structural reforms recently supported by large foundations, design philanthropy seeks to directly influence the instructional core. We describe the broad contours and characteristics of design philanthropy, which employs a centralized management and design system to support a decentralized approach to implementation. Through a case study of one design philanthropy’s reform initiative, we explore how participants experience this emergent process and manage a series of tensions inherent in the approach.

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Carlos X. Lastra-Anadón, Paul E. Peterson.
The efficiency-equity trade-offs in public service delivery may be influenced by the dependency of local governments on their own resources rather than inter-governmental grants. School districts in the United States are expected both to produce human capital efficiently and to provide educational opportunity equally. To ascertain school district trade-offs, we estimate effects of revenue source on student performances in math and reading. Achievement is estimated from 225,000 observations weighted to be district representative. Estimates are made with OLS, geographic discontinuity models exploiting differences at state borders, and 2SLS models that use changes in housing prices as an instrument. For every 10 percent increase in local revenue share, achievement increases by a sizeable 0.02 to 0.06 standard deviations. Gains for students from low socio-economic backgrounds are about half those from higher ones. Both voice and exit channels moderate the efficiency-equity trade-off. Implications for federalism and state policy are discussed.

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