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Program and policy effects

Soobin Kim, John Yun, Barbara Schneider, Michael Broda, Christopher Klager, I-Chien Chen.

We study the long-term effects of a psychological intervention on longitudinal academic outcomes and degree completion of college students. All freshmen at a large public university were randomized to an online growth mindset, belonging, or control group. We tracked students’ academic outcomes including GPA, number of credits attempted and earned, major choices, and degree completion. We found no evidence of longitudinal academic treatment effects in the full sample. However, the mindset treatment improved term GPAs for Latinx students and the probability for Pell-eligible and Latinx students to major in selective majors. We also found no evidence of increased rates of on-time graduation, however, the treatment raised the probability to graduate with selective majors in four years, especially for Latinx students.

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Margot Jackson, Emily Rauscher, Ailish Burns.

Recent expansions of child tax, food assistance and health insurance programs have made American families’ need for a robust social safety net highly evident, while researchers and policymakers continue to debate the best way to support families via the welfare state. How much do children – and which children – benefit from social spending? Using the State-by-State Spending on Kids Dataset, linked to National Vital Statistics System birth data from 1998-2017, we examine how state-level child spending affects infant health across maternal education groups. We find that social spending has benefits for both low birth weight and preterm birth rates, especially among babies born to mothers with less than a high school education. The stronger benefits of social spending among lower-educated families lead to meaningful declines in educational gaps in infant health as social spending increases. Finally, mediation analyses suggest that social spending benefits infant health through mothers’ increased access to prenatal services, as well as improvements in health behaviors. Our findings are consistent with the idea that a strong local welfare state benefits child health and increases equality of opportunity, and that spending on non-health programs is equally beneficial for child health as investments in health programs.

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Jing Liu, Michael S. Hayes, Seth Gershenson.
We use novel data on disciplinary referrals, including those that do not lead to suspensions, to better understand the origins of racial disparities in exclusionary discipline. We find significant differences between Black and white students in both referral rates and the rate at which referrals convert to suspensions. An infraction fixed-effects research design that compares the disciplinary outcomes of white and non-white students who were involved in the same multi-student incident identifies systematic racial biases in sentencing decisions. On both the intensive and extensive margins, Black and Hispanic students receive harsher sentences than their white co-conspirators. This result is driven by high school infractions and mainly applies to “more severe” infractions that involve fights or drugs. Reducing racial disparities in exclusionary discipline will require addressing underlying gaps in disciplinary referrals and the systematic biases that appear in the adjudication process.

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Katharine Meyer, Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman.
With rapid technological transformations to the labor market, many working adults return to college after graduation to obtain additional training or credentials. Using a comparative individual fixed effects strategy and an administrative panel dataset of enrollment and employment in Virginia, we provide the first causal estimates of credential “stacking” – earning two or more community college certificates or degrees – among working adults. We find stacking increases employment by four percentage points and quarterly wages by $375 (four percent). Returns are larger for individuals studying in Health and who return to college after first completing a short-term certificate.

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Emily Morton.

Four-day school weeks have proliferated across the United States in recent years, reaching over 650 public school districts in 24 states as of 2019, but little is known about their implementation and there is no consensus on their effects on students. This study uses district level panel data from Oklahoma and a difference-in-differences research design to provide estimates of the causal effect of the four-day school week on high school students’ ACT scores, attendance, and disciplinary incidents during school. Results indicate that four-day school weeks decrease per-pupil bullying incidents by approximately 39% and per-pupil fighting incidents by approximately 31%, but have no detectable effect on other incident types, ACT scores, or attendance.

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Benjamin W. Arold, Ludger Woessmann, Larissa Zierow.

We study whether compulsory religious education in schools affects students' religiosity as adults. We exploit the staggered termination of compulsory religious education across German states in models with state and cohort fixed effects. Using three different datasets, we find that abolishing compulsory religious education significantly reduced religiosity of affected students in adulthood. It also reduced the religious actions of personal prayer, church-going, and church membership. Beyond religious attitudes, the reform led to more equalized gender roles, fewer marriages and children, and higher labor-market participation and earnings. The reform did not affect ethical and political values or non-religious school outcomes.

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Kathleen Lynch, Lily An, Zid Mancenido.

We present results from a meta-analysis of 37 experimental and quasi-experimental studies of summer programs in mathematics for children in Grades pre-K-12, examining what resources and characteristics predict stronger student achievement. Children who participated in summer programs that included mathematics activities experienced significantly better mathematics achievement outcomes, compared to their control group counterparts. We find an average weighted impact estimate of +0.10 standard deviations on mathematics achievement outcomes. We find similar effects for programs conducted in higher- and lower-poverty settings. We undertook a secondary analysis exploring the effect of summer programs on non-cognitive outcomes and found positive mean impacts. The results indicate that summer programs are a promising tool to strengthen children’s mathematical proficiency outside of school time.

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Robert P. Strauss.

This paper compares and contrasts two required building level school violence measures under NCLB, arrests and incidents of well-defined school misconduct acts, across 20 years of Pennsylvania’s approximately 3,000 public school buildings. Generally, both arrests for school violence and incidents of school violence are rare events. Over 20 years, the third quartile arrest rate was zero and, the third quartile incident rate was 3.3%. Relatively few, 4.1% overall, of Pennsylvania’s school buildings were persistently dangerous as defined and reported pursuant to Pennsylvania’s state plan to the US Department of Education; however, these buildings represented about 7.8% of the student population statewide. When we measure whether or not a school building is dangerous based on reported school violence incidents, that is without an arrest requirement, fully 36.9% of Pennsylvania’school buildings were dangerous, and they represented 46.7% of the students statewide. Both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh public school buildings were disproportionately unsafe and among the top 20 districts in the state which were unsafe over the 20 year study period.

Exploratory regression analysis of mean building scale scores for math and language arts explained about 58% of the variation in such learning outcome measures. As expected, household poverty, holding all else constant, has very strong, negative effects on learning outcomes. A school building composed entirely of low income students will score about 240 scale points lower, about 1.24 standard deviations lower, than a school building without any low income students. A school building at the 90th percentile in terms of student misconduct and poverty rates, would have lower student test scores by about 1 to 1.28 standard deviations. Were a school administrator to reduce student misconduct rates from the 90th percentile to the 50th percentile, our regression coefficients predict learning gains on the order of (100-43) = 2/3 of a standard deviation in mean scale scores.

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Sarah A. Cordes, Christopher Rick, Amy Ellen Schwartz.

School buses may be a critical education policy lever, breaking the link between schools and neighborhoods and facilitating access to school choice. Yet little is known about the commute for bus riders, including the average length of the bus ride or whether long commutes harm academic outcomes. We begin to fill this gap using data from New York City to explore the morning commutes of over 120,000 bus riders. We find that long bus rides are uncommon and that those with long bus rides are disproportionately Black and more likely to attend charter or district-choice schools. We find deleterious effects of long bus rides on attendance and chronic absenteeism of district-choice students.

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Zachary Bleemer, Aashish Mehta.

Underrepresented minority (URM) college students have been steadily earning degrees in relatively less-lucrative fields of study since the mid-1990s. A decomposition reveals that this widening gap is principally explained by rising stratification at public research universities, many of which increasingly enforce GPA restriction policies that prohibit students with poor introductory grades from declaring popular majors. We investigate these GPA restrictions by constructing a novel 50-year dataset covering four public research universities' student transcripts and employing a staggered difference-in-difference design around the implementation of 29 restrictions. Restricted majors’ average URM enrollment share falls by 20 percent, which matches observational patterns and can be explained by URM students’ poorer average pre-college academic preparation. Using first-term course enrollments to identify students who intend to earn restricted majors, we find that major restrictions disproportionately lead URM students from their intended major toward less-lucrative fields, driving within-institution ethnic stratification and likely exacerbating labor market disparities.

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