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Program and policy effects

Andrew C. Barr, Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman, William L. Skimmyhorn.

Non-traditional students disproportionately enroll in institutions with weaker graduation and earnings outcomes. One hypothesis is that these students would have made different choices had they been provided with better information or supports during the decision-making process. We conducted a large-scale, multi-arm field experiment with the U.S. Army to investigate whether personalized information and the offer of advising assistance affect postsecondary choices and attainment among non-traditional adult populations. We provided U.S. Army service members transitioning out of the military with a package of research-based information and prompts, including quality and cost information on a personalized set of matched colleges, messages targeted at addressing veteran-specific concerns or needs, and reminders about key stages in the college and financial aid application process. For a randomly selected subset of the experimental sample, we also provided service members with opportunities to connect with a college advisor. We find no overall impact of the intervention on whether service members enroll in college, on the quality of their college enrollment, or on their persistence in college. We find suggestive evidence of a modest increase in degree completion within the period of observation, with these impacts mainly driven by increased attainment at for-profit institutions. Our results suggest that influencing non-traditional populations’ educational decisions and outcomes will require substantially more intensive programs and significant resources.

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Sarah Ausmus Smith, Ron Zimmer.

Over the past fifty years, school districts have consolidated in an effort to achieve economies of scale. While the determinants and effects of district mergers on operations have been studied (Gordon and Knight 2006; Duncombe and Yinger 2007; Jones et al 2008), the impact on communities has not. In small towns, schools not only educate, but also provide stable employment and are a cornerstone for community engagement and local identity. In this article, we examine whether district mergers have adverse effects on the community at large. We evaluate the effects of rural school district consolidations on town population size, number of schools, and property values using a propensity score matched difference-in-differences design, leveraging a 2003 Arkansas state law requiring reorganization using an enrollment cutoff. We estimate that the reform led to reductions in population, community schools, and property value assessments.

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Virginia S. Lovison, Cecilia H. Mo.

While investing in the teacher workforce is central to improving schools, school resources are notoriously limited, forcing school leaders to make difficult decisions on how to prioritize funds. This paper examines a critical input to resource allocation decisions: teacher preferences. Using an original, online discrete choice survey experiment with a national sample of 1,030 U.S. teachers, we estimate how much teachers value different features of a hypothetical teaching job. The findings show that (a) teachers value access to special education specialists, counselors, and nurses more than a 10% salary increase or 3-student reduction in class size, (b) investments in school counselors and nurses are strikingly cost-effective, as the value teachers alone place on each of these support roles far exceeds the per teacher cost of funding these positions, and (c) teachers who are also parents treat a 10% salary increase and a child care subsidy of similar value as near perfect substitutes. These novel estimates of teachers’ willingness to pay for student-based support professionals challenge the idea that inadequate compensation lies at the root of teacher workforce challenges and illustrate that reforms that exclusively focus on salary as a lever for influencing teacher mobility (e.g. transfer incentives) may be poorly aligned to teachers’ preferences.

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Michel Grosz, Ross T. Milton.

We study a California policy that loosened constraints on some local governments by lowering the share of votes required to pass school capital improvement bond referendums. We show that the policy change yielded larger tax proposals that received less support from voters, yet led to a doubling of approved spending. We show that this effect is concentrated in more racially diverse jurisdictions and that loosening these electoral constraints completely closed the gap in funding between these areas. We develop an agenda-setter model of the interaction between local government officials and voters to illustrate potential mechanisms behind these results.

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Douglas N. Harris, Feng Chen.

We study the combined effects of charter schools, and their various mechanisms, on a national level and across multiple outcomes. Using difference-in-differences and fixed effects methods, we find that charter entry (above 10 percent market share) increases high school graduation rate in geographic districts by about 2-4 percentage points and increases test scores by 0.06-0.16 standard deviations. Charter effects peak with 5-15 percent charter market share. Also, total effects are comprised not only of participant and competitive effects, but also the charter-induced closure of low-performing traditional public schools. The analysis addresses potential endogeneity of charter school location and timing.

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Matt S. Giani, Colton E. Krawietz, Tiffany A. Whittaker.

Dual-enrollment courses are theorized to promote students' preparedness for college in part by bolstering their beneficial beliefs, such as academic self-efficacy, educational expectations, and sense of college belonging. These beliefs may also shape students' experiences and outcomes in dual-enrollment courses, yet few if any studies have examined this possibility. We study a large dual-enrollment program created by a university in the Southwest to examine these patterns. We find that mathematics self-efficacy and educational expectations predict performance in dual-enrollment courses, even when controlling for students' academic preparedness, while factors such as high school belonging, college belonging, and self-efficacy in other academic domains are unrelated to academic performance. However, we also find that students of color and first-generation students tend to have lower self-efficacy and educational expectations before enrolling in dual-enrollment courses, in addition to having lower levels of academic preparation. These findings suggest that students from historically marginalized populations may benefit from social-psychological as well as academic supports in order to receive maximum benefits from early postsecondary opportunities such as dual-enrollment. Our findings have implications for how states and dual-enrollment programs determine eligibility for dual-enrollment as well as how dual-enrollment programs should be designed and delivered in order to promote equity in college preparedness.

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Ishtiaque Fazlul, Cory Koedel, Eric Parsons.

We develop a new framework for identifying at-risk students in public schools. Our framework has two fundamental advantages over status quo systems: (1) it is based on a clear definition of what it means for a student to be at risk and (2) it leverages states’ rich administrative data systems to produce more informative risk measures. Our framework is more effective than common alternatives at identifying students who are at risk of low academic performance and we use policy simulations to show that it can be used to target resources toward these students more efficiently. It also offers several other benefits relative to status quo systems. We provide an alternative approach to risk measurement that states can use to inform funding, accountability, and other policies, rather than continuing to rely on broad categories tied to the nebulous concept of “disadvantage.”

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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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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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