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Program and policy effects

Sade Bonilla, Alexander Thim.

In this study, we examine an at-scale effort to encourage the formation of career pathways in California, with the goal of estimating the initiative’s causal effects on community college enrollment. We leverage a discontinuous assignment rule used to award grant funds to obtain credibly causal estimates of an ambitious $500 million effort to expand and establish career and technical education pathways between K-12 and community colleges. The competitive grant application process used a standardized rubric, and those receiving a score above a predetermined threshold were awarded funding (i.e., treatment group) while those just below received no funding (i.e., control group), allowing for a regression discontinuity (RD) design. We found that successful grantees did not experience overall enrollment increases in postsecondary partnerships; however, there were enrollment increases of 13.5 percent to 14.8 percent in CTE health sector courses, the program targeted the most for expansion. Manufacturing, and information communication technology, the other programs with the most expanded offerings, experienced no increases in postsecondary enrollment. The enrollment increases for the health sector were concentrated amongst female students in line with earlier findings by Bonilla (2020) documenting reductions in high school dropout rates for female students. These findings suggest that partnerships between K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions may be a viable avenue for increasing alignment between enrollment and high- growth sectors.

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Brian Holzman, Irina Chukhray, Courtney Thrash.

There is a growing debate in social science and education policy research on how to improve college access for high-performing students from low-income or first-generation backgrounds. While some studies suggest that providing information to students impacts college access, other studies do not and suggest that students may need more support in the college search and choice processes. Using a regression discontinuity research design with a layered randomized controlled trial, this study examines how information and personal assistance impact SAT scores, college application behaviors, and college enrollment decisions among low-income and first-generation high school students in a large urban school district. The results show that an intensive, multi-year college access program has large, positive effects on applying to a selective college, the number of applications submitted to selective colleges, and enrollment in a selective college. In contrast, a low-touch, general information packet intervention shows null effects on these outcomes. Implications for future nudge interventions and scaling up social capital interventions are discussed.

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Clemence Darriet, Lucrecia Santibanez.

Purpose. Bilingual programs in the United States, particularly two-way dual language immersion (TWDL) programs, have been implemented since the 1960s to support the education of English Learner-classified (EL-classified) and language minoritized students. Over the past decade, TWDL programs have grown significantly across the United States. This study examines TWDL program growth in Los Angeles Unified School District, exploring the relationships between program expansion and neighborhood change, enrollment declines, and school choice. These factors have been linked to decreased access to these programs for language minoritized students. Research Methods/Approach. We descriptively examine the neighborhood characteristics of TWDL schools over a 22-year period using publicly available school, census, and housing data, and investigate the relationship between these factors and TWDL emergence. Findings. We find that of the three factors we explored, enrollment change (specifically declining enrollment) and the existence of nearby charter schools are two factors most likely to be associated with TWDL program emergence. We find little evidence that TWDL are primarily emerging in gentrifying contexts. Implications. This study helps us understand general, decade-long trends of TWDL program expansion and dispersion in a district undergoing many of the phenomena described in the literature on this topic.

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Jesse Bruhn, Christopher Campos, Eric Chyn.

We study the distributional effects of remote learning. Our approach combines newly collected data on parental preferences with administrative data from Los Angeles. The preference data allow us to account for selection into remote learning while also studying selection patterns and treatment effect heterogeneity. We find a negative average effect of remote learning on reading (–0.14σ) and math (–0.17σ). Notably, we find evidence of positive learning effects for children whose parents have the strongest demand for remote learning. Our results suggest an important subset of students who currently sort into post-pandemic remote learning benefit from expanded choice.

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David Figlio, Krzysztof Karbownik, Umut Özek.

Public policies often target individuals but within-family externalities of such interventions are understudied. Using a regression discontinuity design, we document how a third grade retention policy affects both the target children and their younger siblings. The policy improves test scores of both children while the spillover is up to 30% of the target child effect size. The effects are particularly pronounced in families where one of the children is disabled, for boys, and in immigrant families. Candidate mechanisms include improved classroom inputs and parental school choice.

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Gautam Anand, Aishwarya Atluri, Lee Crawfurd, Todd Pugatch, Ketki Sheth.

Improving school quality in low and middle income countries (LMICs) is a global priority. One way to improve quality may be to improve the management skills of school leaders. In this systematic review, we analyze the impact of interventions targeting school leaders' management practices on student learning. We begin by describing the characteristics and responsibilities of school leaders using data from large, multi-country surveys. Second, we review the literature and conduct a meta-analysis of the causal effect of school management interventions on student learning, using 39 estimates from 20 evaluations. We estimate a statistically significant improvement in student learning of 0.04 standard deviations. We show that effect sizes are not related to program scale or intensity. We complement the meta-analysis by identifying common limitations to program effectiveness through a qualitative assessment of the studies included in our review. We find three main factors which mitigate program effectiveness: 1) low take-up; 2) lack of incentives or structure for implementation of recommendations; and 3) the lengthy causal chain linking management practices to student learning. Finally, to assess external validity of our review, we survey practitioners to compare characteristics between evaluated and commonly implemented programs. Our findings suggest that future work should focus on generating evidence on the marginal effect of common design elements in these interventions, including factors that promote school leader engagement and accountability.

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Jinyong Hahn, John D. Singleton, Nese Yildiz.

Panel or grouped data are often used to allow for unobserved individual heterogeneity in econometric models via fixed effects. In this paper, we discuss identification of a panel data model in which the unobserved heterogeneity both enters additively and interacts with treatment variables. We present identification and estimation methods for parameters of interest in this model under both strict and weak exogeneity assumptions. The key identification insight is that other periods' treatment variables are instruments for the unobserved fixed effects. We apply our proposed estimator to matched student-teacher data used to estimate value-added models of teacher quality. We show that the common assumption that the return to unobserved teacher quality is the same for all students is rejected by the data. We also present evidence that No Child Left Behind-era school accountability increased the effectiveness of teacher quality for lower performing students.

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Joshua Hyman.

Guidance counselors provide the main source of college advising for low-income high school students, but are woefully understaffed in high-need schools. This paper evaluates an approach to school-based college advising that relies on teachers rather than counselors. Using a randomized control trial in sixty-two Michigan high schools, I estimate the effects of a college planning course for high school seniors on postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and degree receipt. The course teaches about postsecondary education opportunities, application processes, and strategies for persisting toward a degree. I find no effect of the course on the number of students entering college, but an increase in the number persisting and earning a degree, particularly among low-income students. This is due to a shift in the composition of enrollees toward higher-achieving students: the course increases enrollment among high-achieving, low-income students, who have relatively high persistence rates, and reduces enrollment among low-achieving students, who in the course’s absence would have enrolled and then quickly dropped out. The program’s main cost is potential learning loss from displaced time in other subjects, which is difficult to measure but appears small.

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John Westall, Amy Cummings.

Given the importance of early literacy to long-term student success, by 2021, 41 states and the District of Columbia adopted early literacy policies to improve student literacy by the end of third grade. We use an event-study approach to examine the impact of these policies on high- and low-stakes test scores. Our results suggest that adopting an early literacy policy improves elementary students’ reading achievement on high-stakes assessments, particularly in third grade and in states with comprehensive early literacy policies and third-grade retention requirements. We also find suggestive evidence that early literacy policies reduce socioeconomic and racial high-stakes achievement gaps in reading and have positive spillover effects on math achievement. However, we find little evidence of significant gains in low-stakes test scores except in states with comprehensive policies. Our findings highlight the importance of content and incentives for early literacy policies.

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Scott J. Peters, Meredith Langi, Megan Kuhfeld, Karyn Lewis.

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in substantial unfinished learning for U.S. students, but to differing degrees for various subgroups. For example, students of color, from low-income families, or who attended high-poverty schools experienced greater unfinished learning. In this study we examined the degree of unfinished learning for students who went into the pandemic scoring in the top or bottom 10% in the math or reading achievement distributions. Our results show that students who scored at or below the 10th percentile grew less during the pandemic than their similarly-scoring, pre-COVID peers and, as of the end of the 2021 – 2021 school year, had yet to rebound toward pre-COVID levels of growth or achievement. Conversely, students who scored at or above the 90th percentile largely grew at rates closer to their pre-COVID peers. These students were harmed less academically and have recovered more quickly than their peers scoring at or below the 10th percentile.

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