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Program and policy effects

Dylan Lukes, Christopher Cleveland.
Between 1935-1940 the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) assigned A (minimal risk) to D (hazardous) grades to neighborhoods that reflected their lending risk from previously issued loans and visualized these grades on color-coded maps, which arguably influenced banks and other mortgage lenders to provide or deny home loans within residential neighborhoods. In this study, we leverage a spatial analysis of 144 HOLC-graded core-based statistical areas (CBSAs) to understand how HOLC maps relate to current patterns of school and district funding, school racial diversity, and school performance. We find that schools and districts located today in historically redlined D neighborhoods have less district per-pupil total revenues, larger shares of Black and non-White student bodies, less diverse student populations, and worse average test scores relative to those located in A, B, and C neighborhoods. Conversely, at the school level, we find that per-pupil total expenditures are better for those schools operating in previously redlined D neighborhoods. Consequently, these schools also have the largest shares of low-income students. Our nationwide results are, on the whole, consistent by region and after controlling for CBSA. Finally, we document a persistence in these patterns across time, with overall positive time trends regardless of HOLC security rating but widening gaps between D vs. A, B, and C outcomes. These findings suggest that education policymakers need to consider the historical implications of redlining and past neighborhood inequality on neighborhoods today when designing modern interventions focused on improving the life outcomes of students of color and students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds.

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Lauren Sartain, Matthew P. Steinberg.

Personnel evaluation systems have historically failed to identify and remediate low-performing teachers. In 2012, Chicago Public Schools implemented an evaluation system that incorporated remediation and dismissal plans for low-rated teachers. Regression discontinuity estimates indicate that the evaluation reform increased the exit of low-rated tenured teachers by 50 percent. The teacher labor supply available to replace low-rated teachers was higher performing on multiple dimensions, and instrumental variables estimates indicate that policy-induced exit of low-rated teachers significantly improved teacher quality in subsequent years. Policy simulations show that the teacher labor supply in Chicago is sufficient to remove significantly more low-performing teachers.

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Todd Pugatch, Elizabeth Schroeder.

We assess whether a light-touch intervention can increase socioeconomic and racial diversity in undergraduate Economics. We randomly assigned over 2,200 students a message with basic information about the Economics major; the basic message combined with an emphasis on the rewarding careers or financial returns associated with the major; or no message. Messages increased the proportion of first generation or underrepresented minority (URM) students majoring in Economics by five percentage points. This effect size was sufficient to reverse the gap in Economics majors between first generation/URM students and students not in these groups. Effect sizes were larger and more precise for better-performing students and first generation students. Extrapolating to the full sample, the treatment would double the proportion of first generation and underrepresented minority students majoring in Economics.

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Andrew C. Barr, Benjamin L. Castleman.

We combine a large multi-site randomized control trial with administrative and survey data to demonstrate that intensive advising during high school and college leads to large increases in bachelor's degree attainment. Novel causal forest methods suggest that these increases are driven primarily by improvements in the quality of initial enrollment. Program effects are consistent across sites, cohorts, advisors, and student characteristics, suggesting the model is scalable. While current and proposed investments in postsecondary education focus on cutting costs, our result suggest that investment in advising is likely to be a more efficient route to promote bachelor's degree attainment.

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Fernanda Ramirez-Espinoza.

This paper presents evidence that women and men benefit from having a higher percentage of female peers in post-secondary vocational STEM programs. I use idiosyncratic variation in gender composition across cohorts within majors within branches (campuses) for identification. Having a higher percentage of female peers positively affects students in STEM majors, decreasing women's dropout rates and increasing GPA. The peer effect seems to be mediated by the gender of the instructors: as female students have fewer female instructors, the effect of having more female peers intensifies. For men, a higher percentage of female peers reduces dropouts and increases GPA to a lesser extent, suggesting that policies that increase the representation of women need not entail a trade-off for male STEM students.

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Kylie L. Anglin.

Traditional public schools in the United States must comply with a variety of regulations on educational inputs like teacher certification, maximum class sizes, and restrictions on staff contracts. Absent regulations, policymakers fear that troubled districts would make inappropriate decisions that would harm students. However, it is also possible that strict regulations hinder schools from optimizing student learning. This paper tests the salience of these two hypotheses within the context of a widespread deregulation effort in Texas which allows traditional public school districts to claim District of Innovation status and opt out of regulations not related to health, safety, and civil rights. Using a novel dataset of administration data merged with implementation information scraped from district websites, I estimate the impact of District of Innovation status with a difference-in-differences strategy where later implementers act as the comparison group for early implementers. I find that, despite the breadth of regulations exempted, regulatory autonomy does not significantly impact either math or reading achievement nor does it impact hiring or class sizes. Together, the results offer strong evidence against the hypothesis that regulation hinders school improvement and suggests that state input regulations play only a limited role in determining school decision-making or student achievement.

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Katharina Werner, Ludger Woessmann.

If school closures and social-distancing experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic impeded children’s skill development, they may leave a lasting legacy in human capital. To understand the pandemic’s effects on school children, this paper combines a review of the emerging international literature with new evidence from German longitudinal time-use surveys. Based on the conceptual framework of an education production function, we cover evidence on child, parent, and school inputs and students’ cognitive and socio-emotional development. The German panel evidence shows that children’s learning time decreased severely during the first school closures, particularly for low-achieving students, and increased only slightly one year later. In a value-added model, learning time increases with daily online class instruction, but not with other school activities. The review shows substantial losses in cognitive skills on achievement tests, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Socio-emotional wellbeing also declined in the short run. Structural models and reduced-form projections suggest that unless remediated, the school closures will persistently reduce skill development, lifetime income, and economic growth and increase inequality.

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Matthew A. Kraft, Manuel Monti-Nussbaum.

Narrative accounts of classroom instruction suggest that external interruptions, such as intercom announcements and visits from staff, are a regular occurrence in U.S. public schools. We study the frequency, nature, and duration of external interruptions in the Providence Public School District (PPSD) using original data from a district-wide survey and classroom observations. We estimate that a typical classroom in PPSD is interrupted over 2,000 times per year, and that these interruptions and the disruptions they cause result in the loss of between 10 to 20 days of instructional time. Administrators appear to systematically underestimate the frequency and negative consequences of these interruptions. We propose several organizational approaches schools might adopt to reduce external interruptions to classroom instruction.

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Catherine Armstrong Asher, Ethan Scherer, James S. Kim.

Parental text messaging interventions are growing in popularity to encourage at-home reading, school-attendance, and other educational behaviors. These interventions, which often combine multiple components, frequently demonstrate varying amounts of effectiveness, and researchers often cannot determine how individual components work alone or in combination with one another. Using a 2x2x3 factorial experiment, we investigate the effects of individual and interacted components from three behavioral levers to support summer reading: providing updated, personalized information; emphasizing different reading views; and goal setting. We find that the personalized information condition scored on average 0.03 SD higher on fall reading assessments. Texting effects on test scores were enhanced by messages that emphasized reading being useful for both entertainment and building skills compared to skill building alone or entertainment alone. These results continue to build our understanding that while text message can be an effective tool for parent engagement, the specific content of the message can lead to meaningful differences in the magnitude of the effects.

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Zach Sullivan, Benjamin L. Castleman, Gabrielle Lohner, Eric Bettinger.

In-person college advising programs generate large improvements in college persistence and success for low-income students but face numerous barriers to scale. Remote advising models offer a promising strategy to address informational and assistance barriers facing the substantial majority of low-income students who do not have access to community-based advising, yet the existing evidence base on the efficacy of remote advising is limited. We present a comprehensive, multi-cohort experimental evaluation of CollegePoint, a national remote college advising program for high-achieving low- and moderate-income students. Students assigned to CollegePoint are modestly more likely (1.3 percentage points) to attend higher-quality institutions. Results from mechanism experiments we conducted within CollegePoint indicate that moderate changes to the program model, such as a longer duration of advising and modest expansions of the pool of students academically eligible to participate, do not lead to larger program effects. We also capitalize on across-cohort variation in whether students were affected by COVID-19 to investigate whether social distancing required by the pandemic increased the value of remote advising. CollegePoint increased attendance at higher-quality institutions by 3.2 percentage points for the COVID-19-affected cohort. Acknowledgements.

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