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Program and policy effects

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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Haibin Jiang, Noman Khanani, Yan R. Leigh, Mary E. Walsh.

School mobility, compounding socioeconomic inequities, can undermine academic achievement and behavior, particularly during middle school years. This study investigates the effect of a school-based integrated student support intervention – City Connects – on the achievement and behavior of middle school students who experience school mobility. Using administrative data from a large, urban, public school district in the U.S., we apply student fixed effects and event studies methods to analyze the academic and behavioral performance of students changing schools. The results indicate that students who moved to schools implementing the City Connects intervention performed better academically and behaviorally than other students.

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Dorottya Demszky, Jing Liu, Heather C. Hill, Dan Jurafsky, Chris Piech.

Providing consistent, individualized feedback to teachers is essential for improving instruction but can be prohibitively resource-intensive in most educational contexts. We develop M-Powering Teachers, an automated tool based on natural language processing to give teachers feedback on their uptake of student contributions, a high-leverage dialogic teaching practice that makes students feel heard. We conduct a randomized controlled trial in an online computer science course (n=1,136 instructors), to evaluate the effectiveness of our tool. We find that M-Powering Teachers improves instructors’ uptake of student contributions by 13% and present suggestive evidence that it also improves students’ satisfaction with the course and assignment completion. These results demonstrate the promise of M-Powering Teachers to complement existing efforts in teachers’ professional development.

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Sandra E. Black, Lesley J. Turner, Jeffrey T. Denning.

In 2006, the federal government effectively uncapped student borrowing for graduate programs with the introduction of the Graduate PLUS loan program. Access to additional federal loans increased graduate students’ borrowing and shifted the composition of their loans from private to federal debt. However, the increase in borrowing limits did not improve access to existing programs overall or for underrepresented groups. Nor did access to additional loan aid result in significant increase in constrained students’ persistence or degree receipt. We document that among programs in which a larger share of graduate students had exhausted their annual federal loan eligibility before the policy change—and thus were more exposed to the expansion in access to credit—federal borrowing and prices increased.

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Eric A. Hanushek, Matthew Joyce-Wirtz.

School finance court cases have proceeded one or more times in all but two states. Plaintiffs ask the courts to rule that the existing funding formula is unconstitutional under state constitutions, and the defendants call for continuation of the existing finance formula. By compiling and analyzing the universe of such cases, we can accurately describe the nature of the cases, the decisions made, and the long run impact on overall financing of schools. Defendants win a slight majority of decisions with, surprisingly, their victories coming most frequently in low spending states and in low achieving states. And, while plaintiff victories on average yield an immediate increase in funding, they have no influence on long run growth in school spending.

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Meghan McCormick, Cullen MacDowell, Christina Weiland, JoAnn Hsueh, Michelle Maier, Mirjana Pralica, Samuel Maves, Catherine Snow, Jason Sachs.

This study uses implementation fidelity data from PreK to 1st grade in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) to measure instructional alignment and examine whether stronger alignment is associated with sustained benefits of BPS PreK on children’s language, literacy, and math skills through first grade. The study includes N = 498 students (mean age = 5.47, SD = 0.30 in K fall). Children who experienced strong instructional alignment across grades had faster gains in literacy (SD = .47) and math (SD = .28) skills through the spring of first grade compared with non-BPS PreK attenders. Mis-alignment predicted faster convergence in literacy skills. Results highlight that instructional alignment may help to sustain the initial benefits of PreK programs through first grade in a subset of outcome domains. Implications for further research measuring alignment in a broader range of settings and implications for practice are discussed.

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Bobby W. Chung, Jian Zou.

The debate on the stringency of licensure exams for prospective public school teachers is on-going, including the recent controversial roll-out of the educative Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA). We leverage the quasi-experimental setting of different adoption timing by states and analyze multiple data sources containing a national sample of prospective teachers and students of new teachers in the US. With extensive controls of concurrent policies, we  find that the edTPA reduced prospective teachers in undergraduate programs, less-selective and minority-concentrated universities. Contrary to the policy intention, we do not  find evidence that edTPA increased student test scores.

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Andrew J. Morgan, Minh Nguyen, Eric A. Hanushek, Ben Ost, Steven G. Rivkin.

Efforts to attract and retain effective educators in high poverty public schools have had limited success. Dallas ISD addressed this challenge by using information produced by its evaluation and compensation reforms as the basis for effectiveness-adjusted payments that provided large compensating differentials to attract and retain effective teachers in its lowest achievement schools. The Accelerating Campus Excellence (ACE) program offers salary supplements to educators with records of high performance who are willing to work in the most educationally disadvantaged schools. We document that ACE resulted in immediate and sustained increases in student achievement, providing strong evidence that the multi-measure evaluation system identifies effective educators who foster the development of cognitive skills. The improvements at ACE schools were dramatic, bringing average achievement in the previously lowest performing schools close to the district average. When ACE stipends are largely eliminated, a substantial fraction of highly effective teachers leaves, and test scores fall. This highlights the central importance of the performance-based incentives to attract and retain effective educators in previously low-achievement schools.

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Dominique J. Baker, Lauren Mena Shook, Jaime Ramirez-Mendoza, Christopher T. Bennett.

The media discourse on student loans plays a significant role in the way that policy actors conceptualize challenges and potential solutions related to student debt. This study examines the racialized language in student loan news articles published in eight major news outlets between 2006 and 2021. We found that 18% of articles use any racialized language, though use has accelerated since 2018. This increase appears to be driven by terms that denote groups of people instead of structural problems, with 8% of articles mentioning “Black” but less than 1% mentioning “racism.” These findings emphasize the importance of treating the media as a policy actor capable of shaping the salience of racialization in discussions about student loans.

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Eric A. Hanushek, Jin Luo, Andrew J. Morgan, Minh Nguyen, Ben Ost, Steven G. Rivkin, Ayman Shakeel.

A fundamental question for education policy is whether outcomes-based accountability including comprehensive educator evaluations and a closer relationship between effectiveness and compensation improves the quality of instruction and raises achievement. We use synthetic control methods to study the comprehensive teacher and principal evaluation and compensation systems introduced in the Dallas Independent School District (Dallas ISD) in 2013 for principals and 2015 for teachers. Under this far-reaching reform, educator evaluations that are used to support teacher growth and determine salary depend on a combination of supervisor evaluations, student achievement, and student or family survey responses. The reform replaced salary scales based on experience and educational attainment with those based on evaluation scores, a radical departure from decades of rigid salary schedules. The synthetic control estimates reveal positive and significant effects of the reforms on math and reading achievement that increase over time. From 2015 through 2019, the average achievement for the synthetic control district fluctuates narrowly between -0.27 s.d. and -0.3 s.d., while the Dallas ISD average increases steadily from -0.28 s.d. in 2015 to -0.08 s.d. in 2019, the final year of the sample. Though the increase for reading is roughly half as large, it is also highly significant.

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