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Research showing that high-quality preschool benefits children’s early learning and later life outcomes has led to increased state engagement in public preschool. However, mixed results from evaluations of two programs—Tennessee’s Voluntary Pre-K program and Head Start—have left many policymakers unsure about how to ensure productive investments. This report presents the most rigorous evidence on the effects of preschool and clarifies how the findings from Tennessee and Head Start relate to the larger body of research showing that high-quality preschool enhances children’s school readiness by supporting substantial early learning gains in comparison to children who do not experience preschool and can have lasting impacts far into children’s later years of school and life. Therefore, the issue is not whether preschool “works,” but how to design and implement programs that ensure public preschool investments consistently deliver on their promise.
It has long been argued that cash balance (CB) pension plans offer a more equitable distribution of benefits than traditional final-average-salary (FAS) plans for teachers, particularly between short-termers and career teachers. However, it has also been understood that the impetus for reform would come from fiscal distress, rather than a concern for equity. In this paper I examine how the nation’s first CB plan for teachers, in Kansas, adopted under such conditions, has played out for system costs, and the level and distribution of individual benefits, compared to the FAS plan it replaced. My key findings are: (1) employer-funded benefits were modestly reduced, despite the surface appearance of somewhat generous employer matches; (2) more importantly, the cost of the pension guarantee, which is off-the-books under standard actuarial accounting, was reduced quite substantially. Thus, although much of the distributional benefit originally put forth did materialize, the primary gain for states considering reform may well be the reduction in the cost of risk-bearing. Indeed, I argue that these results are intrinsically linked: it is CB’s near-elimination of back-loading that simultaneously cuts the implicit cost of risk.
I compare per pupil revenues, expenditures, and performance levels in public charter schools to district-run public schools in Texas for the 2017-18 school year. After controlling for several school and student characteristics, I find that public charter schools are funded around $1,700 (15 percent) less, and spend around $3,700 (28 percent) less, per pupil than district-run public schools. Public charter schools demonstrate cost-effectiveness advantages between 8 and 42 percent, depending on the model employed, over district-run public schools in Texas. I also find evidence to suggest per pupil spending is positively related to state testing outcomes for public charter schools, but not for district-run public schools.
Use of education finance data is ubiquitous. Yet, because the academic calendar circumscribes two calendar years, researchers have linked the Consumer Price Index to three different dates: the Fall, Spring and academic fiscal years. We demonstrate that linking the CPI to these different academic year results in identifying different trends in U.S. educational spending during the Great Recession. Descriptive inferences should not be sensitive to researcher discretion about merge years. We provide an easy-to-use software package to facilitate implementation of NCES guidelines in the hope that future analyses of education finance data will explicitly and consistently apply inflation adjustments.
Do nudge interventions that have generated positive impacts at a local level maintain efficacy when scaled state or nationwide? What specific mechanisms explain the positive impacts of promising smaller-scale nudges? We investigate, through two randomized controlled trials, the impact of a national and state-level campaign to encourage students to apply for financial aid for college. The campaigns collectively reached over 800,000 students, with multiple treatment arms to investigate different potential mechanisms. We find no impacts on financial aid receipt or college enrollment overall or for any student subgroups. We find no evidence that different approaches to message framing, delivery, or timing, or access to one-on-one advising affected campaign efficacy. We discuss why nudge strategies that work locally may be hard to scale effectively.
Evidence-based policy is the practice of basing policy decisions on rigorous research evidence, such as randomized experiments. But it is unclear how often evidence-based decisions produce more effective policy. We evaluate an evidence-based policy implemented in 1989-93, after the state of Tennessee completed the famous Project STAR randomized experiment, which showed that reducing average class sizes from 23 to 15 could raise test scores by nearly 0.2 standard deviations (SD). After Project STAR, the state launched Project Challenge, which tried to achieve similar score gains by earmarking $5 million to reduce class sizes in the state’s 17 poorest districts.
We evaluate the effects of Project Challenge by applying regression discontinuity and difference in differences analysis to data from district report cards. Our analysis offers no evidence that Project Challenge districts raised test scores, and even raises questions about whether districts reduced class sizes. After Project Challenge, Tennessee’s Basic Education Plan did reduce class sizes, but only by a token amount, from 26 to 25. In this example, it seems that a successful randomized experiment did not lead to successful policy.
Student loan borrowing for higher education has emerged as a top policy concern. Policy makers at the institutional, state, and federal levels have pursued a variety of strategies to inform students about loan origination processes and how much a student has cumulatively borrowed, and to provide students with greater access to loan counseling. We conducted an experiment to evaluate the impact of an outreach campaign that prompted loan applicants at a large community college to make informed and active borrowing decisions and that offered them access to remote, one-onone assistance from a loan counselor. The intervention led students to reduce their unsubsidized loan borrowing by 7 percent, resulted in worse academic performance, and increased the likelihood of loan default during the three years after the intervention occurred. Our results suggest policy makers and higher education leaders should carefully examine the potential unintended consequences of efforts to reduce student borrowing, particularly in light of growing evidence regarding the counter-intuitive positive relationship between reduced borrowing levels and worse student academic and financial outcomes.
Estimates of school voucher impacts on educational attainment have yet to explore heterogeneities in socioeconomic status among disadvantaged minority students. We theorize reasons for these heterogeneities and then estimate experimentally the differential impacts of voucher offers on college enrollment and graduation rates for minority and non-immigrant students from moderately and severely disadvantaged backgrounds. The findings are obtained from a privately sponsored, lottery-based voucher intervention in New York City that began in 1997. College enrollment and degree attainment as of the fall of 2017 were obtained from the National Student Clearinghouse. We find no significant effects of offers on minority students from severely disadvantaged backgrounds but significant effects of six to eight percentage points on those from moderately disadvantaged households. Similar results are obtained for students born of non-immigrant mothers. Some policy implications are discussed.
Despite large and growing student loan balances, there is relatively little evidence on the effects of access to student loans on borrowing and educational outcomes. We examine the effect of access to credit by using policy variation in the maximum federal student loan amounts available to U.S. college students. In particular, first-, second-, and third-year students have access to different amounts of federal student loans. Using a regression discontinuity and administrative data from a state higher education system, we find that access to higher loan limits increases borrowing for at least 26 percent of borrowers. Despite this increase in borrowing, we find no evidence that eligibility for additional loans affects student GPA, persistence, or graduation.
We leverage an obscure set of rules in Texas’s school funding formula granting some districts additional revenue as a function of size and sparsity. We use variation from kinks and discontinuities in this formula to ask how districts spend additional discretionary funds, and whether these improve student outcomes. A $1,000 annual increase in foundation funding, or 10% increase in expenditures, yields a 0.1 s.d. increase in reading scores and a near 0.08 increase in math. In addition, dropout rates decline, graduation rates marginally increase, as does college enrollment and to a smaller degree graduation. These gains accrue in later grades and largely among poorer districts. An analysis of budget allocations reveals that additional funding only marginally affects budget shares.