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Inequality

Carolyn J. Heinrich, Jennifer Darling-Aduana.

Recent increases in high school graduation rates have been linked anecdotally to online course-taking for credit recovery. Online course-taking that supports high school completion could open opportunities for postsecondary education pursuits. Alternatively, poorer quality online instruction could diminish student learning and discourage persistence toward graduation and further education. Using quasi-experimental methods in an eight-year longitudinal study of high school online course-taking, we find positive associations between online course-taking, credits earned and high school graduation, and for those with limited online course-taking, small increases in college enrollment. However, we find significantly lower four-year college enrollments and lower-quality college enrollments for all online course-takers, leaving open the question of whether online course-taking will lead to longer-term postsecondary education and labor market success.

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Paul T. von Hippel, Ana P. Cañedo.

Many kindergarten teachers place students in higher and lower “ability groups” to learn math and reading. Ability group placement should depend on student achievement, but critics charge that placement is biased by socioeconomic status (SES), gender, and race/ethnicity. We predict group placement in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study of the Kindergarten class of 2010-11, using linear and ordinal regression models with classroom fixed effects. The best predictors of group placement are test scores, but girls, high-SES students, and Asian Americans receive higher placements than their test scores alone would predict. One third of students move groups during kindergarten, and some movement is predicted by changes in test scores, but high-SES students move up more than score gains would predict, and Hispanic children move up less. Net of SES and test scores, there is no bias in the placement of African American children. Differences in teacher-reported behaviors explain the higher placement of girls, but do little to explain the higher or lower placement of other groups. Although achievement is the best predictor of ability group placement, there are signs of bias.

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Beth Schueler, Daniel Rodriguez-Segura.

Access to quality secondary schooling can be life-changing for students in developing contexts. In Kenya, entrance to such schools has historically been determined by performance on a high-stakes exam. Understandably then, preparation for this exam is a high priority for Kenyan families and educators. To increase the share of students gaining entry to these schools, some educational providers offer targeted instruction for students they believe have a chance of securing a spot. We experimentally evaluate the impact of these “symposia” programs—week-long, sleep-away camps where eighth grade students receive a burst of academic instruction from teachers selected based on merit. While similar models have been tested in the U.S., less is known about this intervention in developing settings. Our results suggest these programs are not particularly effective for the average nominated student relative to a typical week of school. However, we find large, positive effects among students attending schools from which few students are nominated for symposia. We provide suggestive evidence that this was because students from low- representation schools had less pre-camp practice test resources outside of school. The results have implications for program design and contribute to the growing literature on the effectiveness of appropriately targeted individualized instruction.

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Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, Zachary Peskowitz.

America's decentralized system of public school governance is premised on the assumption that the interests of voters who elect school boards will be aligned with the educational needs of students. We explore the plausibility of this assumption by comparing the demographic characteristics of voters and students across four states. Using official voter turnout records and rich microtargeting data, we document considerable demographic differences between voters who participate in school board elections and the students attending the schools that boards oversee, suggesting that the assumption is unlikely to describe reality in many settings. For example, we show that most majority-nonwhite districts in our sample have a majority-white electorate and that these electoral disparities are associated with racial achievement gaps. Our novel analysis provides important political context for considering the electoral incentives facing school boards and how these incentives shape the quality of public education.

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Helen F. Ladd, Mavzuna Turaeva.

We use information on the charter school choices made by North Carolina families, separately by race, who switched their child from a traditional public school (TPS) to a charter school in 2015-16 to explore how such choices affect racial segregation between schools and racial isolation within charter schools. We find that the movement of white switchers, but not minority switchers to charter schools increases racial segregation between schools. In addition, using a conditional logit model to estimate revealed preferences, we find that the value parents place on the racial composition of individual charter schools differs by the race and income of the switchers. As a result, even after we control for other valued aspects of charter schools -- such as distance from the previous traditional public school and the charter school’s mission, academic performance and services offered -- the differential preferences of the switchers leads to substantial racial isolation within charter schools.

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Francis A. Pearman, II.

This study examines whether county-level estimates of implicit bias predict black-white test score gaps in county schools. Data from over 1 million respondents from across the United States who completed an online version of the Race Implicit Association Test (IAT) were combined with data from the Stanford Education Data Archive covering over 300 million test scores from U.S. schoolchildren in grades 3 through 8. In both bivariate and multivariate models, counties with higher levels of racial bias had larger black-white test score disparities. This relationship was primarily explained by sorting mechanisms: The black-white test score gap was larger in counties with higher levels of implicit bias because these counties’ schools were more racially segregated and were characterized by larger racial gaps in gifted and talented assignment as well as special education placement.

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Michael Gilraine.

This paper identifies the achievement impact of installing air filters in classrooms for the first time. To do so, I leverage a unique setting arising from the largest gas leak in United States history, whereby the offending gas company installed air filters in every classroom, office and common area for all schools within five miles of the leak (but not beyond). This variation allows me to compare student achievement in schools receiving air filters relative to those that did not using a spatial regression discontinuity design. I find substantial improvements in student achievement: air filter exposure led to a 0.20 standard deviation increase in mathematics and English scores, with test score improvements persisting into the following year. Air testing conducted inside schools during the leak (but before air filters were installed) showed no presence of natural gas pollutants, implying that the effectiveness of air filters came from removing common air pollutants and so these results should extend to other settings. The results indicate that air filter installation is a highly cost-effective policy to raise student achievement and, given that underprivileged students attend schools in highly polluted areas, one that can reduce the pervasive test score gaps that plague public education.

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Bernardo Lara E., Kenneth A. Shores.

Revealed preferences for equal college access may be due to beliefs that equal access increases societal income or income equality. To isolate preferences for those goods, we implement an online discrete choice experiment using social statistics generated from true variation among commuting zones. We find that, ceteris paribus, the average income that individuals are willing to sacrifice is (i) $4,984 dollars to increase higher education (HE) enrollment by 1 standard deviation (14%); (ii) $1,168 dollars to decrease rich/poor gaps in HE enrollment by 1 standard deviation (8%); (iii) $2,900 to decrease the 90/10 income inequality ratio by 1 standard deviation (1.66). In addition, we find that political affiliation is an important moderator of preferences for equality. While both Democrats and Republicans are willing to trade over $4,000 dollars to increase HE enrollment by 1 standard deviation, Democrats are willing to sacrifice nearly three times more income to decrease either rich/poor gaps in HE enrollment or the 90/10 income inequality ratio by 1 standard deviation.

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John Brittain, Larkin Willis, Peter W. Cookson Jr..

Most racial and ethnic segregation—and most financial inequities—in American public schools occur between, not within, school districts. Solving these problems often requires interdistrict solutions based on cooperation within regions. This report uses three examples (Boston, MA; Hartford, CT; and Omaha, NE) to explore how interdistrict desegregation plans with innovative funding strategies have been designed, financed, and implemented. The report describes programs’ academic and social outcomes and identifies four lessons for policymakers: Secure a metropolitan-wide agreement; establish a clear vision for educational equity; sustain efforts with equitable resources; and create a strong data and evaluation plan.

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Linda Darling-Hammond.

Recent research demonstrates that, when more money is spent on education for students from low-income families, achievement and graduation rates improve. So, too, do life outcomes such as employment, wages, and reduced poverty rates. Investments in instruction, especially high-quality teachers, appear to leverage the largest marginal gains in performance. School funding reforms in several states have created the conditions for stronger educational outcomes. These reforms funded schools more equitably and provided access to well-prepared and well-supported teachers; standards, curriculum, and assessments focused on 21st-century learning goals; schools organized productively for student and teacher learning; and supportive early learning environments. This report examines these efforts in four states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and North Carolina. Their experiences demonstrate that, in the U.S., equity-focused changes can yield results for students but also require steady work.

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