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Inequality

Michel Grosz.

I study how postsecondary admission policies affect the composition and subsequent academic outcomes of new cohorts. I leverage the staggered replacement of lotteries and waitlists at California's community college nursing programs with admissions that rely on grades, work experience, and other measures. The change in admissions increased the average prior academic performance of incoming cohorts, but did not improve academic outcomes such as completion rates or pass rates on the national licensing exam. I find suggestive evidence that the change in admissions decreased the share of new students who were not White, but by small amounts. The change in admissions also substantially reduced the time students spent waiting between taking prerequisite coursework and entering the nursing programs.

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Josh B. McGee, Jonathan Mills, Jessica Goldstein.

School district consolidation is one of the most widespread education reforms of the last century, but surprisingly little research has directly investigated its effectiveness. To examine the impact of consolidation on student achievement, this study takes advantage of a policy that requires the consolidation of all Arkansas school districts with enrollment of fewer than 350 students for two consecutive school years. Using a regression discontinuity model, we find that consolidation has either null or small positive impacts on student achievement in math and English Language Arts (ELA). We do not find evidence that consolidation in Arkansas results in positive economies of scale, either by reducing overall cost or allowing for a greater share of resources to be spent in the classroom.

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Drew H. Bailey, Greg J. Duncan, Richard J. Murnane, Natalie Au Yeung.

A survey targeting education researchers conducted in November, 2020 provides predictions of how much achievement gaps between low- and high-income students in U.S elementary schools will change as a result of COVID-related disruptions to in-class instruction and family life. Respondents were asked to suppose that the pre-COVID achievement gap was 1.00 standard deviations. The median forecast for the jump in math achievement in elementary school by spring, 2021 was very large – a change from 1.00 to 1.30 standard deviations. The predicted increase in reading achievement gaps (a change from 1.00 to 1.25 standard deviations) was nearly as large. This implies that many teachers will face classrooms of students with much more heterogeneous learning needs in the fall of the 2021-22 school year than usual. We gauged predictions for the success of efforts by teachers and other educators to make up for lost ground by asking for predictions of achievement gaps in the spring of 2022. Few of the respondents to our survey thought that achievement gaps would revert to their pre-COVID levels. In fact, median predictions of achievement gaps fell very modestly– from 1.30 to 1.25 standard deviations for math and from 1.25 to 1.20 standard deviations for reading. We discuss some implications of these predictions for school district strategies (e.g., tutoring and other skill- building programs focused on individual students) to reduce learning gaps exacerbated by the pandemic.

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Matthew A. Kraft, Grace Falken.

In this thought experiment, we explore how tutoring could be scaled nationally to address COVID-19 learning loss and become a permanent feature of the U.S. public education system. We outline a blueprint centered on ten core principles and a federal architecture to support adoption, while providing for local ownership over key implementation features. High school students would tutor in elementary schools via an elective class, college students in middle schools via federal work-study, and full time 2- and 4-year college graduates in high schools via AmeriCorps. We envision an incremental, demand-driven expansion process with priority given to high-needs schools. Our blueprint highlights a range of design tradeoffs and implementation challenges as well as estimates of program costs. Our estimates suggest that targeted approaches to scaling school-wide tutoring nationally, such as focusing on K-8 Title I schools, would cost between $5 and $15 billion annually.

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Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, Zachary Peskowitz.

Political scientists have largely overlooked the democratic challenges inherent in the governance of U.S. public education—despite profound implications for educational delivery and, ultimately, social mobility and economic growth. In this study, we consider whether the interests of adult voters who elect school boards in each community are likely to be aligned with the educational needs of local students. Specifically, we compare voters and students in four states on several policy-relevant dimensions. 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. These gaps are most pronounced in majority nonwhite jurisdictions and school districts with the largest racial achievement gaps. Our novel analysis provides important context for understanding the political pressures facing school boards and their likely role in perpetuating educational and, ultimately, societal inequality.

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Alex Eble, Maya Escueta.

Aspirations shape important future-oriented behaviors, including educational investment. Higher family aspirations for children predict better educational outcomes in multiple developing countries. Unfortunately, aspirations sometimes outstrip people's ability to pursue them. We study the relationship between family aspirations for children and later child educational outcomes in an extremely poor context. We observe caregivers' educational and career aspirations for thousands of rural Gambian children about to begin schooling. While higher aspirations predict subsequent educational investment and, three years later, better child performance on reading/math tests, these gains are small in terms of skills learned, and high-aspirations children remain far from achieving literacy/numeracy. In contrast, a bundled supply-side intervention generated large literacy/numeracy gains in these areas. Since unobserved correlates of aspirations and educational outcomes likely bias our estimates upwards, the true aspirations-learning relationship may be even smaller. We conclude higher aspirations alone are insufficient to achieve literacy/numeracy in this, and perhaps similar contexts.

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Kalena E. Cortes, Daniel Klasik.

The Top 10% Plan admissions policy has now been in place in Texas for over two decades. We analyze 18 years of post-Top 10% Plan data to look for evidence of increased access to the selective Texas flagship campuses among all Texas high schools. We provide a detailed description of changes in enrollment patterns at the flagship campuses from Texas high schools after the implementation of the Top 10% Plan, focusing on whether the policy resulted in new sending patterns from high schools that did not have a history of sending students to the flagship campuses. Our analysis reveals an increase in the likelihood that high schools in non-suburban areas sent students to the flagship campuses, but ultimately little to no equity-producing effects of the Top 10% Plan over this 18-year period. In fact, the representation of traditional, always-sending, feeder high schools on the flagship campuses continued to dwarf the population of students from other high schools. Thus, the purported high school representation benefits of the policy appear to be overstated and may not go as far as advocates might have hoped in terms of generating equity of access to the flagship campuses in the state.

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Umut Özek.

This study examines the effects of internal migration driven by severe natural disasters on host communities, and the mechanisms behind these effects, using the large influx of migrants into Florida public schools after Hurricane Maria. I find adverse effects of the influx in the first year on existing student test scores, disciplinary problems, and student mobility among high-performing students in middle and high school that also persist in the second year. I also find evidence that compensatory resource allocation within schools is an important factor driving the adverse effects of large, unexpected migrant flows on incumbent students in the short-run.

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Kari Dalane, Dave E. Marcotte.

Over the past three decades, children from low-income families and those from more affluent families have increasingly been attending different public schools. While recent work has helped us understand patterns of income segregation between districts and schools within districts, we know very little about segregation of students as they experience school: in the classroom. In this paper, we attempt to advance knowledge of trends in the segregation of students by income at the classroom level. We make use of detailed, student-level administrative data from North Carolina which provides a measure of a student’s free/reduced price lunch eligibility, which we refer to as economically disadvantaged (ED) status, along with information on classroom assignments. Since we know the ED status of each student in each classroom, we assess whether ED students are assigned to classes in the same pattern as other students or if are clustered/segregated into different classrooms. We know very little about the magnitude of income-based segregation, and almost nothing about whether this has changed over time, so we provide novel evidence on the question of whether segregation of students by socioeconomic status has increased within schools. We find that within-school segregation has risen by about 10 percent between 2007 and 2014 in elementary and middle schools we study. Further, we find that segregation of ED students within schools is correlated with the level of segregation between schools in districts, and this relationship grew stronger over our panel.

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Angela Johnson.

This study reports achievement levels and fall-to-spring gains in grades K to 8 for three groups of English Learners (ELs): (a) ever-ELs who were ever eligible for service; (b) current-ELs who continue to require service; and (b) dually-identified students eligible for both EL and Special Education services. I leverage unique data that include 186,139 ever-ELs and their never-EL peers in 1,520 schools. All three EL groups have lower mean math and reading achievement than the average of all students in kindergarten. Compared to the all-student average, ever-ELs and current-ELs make larger gains in the early grades but smaller gains in the middle grades. Dually-identified students make smaller gains than the all-student average across all grades in math and in kindergarten and 1st grade in reading. The expanding achievement gaps in the middle grades suggest better academic support is urgently needed for all multilingual students, especially dually-identified students.

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