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Inequality

Angela Johnson, Megan Kuhfeld, James Soland.

Nearly one in five U.S. students attends a rural school, yet we know very little about achievement gaps and academic growth in rural schools. This study leverages a unique dataset that includes longitudinal test scores for more than five million 3rd to 8th grade students in approximately 17,000 public schools across the 50 states, including 900,000 students attending 4,727 rural schools. We find rural achievement and growth to be slightly above public schools. But there is considerable heterogeneity by student race/ethnicity. For all grades and subjects, White-Black and White-Hispanic gaps are smaller in rural schools than gaps nationwide, and White-Native American gaps are larger in rural schools than gaps nationwide. Separate analyses by racial/ethnic subgroup show that rural Black, Hispanic, and Native American students are often growing slower than their respective subgroup national average. In contrast, White students are often growing faster than the national average for White students.

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Angela Johnson, Megan Kuhfeld, Greg King.

This study presents a framework that uses academic trajectories in the middle grades for identifying students in need of intervention and providing targeted support. We apply a set of academic college readiness benchmarks to rich longitudinal data for more than 360,000 students in 5900 schools across 49 states and the District of Columbia. In both math and reading, each student was assessed up to six times (fall and spring of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade). We show that student-level and school-level demographic characteristics significantly predict academic trajectories. Compared to White and Asian students, higher proportions of Black and Hispanic student are consistently off-track for college readiness throughout middle school. Among students who started 6th grade on track, being male, Black, Hispanic, and attending schools with a higher percentage of students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch are positively associated with falling off track.

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Adam Altmejd, Andres Barrios-Fernandez, Marin Drlje, Joshua Goodman, Michael Hurwitz, Dejan Kovac, Christine Mulhern, Christopher Neilson, Jonathan Smith.

Family and social networks are widely believed to influence important life decisions but identifying their causal effects is notoriously difficult. Using admissions thresholds that directly affect older but not younger siblings’ college options, we present evidence from the United States, Chile, Sweden and Croatia that older siblings’ college and major choices can significantly influence their younger siblings’ college and major choices. On the extensive margin, an older sibling’s enrollment in a better college increases a younger sibling’s probability of enrolling in college at all, especially for families with low predicted probabilities of enrollment. On the intensive margin, an older sibling’s choice of college or major increases the probability that a younger sibling applies to and enrolls in that same college or major. Spillovers in major choice are stronger when older siblings enroll and succeed in more selective and higher-earning majors. The observed spillovers are not well-explained by price, income, proximity or legacy effects, but are most consistent with older siblings transmitting otherwise unavailable information about the college experience and its potential returns. The importance of such personally salient information may partly explain persistent differences in college-going rates by geography, income, and other determinants of social networks.

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Charles T. Clotfelter, Helen F. Ladd, Calen R. Clifton, Mavzuna Turaeva.

Using detailed administrative data for public schools, we document racial and ethnic segregation at the classroom level in North Carolina, a state that has experienced a sharp increase in Hispanic enrollment. We decompose classroom-level segregation in counties into within-school and between-school components. We find that the within-school component accounted for a sizable share of total segregation in middle schools and high schools. Recognizing its importance could temper the praise for school assignment policies that reduce racial disparities between schools but allow large disparities within them. More generally, we observe between the two components a complementary relationship, with one component tending to be large when the other one is small. Comparing the degree of segregation for the state’s two largest racial/ethnic minority groups, we find that White/Hispanic segregation was more severe than White/Black segregation, particularly within schools. Analyzed as separate administrative units, schools with large shares of Black students tended to have more White/Black segregation across classrooms than schools with smaller shares. Finally, we examine enrollment patterns by course and show that school segregation brings with it differences by race and ethnicity in the courses that students take, with White students more likely to be enrolled in advanced classes.

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Allison Atteberry, Andrew McEachin.
The field is generally aware of summer learning loss (SLL)—that student learning slows during the summer. Yet surprisingly little consensus exists on basic questions about SLL, especially given recent concerns about measurement artifacts in foundational SLL studies. Nearly all prior SLL work examines how summers contribute to racial/ethnic or socioeconomic gaps. However, these factors only account for about 4 percent of the variance in summer learning rates. We use a unique dataset with millions of students across eight grades to document the full spread of SLL and examine how differential SLL contributes to where students end up in the 8th grade achievement distribution. We find dramatic variability in SLL, with decrements accruing to the same students over time.

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Cory Koedel, Eric Parsons.

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a policy change to the federally-administered National School Lunch Program that allows schools serving low-income populations to classify all students as eligible for free meals, regardless of individual circumstances. This has implications for the use of free and reduced-price meal (FRM) data to proxy for student disadvantage in education research and policy applications, which is a common practice. We document empirically how the CEP has affected the value of FRM eligibility as a proxy for student disadvantage. At the individual student level, we show that there is essentially no effect of the CEP. However, the CEP does meaningfully change the information conveyed by the share of FRM-eligible students in a school. It is this latter measure that is most relevant for policy uses of FRM data.

Note: Portions of this paper were previously circulated under the title “Using Free Meal and Direct Certification Data to Proxy for Student Disadvantage in the Era of the Community Eligibility Provision.” We have since split the original paper into two parts. This is the first part.

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Umut Özek.

This study examines the effects of internal migration driven by severe natural disasters on students in host communities, and the mechanisms behind these effects, using the large influx of migrant students into Florida public schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. I find significant adverse effects of the influx in the first year on existing student test scores, disciplinary problems, and student mobility that vanish entirely in the second year. These adverse effects are particularly pronounced among higher-performing students who were proficient on prior year tests: A 5-percentage point increase in migrant share at the school-cohort level decreases test scores of these students by 0.09 standard deviations in math (0.07σ in ELA), increases disciplinary incidents by 50 percent, and student mobility by 44 percent in the first year. I also find evidence that compensatory resource allocation within schools is an important factor driving the adverse effects. In particular, the results provide evidence that schools reallocate resources – teachers in particular – in a compensatory fashion when faced with a large influx of high-need students, increasing the likelihood that higher-performing students are assigned to less effective teachers. 

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Jing Liu, Susanna Loeb, Ying Shi.

Classroom teachers in the US are absent on average approximately six percent of a school year. Despite the prevalence of teacher absences, surprisingly little research has assessed the key source of replacement instruction: substitute teachers. Using detailed administrative and survey data from a large urban school district, we document the prevalence, predictors, and variation of substitute coverage across schools. Less advantaged schools systematically exhibit lower rates of substitute coverage compared with peer institutions. Observed school, teacher, and absence characteristics account for only part of this school variation. In contrast, substitute teachers’ preferences for specific schools, mainly driven by student behavior and support from teachers and school administrators, explain a sizable share of the unequal distribution of coverage rates above and beyond standard measures in administrative data.

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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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