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Inequality

Heather McCambly, Quinn Mulroy, Andrew Stein.

A common point of contention across education policy debates is whether and how facially race-neutral metrics of quality produce or maintain racialized inequities. Medical education is a useful site for interrogating this relationship, as many scholars point to the 1910, Carnegie-funded Flexner Report—which proposed standardized quality metrics—as a main driver of the closure of five of the seven Black medical schools. Our research demonstrates how these proposed quality metrics, and their philanthropic and political advocates, instantiated a racialized organizational order that governed the distribution of resources, the development of state certification processes, and the regulation of medical schools. This analysis provides traction for uncovering how taken-for-granted standards of quality come to maintain racialized access to opportunity in education.

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Lucy C. Sorensen, Andrea Headley, Stephen B. Holt.

Involvement with the juvenile justice system carries immense personal costs to youth: 30% of detained youth drop out of school (relative to 5% nationally) and 55% are re-arrested within one year. These personal costs are compounded by societal costs – both directly in $214,000 of expenses per confined youth per year – and indirectly in lost social and economic productivity. While much of the extant research on the “school-to-prison pipeline” focuses on school disciplinary practices such as suspension, less attention has been given to understanding the impact of school referrals to the juvenile justice system on students’ relationship with school. Using novel administrative data from North Carolina, we link 3 years of individual educational and disciplinary infraction records to juvenile justice system records to identify the effect of juvenile justice referrals for school-based offenses on student academic and behavioral outcomes. We find that, even for the same offense type and circumstance, relative to students only punished for infractions internally in the school, students referred to juvenile justice experience lower academic achievement, increased absenteeism, and are more likely to be involved in future juvenile system contact. We show that these juvenile referrals are not inevitable and instead reflect a series of discretionary choices made by school administrators and law enforcement. Moreover, we examine demographic disparities in school-based referrals to juvenile justice and find that female students, Black students, and economically disadvantaged students are more likely to receive referrals even for the same offense type and circumstances.

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S. Michael Gaddis, Charles Crabtree, John B. Holbein, Steven Pfaff.

Although numerous studies document different forms of discrimination in the U.S. public education system, very few provide plausibly causal estimates. Thus, it is unclear to what extent public school principals discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities. Moreover, no studies test for heterogeneity in racial/ethnic discrimination by individual-level resource needs and school-level resource strain – potentially important moderators in the education context. Using a correspondence audit, we examine bias against Black, Hispanic, and Chinese American families in interactions with 52,792 public K-12 principals in 33 states. Our research provides causal evidence that Hispanic and Chinese American families face significant discrimination in initial interactions with principals, regardless of individual-level resource needs. Black families, however, only face discrimination when they have high resource needs. Additionally, principals in schools with greater resource strain discriminate more against Chinese American families. This research uncovers complexities of racial/ethnic discrimination in the K-12 context because we examine multiple racial/ethnic groups and test for heterogeneity across individual- and school-level variables. These findings highlight the need for researchers conducting future correspondence audits to expand the scope of their research to provide a more comprehensive analysis of racial/ethnic discrimination in the U.S.

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Jing Liu, Cameron Conrad, David Blazar.

This study provides the first causal analysis of the impact of expanding Computer Science (CS) education in U.S. K-12 schools on students’ choice of college major and early career outcomes. Utilizing rich longitudinal data from Maryland, we exploit variation from the staggered rollout of CS course offerings across high schools. Our findings suggest that taking a CS course increases students’ likelihood of declaring a CS major by 10 percentage points and receiving a CS BA degree by 5 percentage points. Additionally, access to CS coursework raises students’ likelihood of being employed and early career earnings. Notably, students who are female, low socioeconomic status, or Black experience larger benefits in terms of CS degree attainment and earnings. However, the lower take-up rates of these groups in CS courses highlight a pressing need for targeted efforts to enhance their participation as policymakers continue to expand CS curricula in K-12 education.

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Jo Al Khafaji-King.

This study evaluates the unintended consequences of the 2012 suspension ban in New York City. I find that the ban induced a substitution towards classification for students at high risk for suspension—Black students, male students, and those in schools with a high reliance on suspension. I find that disabilities that carry greater stigma and experience greater exclusion from the general education classroom drive the increases in classification. This substitution may benefit students if they are now receiving needed services. Simultaneously, ban-induced classifications may simply serve as a partial substitute for suspension.

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Barbara Biasi, Julien Lafortune, David Schönholzer.

This paper identifies which investments in school facilities help students and are valued by homeowners. Using novel data on school district bonds, test scores, and house prices for 29 U.S. states and a research design that exploits close elections with staggered timing, we show that increased school capital spending raises test scores and house prices on average. However, impacts differ vastly across types of funded projects. Spending on basic infrastructure (such as HVAC) or on the removal of pollutants raises test scores but not house prices; conversely, spending on athletic facilities raises house prices but not test scores. Socio-economically disadvantaged districts benefit more from capital outlays, even conditioning on project type and the existing capital stock. Our estimates suggest that closing the spending gap between high- and low-SES districts and targeting spending towards high-impact projects may close as much as 25% of the observed achievement gap between these districts.

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Yue Huang, Hojung Lee, Arielle Lentz, Kenneth A. Shores.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) prepares students for life beyond high school by providing practical labor skills, workforce credentials, and early post-secondary credits. States are required to report the number of CTE concentrators to receive federal Perkins funding, but systems of identifying students as concentrators vary among states. We analyzed two distinct concentrator identification strategies, one based on local education agency administrator reporting and another universal screening system using transcript data. Analyses revealed moderate amounts of mismeasurement in concentration status and modest amounts of systematic mismeasurement penalizing students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, English language services, and special education services.

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Kalena E. Cortes, Karen Kortecamp, Susanna Loeb, Carly D. Robinson.

This paper presents the results from a randomized controlled trial of Chapter One, an early elementary reading tutoring program that embeds part-time tutors into the classroom to provide short bursts of 1:1 instruction. Eligible kindergarten students were randomly assigned to receive supplementary tutoring during the 2021-22 school year (N=818). The study occurred in a large Southeastern district serving predominantly Black and Hispanic students. Students assigned to the program were over two times more likely to reach the program’s target reading level by the end of kindergarten (70% vs. 32%). The results were largely homogenous across student populations and extended to district-administered assessments. These findings provide promising evidence of an affordable and sustainable approach for delivering personalized reading tutoring at scale.

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Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman.
Recent work highlights the challenge of scaling evidence-based strategies to achieve social policy objectives. We evaluate, through a randomized control trial, a national financial incentive program designed to increase student engagement with college advising and completion of college and financial aid milestones that prior experimental studies demonstrate contribute to increased college enrollment and success. We find substantial positive effects of the incentive program on each of the incented behaviors: Treated students were more likely to engage regularly with a college advisor; apply to well-matched colleges and universities; and meet with an advisor to review their financial aid awards and discuss college costs. Yet students randomly offered the incentives were no more likely to enroll at higher-quality colleges and universities, despite being high in the distribution of college entrance exam scores and from a socioeconomic background that many institutions indicate is central to their diversity goals. Student responses to a survey administered the summer and fall after high school suggest that lack of admission to the most selective institutions, lack of affordability at selective institutions to which students were admitted, and student preferences to attend institutions closer to home explain the lack of enrollment effects.

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Beth Schueler, Liz Nigro, John Wang.

The improvement of low-performing school systems is one potential strategy for mitigating educational inequality. Some evidence suggests districtwide reform may be more effective than school-level change, but limited research examines district-level turnaround. There is also little scholarship examining the effects of turnaround reforms on outcomes beyond the first few years of implementation, on outcomes beyond test scores, or on the effectiveness of efforts to replicate district improvement successes beyond an initial reform context. We study these topics in Massachusetts, home to the Lawrence district representing a rare case of demonstrated improvements in the early years of state takeover and turnaround and where state leaders have since intervened in three other contexts as a result. We use statewide student-level administrative data (2006-07 to 2018-19) and event study methods to estimate medium-term reform impacts on test and non-test outcomes across four Massachusetts-based contexts: Lawrence, Holyoke, Springfield, and Southbridge. We find substantial district improvement was possible although sustaining the rate of gains was more complicated. Replicating gains in new contexts was also possible but not guaranteed. 

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