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Inequality

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Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman.

Recent work highlights the challenge of scaling evidence-based educational programs. We report on a randomized controlled trial of a financial incentive program designed to increase the efficacy of a national remote college advising initiative for high-achieving students. We find substantial positive effects of the program on student engagement with college advisors; applications to well-matched colleges and universities; and review of financial aid awards. Yet treated students were no more likely to enroll at higher-quality institutions. Student survey responses suggest that institutional admissions and affordability barriers, alongside student preferences to attend institutions closer to home, explain the lack of enrollment effects.

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

Correspondence audits document causal evidence of racial/ethnic discrimination in many contexts. However, few studies have examined whether local political party voting context influences individuals to engage in “stakeholder-centric” discrimination on behalf of or in response to expectations of others. We examine heterogeneity in racial/ethnic discrimination by the county-level Republican vote share with a correspondence audit of 52,792 K-12 public-school principals across 33 states. We email principals posing as parents considering a move to the school district and requesting a meeting. We find evidence that the county-level Republican vote share strongly moderates racial/ethnic discrimination against Black and Chinese American families. While all groups are less likely to receive a response from principals as the Republican vote share increases, the declines for Black and Chinese American families are largest. Thus, discrimination against Black and Chinese American families is sizable in counties with the highest Republican vote share. These findings shed light on how partisanship can shape the experiences of historically marginalized groups. Furthermore, there may be benefits to targeting limited resources to geographies where discrimination is more likely to occur.

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Benjamin L. Castleman, Denise Deutschlander, Gabrielle Lohner.

While Hispanic students represent the fasting-growing segment of the American school-age population, substantial gaps exist in college enrollment and Bachelor’s attainment between Hispanic and White and Asian students. Numerous factors contribute to these disparities and disproportionally affect Hispanic youth. In this paper, we contribute evidence on the impact of an intensive college advising program on Hispanic students’ college participation and degree attainment. We report on a multi-cohort randomized controlled trial of College Forward, which provides individualized advising from junior year of high school through college for a majority Hispanic, lower-income student population in Texas. Students who receive College Forward advising are 7.1 percentage points more likely to earn a Bachelor’s degree within 5 years of high school graduation; this effect appears largely driven by shifting high school graduates from the extensive margin of not going to college at all to instead enroll at four-year colleges and universities. Despite the costs associated with intensive advising programs like College Forward, back of the envelope calculations suggest that the benefit from increased college graduation induced by the program outweighs operating costs in less than three years following college completion.

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Umut Özek.

Public policies targeting individuals based on need often impose disproportionate burden on communities that lack the resources to implement these policies effectively. In an elementary school setting, I examine whether community-level interventions focusing on similar needs and providing resources to build capacity in these communities could improve outcomes by improving the effectiveness of individual-level interventions. I find that the extended school day policy that targets lowest-performing schools in reading in Florida significantly improved the effectiveness of the third-grade retention policy in these schools. These complementarities were large enough to close the gap in retention effects between targeted and higher-performing schools.

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Rebecca J. Shmoys, Sierra G. McCormick, Douglas D. Ready.

Many school districts consider family preferences in allocating students to schools. In theory, this approach provides traditionally disadvantaged families greater access to high-quality schools by weakening the link between residential location and school assignment. We leverage data on the school choices made by over 233,000 New York City families to examine the extent to which the city’s school choice system fulfills this promise. We find that over-subscribed and high-quality schools enroll smaller proportions of students from traditionally disadvantaged families. We explore three mechanisms to explain this inequitable distribution: application timing, neighborhood stratification, and the architecture of the choice process itself. We find that all three mechanisms have a disequalizing influence and propose several policy shifts to address this inequality.

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Takako Nomi, Michael Podgursky, Darrin DeChane.

This paper investigates patterns of racial/ethnic and gender gaps in post-secondary degree attainment trajectories by the levels of students’ pre-college academic preparation. We follow four cohorts of Missouri public high school freshmen for five years beyond on-time graduation among White, Black, and Hispanic male and female students. A composite measure of pre-college academic preparation is constructed based on test scores, GPA, attendance, and advanced course enrollment, which we label Academic Index (AI) and split students into AI Quintiles for analysis. We find large racial/ethnic gaps in AI, with the largest difference for Black male students, who are heavily concentrated in the lowest quintile. Gender gaps in academic readiness widen during high school. College enrollment is higher for Black male and female students near the average AI and below, but this advantage completely disappears for degree completion. Hispanic-White gaps emerge earlier than that of Black-White gaps as Hispanic students are less likely to graduate from high school and attend college. An important finding is that top-performing Black and Hispanic male students have much lower rates of degree completion than other top-performing students. Also, Black-White gaps are much wider in any degree attainment than in bachelor’s degree attainment, suggesting lower likelihood of completing a sub-bachelor degree among Black students. After controlling for academic preparation and the FRL status, bachelor’s degree attainment among Black and Hispanic female students are similar to, or higher than, that of White female students.

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Matthew A. Kraft, Sarah Novicoff.

We examine the fundamental and complex role that time plays in the learning process. We begin by developing a conceptual framework to elucidate the multiple obstacles schools face in converting total time in school into active learning time. We then synthesize the causal research and document a clear positive effect of additional time on student achievement typically of small to medium magnitude depending on dosage, use, and context. Further descriptive analyses reveal how large differences in the length of the school day and year across public schools are an underappreciated dimension of educational inequality in the United States. Finally, our case study of time loss in one urban district demonstrates the potential to substantially increase instructional time within existing constraints.

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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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