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Inequality

Marcos A. Rangel, Ying Shi.

We study racial bias and the persistence of first impressions in the context of education. Teachers who begin their careers in classrooms with large black-white score gaps carry negative views into evaluations of future cohorts of black students. Our evidence is based on novel data on blind evaluations and non-blind public school teacher assessments of fourth and fifth graders in North Carolina. Negative first impressions lead teachers to be significantly less likely to over-rate but not more likely to under-rate black students’ math and reading skills relative to their white classmates. Teachers' perceptions are sensitive to the lowest-performing black students in early classrooms, but non-responsive to highest-performing ones. This is consistent with the operation of confirmatory biases. Since teacher expectations can shape grading patterns and sorting into academic tracks as well as students’ own beliefs and behaviors, these findings suggest that novice teacher initial experiences may contribute to the persistence of racial gaps in educational achievement and attainment.

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David M. Quinn.

A vast research literature documents racial bias in teachers’ evaluations of students.  Theory suggests bias may be larger on grading scales with vague or overly-general criteria versus scales with clearly-specified criteria, raising the possibility that well-designed grading policies may mitigate bias.  This study offers relevant evidence through a randomized web-based experiment with 1,549 teachers.  On a vague grade-level evaluation scale, teachers rated a student writing sample lower when it was randomly signaled to have a Black author, versus a White author.  However, there was no evidence of racial bias when teachers used a rubric with more clearly-defined evaluation criteria.  Contrary to expectation, I found no evidence that the magnitude of grading bias depends on teachers’ implicit or explicit racial attitudes.               

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Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman, Brett Fischer, Benjamin T. Skinner.

Tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs in the wake of the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, and a sizable share of these job losses may be permanent. Unemployment rates are particularly high among adults without a college degree. Recent state policy efforts have focused on increasing re-enrollment and credentialing among adults with some college but no degree (SCND); these efforts are likely to accelerate given the COVID-19 disruptions to the U.S. economy. Yet little is actually known about the background characteristics, academic experiences, or labor market trajectories of this population. Using data from the Virginia Community College System (VCCS), we provide the first detailed profile on the academic, employment, and earnings trajectories of the SCND population, and how these compare on key measures to VCCS graduates. We also develop a framework for prioritizing which segments of the SCND population states might target for re-enrollment and completion interventions. This framework may be particularly useful to states that need to fill critical workforce shortages in healthcare and other sectors or re-train their workforce in the wake of mass unemployment and economic disruption stemming from the COVID-19 crisis.

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David M. Houston, Michael B. Henderson, Paul E. Peterson, Martin R. West.

States and districts are increasingly incorporating measures of achievement growth into their school accountability systems, but there is little research on how these changes affect the public’s perceptions of school quality. We conduct a nationally representative online survey experiment to identify the effects of providing participants with information about their local school districts’ average achievement status and/or average achievement growth. In the control group, participants who live in higher status districts tend to grade their local schools more favorably. The provision of status information does not fundamentally alter this relationship. The provision of growth information, however, reshapes Americans’ views about educational performance. Once informed, participants’ evaluations of their local public schools better reflect the variation in district growth.

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David M. Quinn.

The “achievement gap” has long dominated mainstream conversations about race and education.  Some scholars warn that the discourse around racial gaps perpetuates stereotypes and promotes the adoption of deficit-based explanations that fail to appreciate the role of structural inequities.  I investigate through three randomized experiments.  Results indicate that a TV news story about racial achievement gaps (versus a control or counter-stereotypical video) led viewers to express more exaggerated stereotypes of Black Americans as lacking education (study 1: ES=.30 SD; study 2: ES=.38 SD) and may have increased viewers’ implicit stereotyping of Black students as less competent than White students (study 1: ES=.22 SD; study 2: ES=.12 SD, n.s.).  The video did not affect viewers’ explicit competence-related racial stereotyping, the explanations they gave for achievement inequalities, or their prioritization of ending achievement inequalities.  After two weeks, the effect on stereotype exaggeration faded.  Future research should probe how we can most productively frame educational inequality by race.

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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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Allison Atteberry, Andrew McEachin.

Summer learning loss (SLL) is a familiar and much-studied phenomenon, yet new concerns that measurement artifacts distorted canonical SLL findings create a need to revisit basic research on SLL. Though race/ethnicity and SES only account for about 4% of the variance in SLL, nearly all prior work focuses on these factors. We zoom out to the full spread of differential SLL and its contribution to students’ positions in the eighth grade achievement distribution. Using a large, longitudinal Northwest Evaluation Association dataset, we document dramatic variability in SLL. While some students actually maintain their school-year learning rate, others lose nearly all their school-year progress. Moreover, decrements are not randomly distributed—52% of students lose ground in all 5 consecutive years (ELA).

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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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