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K-12 Education

Tomasz Gajderowicz, Maciej Jakubowski, Harry Anthony Patrinos, Sylwia Wrona.

The effect of school closures in the spring of 2020 on the math, science, and reading skills of secondary school students in Poland is estimated. The COVID-19-induced school closures lasted 26 weeks in Poland, one of Europe's longest periods of shutdown. Comparison of the learning outcomes with pre- and post-COVID-19 samples shows that the learning loss was equal to more than one year of study. Assuming a 45-year working life of the total affected population, the economic loss in future student earnings may amount to 7.2 percent of Poland’s gross domestic product.

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Ashley C. Craig, David C. Martin.

Does relaxing strict school discipline improve student achievement, or lead to classroom disorder? We study a 2012 reform in New York City public middle schools that eliminated suspensions for non-violent, disorderly behavior, replacing them with less disruptive interventions. Using a difference-in-differences framework, we exploit the sharp timing of the reform and natural variation in its impact to measure the effect of reducing suspensions on student achievement. Math scores of students in more-affected schools rose by 0.05 standard deviations relative to other schools over the three years after the policy change. Reading scores rose by 0.03 standard deviations. Only a small portion of these aggregate benefits can be explained by the direct impact of eliminating suspensions on students who would have been suspended under the old policy. Instead, test score gains are associated with improvements in school culture, as measured by the quality of student-teacher relationships and perceptions of safety at school. We find no evidence of trade-offs between students, with students benefiting even if they were unlikely to be suspended themselves.

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Kenneth K. Wong, Spencer Davis.

The Cobb Teaching & Learning System (CTLS) is a digital learning initiative developed for and by the Cobb County School District (CCSD) in Georgia. CTLS became a crucial initiative used by the district to maintain student academic progress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Adopting a mixed-methods approach, this case study seeks to analyze CTLS’s design and implementation, focusing on digital transformation and professional collaboration within CCSD. This case study highlights how CCSD maintains complete ownership in a customized digital learning initiative supported by technology providers.

CTLS’s success comes from its strategic partnership with external technology providers, most notably EdIncites, commitment to professional collaboration, investment in novel technologies, and focus on real-time data. Looking at district-by-district comparisons, Cobb’s level of achievement and learning recovery resembles that of higher performing suburban districts in Georgia as opposed to its closest geographically and demographically comparable peers. Furthermore, 2019-2022 testing data indicates that all GA Milestone End-Of-Course proficiency percentages have already exceeded a 2014 baseline. This suggests that CTLS played a central role in CCSD’s successful recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The overall response to the digital learning initiative from the end users that it is intended to serve has also been overwhelmingly positive. The initiative is now well-positioned to broaden learning opportunities across all schools and improve communication with parents and other stakeholders. CCSD’s experience in scaling CTLS offers useful lessons for districts that are ready to launch and to own their transformative digital learning environment.

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Valerie Bostwick, Christopher Severen.

We provide evidence that graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws, originally intended to improve public safety, impact human capital accumulation. Many teens use automobiles to access both school and employment. Because school and work decisions are interrelated, the effects of automobile-specific mobility restrictions are ambiguous. Using a novel triple-difference research design, we find that restricting mobility significantly reduces high school dropout rates and teen employment. We develop a multiple discrete choice model that rationalizes unintended consequences and reveals that school and work are weak complements. Thus, improved educational outcomes reflect decreased access to leisure activities rather than reduced labor market access.

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Adam D. Nowak, Frank Perrone, Patrick S. Smith.

Faced with decreasing funds and increasing costs, a growing number of school districts across the United States are switching to four-day school weeks (4DSWs). Although previously used only by rural districts, the policy has begun to gain traction in metropolitan districts. We examine homeowner, teacher, and student outcomes in one of the first metropolitan school districts to adopt the 4DSW. We find 2 to 4 percent home price declines relative to surrounding school districts, a 5 percent decrease in teacher retention for experienced teachers, and a 0.2 to 0.3 standard deviation decrease in student test scores. These results suggest the decision to adopt a 4DSW in a metropolitan setting should not be taken lightly.

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Robert M. Costrell, Josh B. McGee.

Current public pension funding policy has arguably failed on both theoretical and empirical grounds. The traditional actuarial approach elides the risk-return tradeoff at the heart of finance economics and has resulted in steadily rising contribution rates, instead of a sustainable steady state. We propose an economic reformulation of funding policy integrating: (1) steady-state determination of the expected contribution rate, based on an expected return on risky assets and a target funded ratio based on a low-risk discount rate for liabilities; (2) adjustment parameters to achieve convergence toward steady state; and (3) determination of target funded ratio based on policymakers’ revealed preference toward risk, by their choice of asset allocation under a simplified objective function.  This provides a new understanding of the basis for pre-funding, in which the perceived net benefits of risky investment may far outweigh the traditional Samuelsonian rationale.  Specifically, we find that convexity of the long-run risk-return relationship should lead more risk-tolerant policymakers to pursue higher target funded ratios.  We believe our analysis provides the basis for reformulating contribution policy in a way that better supports sustainability and more coherently conveys the tradeoffs consistent with finance economics, and as evaluated by policymakers.

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Courtney Bell, Jessalynn James, Eric S. Taylor, James H. Wyckoff.

We study the returns to experience in teaching, estimated using supervisor ratings from classroom observations. We describe the assumptions required to interpret changes in observation ratings over time as the causal effect of experience on performance. We compare two difference-in-differences strategies: the two-way fixed effects estimator common in the literature, and an alternative which avoids potential bias arising from effect heterogeneity. Using data from Tennessee and Washington, DC, we show empirical tests relevant to assessing the identifying assumptions and substantive threats—e.g., leniency bias, manipulation, changes in incentives or job assignments—and find our estimates are robust to several threats.

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Lauren Sartain, Silvana Freire, John Q. Easton, Briana Diaz.

Across an array of educational outcomes, evidence suggests that girls outperform boys on average. For example, in Chicago, ninth-grade girls earn math GPAs that are 0.29 points higher than boys on average. This paper examines explanations for this gap, such as girl-boy differences in academic preparation, behaviors and habits, and experiences in math classes. After accounting for these factors, the gender gap in math grades persists. We, then, examine the classroom-level conditions that reduce the gender gap in grades. The gap is smaller in more advanced courses like honors classes and geometry. Further, boys perform more similarly to girls in classes with male teachers. These findings highlight classroom conditions that are more conducive to the academic success of boys.

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Noman Khanani, Anastasia E. Raczek, Yan R. Leigh, Claire Foley, Mary E. Walsh, Eric Dearing.

Growing up in poverty presents numerous nonacademic barriers that impede academic progress for economically disadvantaged students (Duncan and Murnane, 2016). Because schools alone have limited capacity to address the systemic nature of economic inequalities that directly affects student outcomes, policymakers and researchers in recent years have increased calls for the use of comprehensive, integrated support models and wraparound services (Wasser Gish, 2019). Although research on the effects of such interventions has been mixed, evaluations of one model – City Connects – have found significant achievement gains for students who received the intervention in elementary school (Walsh et al., 2014). Given the need to understand the replicability of interventions beyond initial sites of implementation, we assessed the degree to which the intervention effect on math and English Language Arts (ELA) achievement in elementary and middle school replicates in a new site with an important geographical variation. Results from two-way fixed effects and event-study models suggest positive treatment effects of nearly half a standard deviation in both subjects following five years of implementation, supporting the replicability of City Connects.

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Michael S. Hayes, Jing Liu, Seth Gershenson.

Teachers affect a wide range of students’ educational and social outcomes, but how they contribute to students’ involvement in school discipline is less understood. We estimate the impact of teacher demographics and other observed qualifications on students’ likelihood of receiving a disciplinary referral. Using data that track all disciplinary referrals and the identity of both the referred and referring individuals from a large and diverse urban school district in California, we find students are about 0.2 to 0.5 percentage points (7% to 18%) less likely to receive a disciplinary referral from teachers of the same race or gender than from teachers of different demographic backgrounds. Students are also less likely to be referred by more experienced teachers and by teachers who hold either an English language learners or special education credential. These results are mostly driven by referrals for defiance and violence infractions, Black and Hispanic male students, and middle school students. While it is unclear whether these findings are due to variation in teachers’ effects on actual student behavior, variation in teachers’ proclivities to make disciplinary referrals, or a combination of the two, these results nonetheless suggest that teachers play a central role in the prevalence of, and inequities in, office referrals and subsequent student discipline.

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