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K-12 Education

Alvaro Hofflinger, Paul T. von Hippel.

Debates in education policy draw on different theories about how to raise children’s achievement. The school competition theory holds that achievement rises when families can choose among competing schools. The school resource theory holds that achievement rises with school spending and resources that spending can buy. The family resources theory holds that children’s achievement rises with parental education and income. We test all three theories in Chile between 2002 and 2013, when reading and math scores rose by 0.2-0.3 standard deviations, while school competition, school resources, and family resources all increased. In a difference in differences analysis, we ask which Chilean municipalities saw the greatest increases in test scores. Test scores did not rise faster in municipalities with greater increases in competition, but did rise faster in municipalities with greater increases in school resources (teachers per student) and especially family resources (parental education, not income). Student grade point averages show similar patterns. Results contradict the school competition theory but fit the family resource theory and, to a lesser extent, the school resource theory.

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Matthew Kraft, John Papay, Olivia Chi.

We examine the dynamic nature of teacher skill development using panel data on principals’ subjective performance ratings of teachers. Past research on teacher productivity improvement has focused primarily on one important but narrow measure of performance: teachers’ value-added to student achievement on standardized tests. Unlike value-added, subjective performance ratings provide detailed information about specific skill dimensions and are available for the many teachers in non-tested grades and subjects. Using a within-teacher returns to experience framework, we find, on average, large and rapid improvements in teachers’ instructional practices throughout their first ten years on the job as well as substantial differences in improvement rates across individual teachers. We also document that subjective performance ratings contain important information about teacher effectiveness. In the district we study, principals appear to differentiate teacher performance throughout the full distribution instead of just in the tails. Furthermore, prior performance ratings and gains in these ratings provide additional information about teachers’ ability to improve test scores that is not captured by prior value-added scores. Taken together, our study provides new insights on teacher performance improvement and variation in teacher development across instructional skills and individual teachers.

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Ilana Umansky, Hanna Dumont.

Prior research has shown that EL classification is consequential for students, however, less is known about how EL classification impacts students’ outcomes. In this study, we examine one hypothesized mechanism: teacher perceptions. Using nationally-representative data (ECLS-K:2011), we use coarsened exact matching to estimate the effect of EL status on teachers’ perceptions of students’ skills in language arts, math, science, and social studies in kindergarten through second grade. We further explore whether that impact is moderated by instructional setting (bilingual versus English immersion). We find evidence that EL classification results in lower teacher perceptions across content areas and grade levels. This impact is, however, moderated by bilingual environments. This study adds to research on teacher perceptions and the effects of EL classification. 

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Andrew McEachin, Douglas L. Lauen, Sarah C. Fuller, Rachel M. Perera.

The vast majority of literature on school choice, and charter schools in particular, focus on attending an elementary or middle school and often focus on test scores or other proximal outcomes. Much less is known about the long-term effects of attending a charter high school. It is important to fill this information void for a few reasons. First, schools in general affect more than just students’ test scores. Second, high schools make up a larger share of the charter sector. Third, school choice depends on freely available information for parents and students to make informed decisions about where to attend, including potential long-term benefits. We add to the empirical research on charter school effects by using a doubly-robust regression-adjusted propensity score matching approach to evaluate the impacts of charter high school attendance on 9th grade behavioral outcomes and individuals propensity to commit crime and participate in elections as young adults in North Carolina, a state with a large and growing charter school sector.

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Gary T. Henry, Erica Harbatkin.

One in five schools loses its principal each year. Despite the prevalence of principal turnover, little empirical research has examined its effects on school outcomes. Because principal turnover may occur in response to or contemporaneous with a downturn in student achievement, the effect of a turnover is confounded with unobserved school-level factors. We employ a novel identification strategy that blocks each potential source of endogeneity to isolate plausibly causal effects of within- and between-year principal turnover. Using eight years of North Carolina administrative data from 2009-2018, we find that principal turnover is associated with significant decreases in student achievement and increases in teacher turnover. These effects are similar whether the turnover occurs over the summer or during the school year.

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Robert M. Costrell.

It has long been argued that cash balance (CB) pension plans offer a more equitable distribution of benefits than traditional final-average-salary (FAS) plans for teachers, particularly between short-termers and career teachers.   However, it has also been understood that the impetus for reform would come from fiscal distress, rather than a concern for equity.  In this paper I examine how the nation’s first CB plan for teachers, in Kansas, adopted under such conditions, has played out for the level and distribution of benefits and system costs, compared to the FAS plan it replaced.  My key findings are:  (1) employer-funded benefits were modestly reduced, despite the surface appearance of somewhat generous employer matches; (2) more importantly, the cost of the pension guarantee, which is off-the-books under standard actuarial accounting, was reduced quite substantially.  Thus, although much of the distributional benefit, originally put forth, did materialize, the primary gain for states considering reform may well be the reduction in the cost of risk-bearing.

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David M. Houston, Jeffrey R. Henig.

We conduct an online survey experiment in which participants are asked to imagine that they are parents moving to a new metropolitan area. They then choose between the five largest school districts in that area. All participants receive demographic data for each district. In addition, some participants are randomly assigned to receive average achievement and/or average growth data for each district. While there are strong relationships between student demographics and student achievement, the links between student demographics and student growth are much weaker. We find that, on average, the provision of growth data causes participants to choose less white and less wealthy districts. Moreover, the provision of both achievement and growth data causes participants to choose less white and less wealthy districts than the provision of achievement data alone.

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Amy Ellen Schwartz, Bryant Gregory Hopkins, Leanna Stiefel.

In the forty plus years since passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), special education has grown in the number of students and amount spent on services. Despite this growth, the academic performance of students with disabilities (SWDs) remains troubling low compared to general education students (GENs). To some extent, these differences reflect persistent underlying disabilities, but they may also reflect ineffective special education services. Does special education improve academic outcomes for students with disabilities? There is surprisingly little evidence to guide policy and answer this question. This paper provides an answer for the largest disability group, students with learning disabilities (LDs), using rich data from New York City public schools. Because the majority of LDs are classified after school entry, we observe outcomes both before and after classification, allowing us to gauge impact using within-student pre/post comparisons and, ultimately, student fixed effects in regression models exploring impacts. We find that academic outcomes improve for LDs following classification into special education, and impacts are largest for those entering special education in earlier grades. Results are robust to alternative specifications and falsification tests bolster confidence in a causal interpretation. Differences in impacts by gender and race/ethnicity, grade of classification, and settings shed light on possible mechanisms. 

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James Soland.

Research has begun to investigate whether teachers and schools are as effective with certain student subgroups as they are with the overall student population.  Most of this research has examined the issue by trying to produce causal estimates of school contributions to short-term student growth (usually using value-added models) and has emphasized rank orderings of schools by subgroup.  However, not much is known about whether schools contributing to long-term growth for all students are also contributing to student growth by subgroup in ways that might close achievement gaps.  In this study, schools’ contributions to student growth are estimated separately for Black versus White students.  Results show that focusing on rank orderings of schools alone can mask troubling trends in relative achievement over time.  Options for how policymakers can sensibly hold schools accountable for student growth, including under The Every Student Succeeds Act, are discussed.

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Allison Atteberry, Andrew McEachin.

The field is generally aware of the summer learning loss (SLL) phenomenon. However key characteristics of SLL are not broadly established. What proportion of students’ school-year gains are lost in the subsequent summer? Is the magnitude of SLL generally similar across students or across grades? We describe the role summers play in the end-of-schooling achievement disparities using a unique dataset that spans eight grades, 200 million test scores, 18 million students, 50 states, and school-years 2008-2016. On average, 19% of students’ pathways from their 1st to 8th grade test-score occur during summers. We show that—even if all inequality in school-year learning rates could be eliminated, students would still end school with very different achievement due to SLL alone.

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