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K-12 Education

Yujie Sude, Patrick J. Wolf.

Private school choice policies have been enacted and expanded across the United States since the 1990s. By January 2021, 30 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico hosted 67 distinct private school choice policies. Why have some states adopted and expanded this education reform while others have demurred? Which states are more likely to adopt specific types of private school choice initiatives in the coming years? We present the results of an exploratory empirical analysis examining which state-level political, economic, and educational factors predict past policy decisions regarding the enactment and expansion of private school choice in 49 states from 2000 to 2016. The results from our most preferred statistical model further predict which states are more and less likely to take action towards such policies in subsequent years. The political factors involving Republican control of the governorship and legislature, prevalence of minority students in the K-12 population, and share of private school enrollment in the state prove to be highly predictive factors in school choice adoption. The economic factor of a comparatively low state per-capita GDP also consistently predicts school choice policy adoption in our models.

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David Blazar, Francisco Lagos.

Studies consistently show benefits of teacher-student race/ethnicity matching, with some suggestion that these effects are driven by role modeling. We explore this hypothesis by examining effects on the educational outcomes of Black and Hispanic students for exposure to same-race/ethnicity professional staff (e.g., administrators, counselors), with whom students interact less frequently and directly than with their teachers. Exploiting within-student and within-school variation in statewide data from Maryland, we find that increased shares of same-race/ethnicity professionals results in increased test scores, and decreased suspensions and absences for Black and Hispanic students. We also find that exposure to non-White school staff leads to improved outcomes for these students, whether or not they are from the same racial/ethnic group.

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M. Danish Shakeel, Paul E. Peterson.

Principals (policymakers) disagree as to whether U. S. student performance has changed over the past half century. To inform conversations, agents administered seven million psychometrically linked tests in math (m) and reading (rd) in 160 survey waves to national probability samples of cohorts born between 1954 and 2007. Estimated change in standard deviations (sd) per decade varies by agent (m: -0.10sd to 0.27sd, rd: -0.02sd to 0.12sd). Consistent with Flynn effects, median trends show larger gains in m (0.19sd) than rd (0.04sd), though rates of progress for cohorts born since 1990 have increased in rd but slowed in m. Greater progress is shown by students tested at younger ages (m: 0.31sd, rd: 0.08sd) than when tested in middle years of schooling (m: 0.17sd, rd: 0.03sd) or toward end of schooling (m: 0.06sd, rd: 0.02sd). Young white students progress more slowly (m: 0.28sd, rd: 0.09sd) than Asian (m: 46sd, rd: 0.28sd), black (m: 0.36sd, rd: 0.19sd) and Hispanic (m: 0.29sd, rd: 0.13sd) students. These ethnic differences generally attenuate as students age. Young students in the bottom quartile of the SES distribution show greater progress than those in the top quartile (difference in m: 0.08sd, in rd: 0.15sd), but the reverse is true for older students. Moderators likely include not only changes in families and schools but also improvements in nutrition, health care, and protection from contagious diseases and environmental risks. International data suggest that subject and age differentials may be due to moderators more general than just the United States.

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David Blazar.

There is broad consensus across academic disciplines that access to same-race/ethnicity teachers is a critical resource for supporting the educational experiences and outcomes of Black, Hispanic, and other students of color. While theoretical and qualitative lines of inquiry further describe a set of teacher mindsets and practices aligned to “culturally responsive teaching” as likely mechanisms for these effects, to date there is no causal evidence on this topic. In experimental data where upper-elementary teachers were randomly assigned to classes, I find large effects upwards of 0.45 standard deviations of teachers of color on the short- and longer-term social-emotional, academic, and behavioral outcomes of their students. These average effects are explained in part by teachers’ growth mindset beliefs that student intelligence is malleable rather than fixed, interpersonal relationships with students and families, time spent planning for and differentiating instruction for individual students’ needs, and the extent to which teachers lead well-organized classrooms in which student (mis)behavior is addressed productively without creating a negative classroom climate.

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David Blazar, Doug McNamara, Genine Blue.

While teacher coaching is an attractive alternative to one-size-fits-all professional development, the need for a large number of highly skilled coaches raises potential challenges for scalability and sustainability. Collaborating with a national teacher training organization, our study uses administrative records to estimate the degree of heterogeneity in coach effectiveness at improving teachers’ instructional practice, and specific characteristics of coaches that explain these differences. We find substantial variability in effectiveness across individual coaches. The magnitude of the coach-level variation (0.2 to 0.35 standard deviations) is close to the full effect of coaching programs, as identified in other research. We also find that coach-teacher race/ethnicity-matching predicts changes in teacher practice, suggesting that the relational component of coaching is key to success.

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J. Cameron Anglum, Kenneth A. Shores, Matthew P. Steinberg.

In 2009, the federal government passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to combat the effects of the Great Recession and state revenue shortfalls, directing over $97 billion to school districts. In this chapter, we draw lessons from this distribution of fiscal stimulus funding to inform future federal intervention in school finance during periods of economic downturn. We find that district spending declined by $945 per pupil per year following the Great Recession, particularly after a stimulus funding cliff when ARRA funding declined. Spending declines varied more within than across states, while stimulus funding was directed to districts through pre-Recession state funding formulae which varied in their relative progressivity. Spending losses were greater in districts serving fewer shares of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch or special education services, in districts with higher-achieving students, and in districts with greater levels of spending prior to the Great Recession; declines were unassociated with district’s racial/ethnic composition, the share of English language learners, or a district’s reliance on state aid. We conclude by identifying different stimulus policy targets and with recommendations regarding the magnitude and distribution of future federal fiscal stimulus funding, lessons relevant to the COVID-19-induced recession and beyond.

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Joshua Bleiberg, Eric Brunner, Erica Harbatkin, Matthew A. Kraft, Matthew Springer.

Starting in 2009, the U.S. public education system undertook a massive effort to institute new high-stakes teacher evaluation systems. We examine the effects of these reforms on student achievement and attainment at a national scale by exploiting the staggered timing of implementation across states. We find precisely estimated null effects, on average, that rule out impacts as small as 1.5 percent of a standard deviation for achievement and 1 percentage point for high school graduation and college enrollment. We also find little evidence of heterogeneous effects across an index measuring system design rigor, specific design features, and district characteristics.

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Camila Morales.

Policy debate on refugee resettlement focuses on perceived adverse effects on local communities, with sparse credible evidence to ascertain its impact. This paper examines whether attending school with refugees affects the academic outcomes of non-refugee students. Leveraging variation in the share of refugees within schools and across grades, I find that increasing the share of grade-level refugees by 1 pp results in a 0.01 sd increase in average math scores. While I find no effect on average English Language Arts scores, using nonlinear-in-means specifications I estimate negative spillovers in ELA performance among low-achieving students and positive spillovers among high-achieving students.

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Walter G. Ecton, Shaun M. Dougherty.

High school Career and Technical Education (CTE) has received an increase in attention from both policymakers and researchers in recent years. This study fills a needed gap in the growing research base by examining heterogeneity within the wide range of programs falling under the broader CTE umbrella, and highlights the need for greater nuance in research and policy conversations that often consider CTE as monolithic. Examining multiple possible outcomes, including earnings, postsecondary education, and poverty avoidance, we find substantial differences in outcomes for students in fields as diverse as healthcare, IT, and construction. We also highlight heterogeneity for student populations historically overrepresented in CTE, and find large differences in outcomes for CTE students, particularly by gender.

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David M. Houston, Jeffrey R. Henig.

We examine the effects of disseminating academic performance data—either status, growth, or both—on parents’ school choices and their implications for racial, ethnic, and economic segregation. We conduct an online survey experiment featuring a nationally representative sample of parents and caretakers of children age 0-12. Participants choose between three randomly sampled elementary schools drawn from the same school district. Only growth information—alone and not in concert with status information—has clear and consistent desegregating consequences. Because states that include growth in their school accountability systems have generally done so as a supplement to and not a replacement for status, there is little reason to expect that this development will influence choice behavior in a manner that meaningfully reduces school segregation.

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