Search EdWorkingPapers by author, title, or keywords.
In response to widening achievement gaps and increased demand for post-secondary education, local and federal governments across the US have enacted policies that have boosted high school graduation rates without an equivalent rise in student achievement, suggesting a decline in academic standards. To the extent that academic standards can shape effort decisions, these trends can have important implications for human capital accumulation. This paper provides both theoretical and empirical evidence of the causal effect of academic standards on student effort and achievement. We develop a theoretical model of endogenous student effort that depends on grading policies, finding that designs that do not account for either the spread of student ability or the magnitude of leniency can increase achievement gaps. Empirically, under a research design that leverages variation from a statewide grading policy and school entry rules, we find that an increase in leniency mechanically increased student GPA without increasing student achievement. At the same time, this policy induced students to increase their school absences. We uncover stark heterogeneity of effects across student ability, with the gains in GPA driven entirely by high ability students and the reductions in attendance driven entirely by low ability students. These differences in responses compound across high school and ultimately widen long-term achievement gaps as measured by ACT scores.
Explaining the productivity paradox—the phenomenon where an introduction of information and communication technology (ICT) does not lead to improvements in labor productivity—is difficult, as changes in technology often coincide with adjustments to working hours and substitution of labor. I conduct a cluster-randomized trial in India to investigate the effects of a program that provides teachers with continuous training and materials, encouraging them to blend their instruction with high-quality videos. Teaching hours, teacher-to-student assignments, and the curriculum are held constant. Eleven months after its launch, I document negative effects on student learning in grades 9 and 10 in mathematics, and no effects in science. I also find detrimental effects on instructional quality, instructional practices, and student perceptions and attitudes towards mathematics and science. These findings suggest adjustment costs can serve as one explanation for the paradox.
This study contributes to the science of teaching reading by illustrating how a ubiquitous classroom practice – read alouds – can be enhanced by fostering teacher language practices that support students’ ability to read for understanding. This experimental study examines whether and to what extent providing structured teacher read aloud supplements in a social studies read aloud can allow students to leverage a familiar science schema and thereby positively impact reading comprehension outcomes. Treatment students received a single social studies read-aloud on the story of Apollo 11 with structured teacher read aloud supplements while control students received the same read-aloud story but without structured supplements. Effect sizes from hierarchical linear models indicated that students in the treatment condition significantly outperformed students in the control condition on four measures of domain-specific reading comprehension. Further exploratory analyses using structural equation modeling examined the extent that teacher language mediated the treatment effect. Results indicated that teachers going above and beyond the intervention script explained 67 percent of the treatment effect. Structured supplements for read alouds can help students see important connections between schemas, which ultimately aids in reading comprehension.
Does student-teacher match quality exist? Prior work has documented large disparities in teachers' impacts across student types but has not distinguished between sorting and causal effects as the drivers of these disparities. I propose a disparate value-added model and derive a novel measure of teacher quality---revealed comparative advantage---that captures the degree to which teachers affect student outcome gaps. Quasi-experimental changes in teaching staff show that the comparative advantage measure accurately predicts teachers’ disparate impacts: a teacher with a 1 standard deviation in revealed comparative advantage for black students increases black students' test scores by 1 standard deviation and has no effect on non-black students' test scores. Teacher removal and teacher-to-classroom re-allocation simulations show substantial efficiency and equity gains of considering teachers’ comparative advantage.
School board candidates supported by local teachers' unions overwhelmingly win and we examine the causes and consequences of the "teachers' union premium" in these elections. First, we show that union endorsement information increases voter support. Although the magnitude of this effect varies across ideological and partisan subgroups, an endorsement never hurts a candidate's prospects among any major segment of the electorate. Second, we benchmark the size of the endorsement premium to other well-known determinants of vote-choice in local elections. Perhaps surprisingly, we show the endorsement effect can be as large as the impact of shared partisanship, and substantially larger than the boost from endorsements provided by other stakeholders. Finally, examining real-world endorsement decisions, we find that union support for incumbents hinges on self-interested pecuniary considerations and is unaffected by performance in improving student academic outcomes. The divergence between what endorsements mean and how voters interpret them have troubling normative democratic implications.
Novice teachers improve substantially in their first years on the job, but we know remarkably little about the nature of this skill development. Using data from Tennessee, we leverage a feature of the classroom observation protocol that asks school administrators to identify an item on which the teacher should focus their improvement efforts. This “area of refinement” overcomes a key measurement challenge endemic to inferring from classroom observation scores the development of specific teaching skills. We show that administrators disproportionately identify two teaching skills when observing novice teachers: classroom management and presenting content. Struggling with classroom management, in particular, is linked to high rates of novice teacher attrition. Among those who remain, we observe subsequent improvement in these skills.
Targeted instruction is one of the most effective educational interventions in low- and middle-income countries, yet reported impacts vary by an order of magnitude. We study this variation by aggregating evidence from prior randomized trials across five contexts, and use the results to inform a new randomized trial. We find two factors explain most of the heterogeneity in effects across contexts: the degree of implementation (intention-to-treat or treatment-on-the-treated) and program delivery model (teachers or volunteers). Accounting for these implementation factors yields high generalizability, with similar effect sizes across studies. Thus, reporting treatment-on-the-treated effects, a practice which remains limited, can enhance external validity. We also introduce a new Bayesian framework to formally incorporate implementation metrics into evidence aggregation. Results show targeted instruction delivers average learning gains of 0.42 SD when taken up and 0.85 SD when implemented with high fidelity. To investigate how implementation can be improved in future settings, we run a new randomized trial of a targeted instruction program in Botswana. Results demonstrate that implementation can be improved in the context of a scaling program with large causal effects on learning. While research on implementation has been limited to date, our findings and framework reveal its importance for impact evaluation and generalizability.
Public schools are currently a source of major political conflict, specifically with regard to issues related to LGBT representation in the curriculum. We report on a large nationally representative survey of American households focusing on their views on what LGBT topics are and should be taught, and what LGBT-themed books should be assigned and available. We report results overall and broken down by demographic, partisan, and geographic variables. We find that Americans report that they largely do not know what topics are being taught in schools, but they do not think LGBT topics are being taught to elementary children. There is widespread opposition to teaching about LGBT issues in elementary school, with more mixed support in high school. Voters are much more opposed to LGBT-themed books being assigned to students than available to them. There are very large splits in attitudes toward LGBT issues in schools, especially along political and religious lines and across states and counties based on partisan lean. We discuss implications of these findings for education policy and urge greater understanding of Americans' views about controversial topics in the curriculum.