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K-12 Education

Joshua B. Gilbert.

When analyzing treatment effects on test score data, education researchers face many choices for scoring tests and modeling results. This study examines the impact of those choices through Monte Carlo simulation and an empirical application. Results show that estimates from multiple analytic methods applied to the same data will vary because, as predicted by Classical Test Theory, two-step models using sum or IRT-based scores provide downwardly biased standardized treatment effect coefficients compared to latent variable models. This bias dominates any other differences between models or features of the data generating process, such as the variability of item discrimination parameters. An errors-in-variables (EIV) correction successfully removes the bias from two-step models. Model performance is not substantially different in terms of precision, standard error calibration, false positive rates, or statistical power. An empirical application to data from a randomized controlled trial of a second-grade literacy intervention demonstrates the sensitivity of the results to model selection and tradeoffs between model selection and interpretation. This study shows that the psychometric principles most consequential in causal inference are related to attenuation bias rather than optimal scoring weights.

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Lucy C. Sorensen, Montserrat Avila Acosta, John Engberg, Shawn D. Bushway.

U.S. public school students increasingly attend schools with sworn law enforcement officers present. Yet, little is known about how these school resource officers (SROs) affect school environments or student outcomes. Our study uses a fuzzy regression discontinuity (RD) design with national school-level data from 2014 to 2018 to estimate the impacts of SRO placement. We construct this discontinuity based on the application scores for federal school based policing grants of linked police agencies. We find that SROs effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools, but do not prevent gun-related incidents. We also find that SROs intensify the use of suspension, expulsion, police referral, and arrest of students. These increases in disciplinary and police actions are consistently largest for Black students, male students, and students with disabilities.

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Benjamin Cowan, Todd R. Jones, Jeffrey Swigert.

We demonstrate how mothers, fathers, and 15–17-year-old students alter their schedules around the K-12 academic year. Using regression discontinuity (RDD) methods, combined with dates on school year start and end dates by locality, we document several notable results. First, mothers are substantially more affected by the school year than are fathers. When school is in session, mothers sleep less, spend more time caring for family members and driving them around, and spend less time on eating, free time and exercise. Fathers see changes that are generally similar in sign but smaller in magnitude compared to mothers. 15–17-year-olds naturally reduce time spent in educational pursuits when school is out (a decrease of about 5.5 hours per day on weekdays), and most of that time is substituted toward free time (an additional 2+ hours per day) and sleep (1+ hours per day). Our results provide a holistic picture of how families build their days around the K-12 school calendar and have implications for policies targeted toward women’s and teenage children’s health and well-being.

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Erin W. Manuel, Camille N. Mikkelsen.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic and school disruption, both the federal and state government have sought to allocate needed funding to schools so they can provide adequate instruction and safe learning spaces to students in North Carolina. These funds, particularly the ESSER III funding through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, were provided to individual Public School Units (PSUs) based on applications identifying spending plans. These spending plans, submitted to the state before November 2021, include applications from 112 traditional Local Education Agencies (LEAs) and 177 charter PSUs. Using a mixed methods approach, both the quantitative and qualitative portions of this study independently attempt to identify patterns in the funding priorities of individual PSUs through the narrative in their funding applications, then compare the results to develop a more holistic understanding of these funding priorities. Overall, PSUs prioritized spending plans in the areas of technology, personnel, academic Covid-19 mitigation efforts (combating effects of lost opportunities to learn), and safety Covid-19 mitigation efforts (reducing viral spread and other projects to protect physical health and safety). In reviewing these applications and the results of both studies, we have developed several recommendations for mitigating the impact of the most recent school disruption and preparing for the next school disruption. These recommendations include re-evaluating enrichment programs, addressing the unique needs of various student populations, investing in quality education materials, developing research-based practices and strategies, growing professional networks between PSUs, and prioritizing the physical health and safety of students through regular maintenance of school structures.

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Mark J. Chin, Lena Shi.

In the U.S., state politicians directly influence legislation and budget decisions that can substantially affect public education spending and students. Does the political party of elected officials matter for these outcomes? We use a regression discontinuity design to analyze close house and gubernatorial elections from 1982 to 2016 and find that the impact of Democratic control of state government depends on whether elections occur during a presidential election year. On average, Democratic states spend less per capita on K-12 education. This trend, however, reverses when Democrats secure marginal control during off-cycle elections. Outside of presidential election years, we find increased state expenditures on both K-12 education and higher education. These increases coincided with smaller K-12 class sizes, relatively higher high school diploma rates, and expanded college enrollment. Our results highlight the importance of considering how federal political contexts influence the effects of state-level politics on education finance and outcomes.

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Ariana Audisio, Rebecca Taylor-Perryman, Tim Tasker, Matthew P. Steinberg.

Teachers are the most important school-specific factor in student learning. Yet, little evidence exists linking teacher professional development programs and the strategies or activities that comprise them to student achievement. In this paper, we examine a fellowship model for professional development designed and implemented by Leading Educators, a national nonprofit organization that aims to bridge research and practice to improve instructional quality and accelerate learning across school systems. During the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years, Leading Educators conducted its fellowship program for two cohorts of teachers and school leaders to provide these educators ongoing, collaborative, job-embedded professional development and to improve student achievement. Relying on quasi-experimental methods, we find that a school’s participation in the fellowship program significantly increased student proficiency rates in English language arts and math on state achievement exams. Student achievement benefitted from a more sustained duration of participation in the fellowship program, varied depending on the share of a school’s educators who participated in the fellowship, and differed based on whether fellows independently selected into the program or were appointed to participate by their school leaders. Taken together, findings from this paper should inform professional learning organizations, schools, and policymakers on the design, implementation, and impact of educator professional development.

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David Grissmer, Richard Buddin, Mark Berends, Daniel Willingham, Jamie DeCoster, Chelsea Duran, Chris Hulleman, William Murrah, Tanya Evans.

The Core Knowledge curriculum is a K-8 curriculum focused on building students General Knowledge about the world they live in that is hypothesized to increase reading comprehension and Reading/English-LA achievement. This study utilizes an experimental design to evaluate the long term effects of attending Charter schools teaching the Core Knowledge curriculum. Fourteen oversubscribed kindergarten lotteries for enrollment in nine Core Knowledge Charter schools using the curriculum had 2310 students applying from parents in predominately middle/high income school districts. State achievement data was collected at 3rd- 6th grade in Reading/English-LA and Mathematics and at 5th Grade in Science. A new methodology addresses two previously undiscovered sources of bias inherent in kindergarten lotteries that include middle/high income families. The unbiased confirmatory Reading-English-LA results show statistically significant ITT (0.241***) and TOT (0.473***) effects for 3rd-6th grade achievement with statistically significant ITT and TOT effects at each grade. Exploratory analyses also showed significant ITT (0.15*) and TOT (0.300*) unbiased effects at 5th grade in Science. A CK-Charter school in a low income school district also had statistically significant, moderate to large unbiased ITT and TOT effects in English Language Arts (ITT= 0.944**; TOT = 1.299**), Mathematics (ITT= 0.735*; TOT = 0.997*) and positive, but insignificant Science effects (ITT= 0.468; TOT = 0.622) that eliminated achievement gaps in all subjects.

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Andrew Camp, Gema Zamarro, Josh McGee.

Teachers' levels of stress and burnout have been high throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, raising concerns about a potential increase in teacher turnover and future teacher shortages. We examine how the COVID-19 pandemic affected teacher turnover in Arkansas from 2018-19 to 2022-23 using administrative data. We find no major changes in turnover entering the first two pandemic years, but a large increase of 5.3 percentage points (26%) entering the third year, with variation by teacher and student characteristics. We also find that increases in teacher turnover are related to instructional mode and that this turnover may partially be explained by the use of COVID-19 relief funds. Additionally, we find evidence that more effective teachers became more likely to leave the education sector after the pandemic as compared to before the pandemic. Our results suggest increased strain and reduced diversity and quality in the Arkansas teacher workforce and raise concerns about the long-term impacts that COVID-19 may have on its stability and quality.

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Wes Austin, Bengie Chen, Dan Goldhaber, Eric A. Hanushek, Kris Holden, Cory Koedel, Helen F. Ladd, Jin Luo, Eric Parsons, Gregory Phelan, Steven G. Rivkin, Tim Sass, Mavzuna Tureava.

Anecdotal evidence points to the importance of school principals, but the limited existing research has neither provided consistent results nor indicated any set of essential characteristics of effective principals. This paper exploits extensive student-level panel data across six states to investigate both variations in principal performance and the relationship between effectiveness and key certification factors. While principal effectiveness varies widely across states, there is little indication that regulation of the background and training of principals yields consistently effective performance. Having prior teaching or management experience is not related to our estimates of principal value-added.

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Jeremy Singer, Julie A. Marsh, David Menefee-Libey, Jacob Alonso, Dwuana Bradley, Hanora Tracy.

Purpose: Nearly all schools in the United States closed in spring 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. We analyze traditional public and charter school reopenings for the 2020-21 school year in five urban districts. We provide a rich and theoretically grounded description of how and why educational leaders made reopening decisions in each of our case districts.

Research Methods: We used data from a multiple-case study from March 2020 to July 2021. The research team conducted 56 interviews with school, district, and system-level leaders; triangulated with publicly available data; and also drew on interview data from a subsample of parents and guardians in each of our sites. We analyzed these data through qualitative coding and memo writing, and conducted detailed single- and cross-case analyses.

Findings:  School system leaders in our case sites generally consulted public health authorities, accounted for state-level health and educational guidance, and engaged with and were responsive to the interests of different stakeholders. Districts’ adherence to and strategic uses of public health guidance, as well as a combination of union-district relations and labor market dynamics, influenced reopening. Parents, city and state lawmakers, and local institutional conditions also played a role, helping to explain differences across cases.

Implications: In contrast to the “politics or science” framing that has dominated research and public discourse on school reopening, we show that local pandemic conditions and local political dynamics both mattered and in fact were interrelated. Our findings have some implications for how educational leaders might navigate future crises.

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