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K-12 Education

Emily Morton.

Four-day school weeks have proliferated across the United States in recent years, reaching over 650 public school districts in 24 states as of 2019, but little is known about the effects of the four-day school week on high school students. This study uses district-level panel data from Oklahoma and a difference-in-differences research design to provide the first estimates of the causal effect of the four-day school week on high school students’ ACT scores, attendance, and disciplinary incidents during school. Results indicate that four-day school weeks decrease per-pupil bullying incidents by approximately 31% and per-pupil fighting incidents by approximately 27%, but have no detectable effect on other incident types, ACT scores, or attendance.

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Heather C. Hill, Anna Erickson.

Poor program implementation constitutes one explanation for null results in trials of educational interventions. For this reason, researchers often collect data about implementation fidelity when conducting such trials. In this article, we document whether and how researchers report and measure program fidelity in recent cluster-randomized trials. We then create two measures—one describing the level of fidelity reported by authors and another describing whether the study reports null results—and examine the correspondence between the two. We also explore whether fidelity is influenced by study size, type of fidelity measured and reported, and features of the intervention. We find that as expected, fidelity level relates to student outcomes; we also find that the presence of new curriculum materials positively predicts fidelity level.

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Ishtiaque Fazlul, Cory Koedel, Eric Parsons.

Free and reduced-price meal (FRM) eligibility is commonly used in education research and policy applications as an indicator of student poverty. However, using multiple data sources external to the school system, we show that FRM status is a poor proxy for poverty, with eligibility rates far exceeding what would be expected based on stated income thresholds for program participation. This is true even without accounting for community eligibility for free meals, although community eligibility has exacerbated the problem in recent years. Over the course of showing the limitations of using FRM data to measure poverty, we provide promising validity evidence for a new, publicly-available measure of school poverty based on local-area family incomes.

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Rachel M. Perera.

Using newly available data on all civil rights complaints submitted to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights related to racial discrimination in discipline between 1999 and 2018, I provide the first systematic evidence on how modern federal civil rights enforcement is used to address racial discrimination in discipline. I find that less than 50 percent of complaints received each year result in a federal investigation. I also find that 70 to 80 percent of investigations are closed due to insufficient evidence of a civil rights violation. Results also suggest that districts with higher shares of minoritized students, higher levels of segregation, and districts with larger racial educational gaps are more likely to receive a civil rights complaint after controlling for other district factors.

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Beth E. Schueler, Joshua Bleiberg.

Local school boards have primary authority for running educational systems in the U.S. but little is known empirically about the merits of this arrangement. State takeovers of struggling districts represent a rare alternative form of educational governance and have become an increasingly common response to low performance. However, limited research explores whether this effectively improves student outcomes. We track all takeovers nationwide from the late 1980s, when the first takeovers occurred, through 2016 and describe takeover districts. While these districts are low performing, we find academic performance plays less of a role in predicting takeover for districts serving larger concentrations of African American students. We then use a new data source allowing for cross-state comparisons of student outcomes to estimate the effect of takeovers that occurred between 2011 and 2016. On average, we find no evidence that takeover generates academic benefits. Takeover appears to be disruptive in the early years of takeover, particularly to English Language Arts achievement, although the longer-term effects are less clear. We also observe considerable heterogeneity of effects across districts. Takeovers were least effective in districts with higher baseline achievement and least harmful in majority Latinx communities. Leaders should be cautious about using takeover without considering local context and a better understanding of why some takeovers are more effective than others.

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Darryl V. Hill, Rodney P. Hughes, Matthew A. Lenard, David D. Liebowitz, Lindsay C. Page.

Policy makers periodically consider using student assignment policies to improve educational outcomes by altering the socio-economic and academic skill composition of schools. We exploit the quasi-random reassignment of elementary and middle-school students across schools in the Wake County Public School System to estimate the academic and behavioral effects of being reassigned to a different school and, separately, of shifts in peer characteristics. We restrict our identification of peer effects to those students whom the district does not select to switch schools. We rule out all but substantively small effects of transitioning to a different school as a result of reassignment on test scores, course grades and chronic absenteeism. In contrast, increasing the achievement levels of students' peers improves students' math and ELA test scores but harms their ELA course grades. Test score benefits accrue primarily to students from higher-income families, though students with lower family-income or lower prior performance still benefit. Our results suggest that student assignment policies that relocate students to avoid the over-concentration of lower-achieving students or those from lower-income families can accomplish equity goals (despite important caveats); though these gains may reduce achievement for students from higher-income backgrounds.

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Thurston Domina, Deven Carlson, James S. Carter III, Matthew A. Lenard, Andrew McEachin, Rachel Perera.

Many public school diversity efforts rely on reassigning students from one school to another. While opponents of such efforts articulate concerns about the consequences of reassignments for students’ educational experiences, little evidence exists regarding these effects, particularly in contemporary policy contexts. Using an event study design, we leverage data from an innovative socioeconomic school desegregation plan to estimate the effects of reassignment on reassigned students’ achievement, attendance, and exposure to exclusionary discipline. Between 2000 and 2010, North Carolina’s Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) reassigned approximately 25 percent of students with the goal of creating socioeconomically diverse schools. Although WCPSS’s controlled school choice policy provided opportunities for reassigned students to opt out of their newly reassigned schools, our analysis indicates that reassigned students typically attended their newly reassigned schools. We find that reassignment modestly boosts reassigned students’ math achievement, reduces reassigned students’ rate of suspension, and has no offsetting negative consequences on other outcomes. Exploratory analyses suggest that the effects of reassignment do not meaningfully vary by student characteristics or school choice decisions. The results suggest that carefully designed school assignment policies can improve school diversity without imposing academic or disciplinary costs on reassigned students.

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Paul von Hippel.

In an effort to reduce viral transmission, many schools are planning to reduce class size if they have not reduced it already. Yet the effect of class size on transmission is unknown. To determine whether smaller classes reduce school absence, especially when community disease prevalence is high, we merge data from the Project STAR randomized class size trial with influenza and pneumonia data from the 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System on deaths from pneumonia and influenza.

Project STAR was a block-randomized trial that followed 10,816 Tennessee schoolchildren from kindergarten in 1985-86 through third grade in 1988-89. Children were assigned at random to small classes (13 to 17 students), regular-sized classes (22 to 26 students), and regular-sized class with a teacher’s aide.

Mixed effects regression showed that small classes reduced absence, but not necessarily by reducing infection. In particular, small classes reduced absence by 0.43 days/year (95% CI -0.06 to -0.80, p<0.05), but had no significant interaction with pneumonia and influenza mortality (95% CI -0.27 to +0.30, p>0.90). Small classes, by themselves, may not suffice to reduce the spread of viruses.

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John Papay, Matthew A. Kraft, Jessalynn James.

Numerous high-profile efforts have sought to “turn around” low-performing schools. Evidence on the effectiveness of school turnarounds, however, is mixed, and research offers little guidance on which models are more likely to succeed. We present a mixed-methods case study of turnaround efforts led by the Blueprint Schools Network in three schools in Boston. Using a difference-in-differences framework, we find that Blueprint raised student achievement in ELA by at least a quarter of a standard deviation, with suggestive evidence of comparably large effects in math. We document qualitatively how differential impacts across the three Blueprint schools relate to contextual and implementation factors. In particular, Blueprint’s role as a turnaround partner (in two schools) versus school operator (in one school) shaped its ability to implement its model. As a partner, Blueprint provided expertise and guidance but had limited ability to fully implement its model. In its role as an operator, Blueprint had full authority to implement its turnaround model, but was also responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the school, a role for which it had limited prior experience.

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Lindsey Rose Bullinger, Maithreyi Gopalan, Caitlin Lombardi.

Empirical evidence demonstrates that publicly funded adult health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has had positive effects on low-income adults. We examine whether the ACA’s Medicaid expansions influenced child development and family functioning in low-income households. We use a difference-in-differences framework that exploits cross-state policy variation, and focus on children in low-income families from a nationally representative, longitudinal sample followed from kindergarten to fifth grade. The ACA Medicaid expansions improved children’s reading test scores by approximately 2 percent (0.04 SD). Potential mechanisms for these effects within families are more time spent reading at home, less parental help with homework, and eating dinner together. We find no effects for children’s math test scores or socioemotional skills.

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