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K-12 Education

Matt Grossmann, Sarah Reckhow, Katharine Strunk, Meg Turner.

The COVID-19 pandemic created enormous challenges for public education. We assess the role of political factors and public health in state and local education decisions, especially the continuation of learning during COVID-19. Using an original dataset of state education policies since the start of the pandemic, we find that governors took the lead on ordering school closures in Spring 2020 but left decisions to districts in the Fall, regardless of partisanship. Partisanship played a much stronger role in local decisions than state decisions. We analyze local district reopening plans and public opinion on reopening in the politically competitive state of Michigan. Partisanship was much more associated with district reopening plans than COVID-19 rates. Republicans in the Michigan public were also far more favorable than were Democrats toward in-person learning. States' decisions to leave reopening plans to their districts opened the way for students’ experiences to be shaped by their area's partisanship.

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Lina M. Anaya, Gema Zamarro.

International assessments are important to benchmark the quality of education across countries. However, on low-stakes tests, students’ incentives to invest their maximum effort may be minimal. Research stresses that ignoring students’ effort when interpreting results from low-stakes assessments can lead to biased interpretations of test performance across groups of examinees. We use data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a low-stakes test, to analyze the extent to which student effort helps to explain test scores heterogeneity across countries and by gender groups. Our results highlight the importance of accounting for differences in student effort to understand cross-country heterogeneity in performance and variations in gender achievement gaps across nations. We find that, once we account for differential student effort across gender groups, the estimated gender achievement gap in math and science could be up to 12 and 6 times wider, respectively, and up to 49 percent narrower in reading, in favor of boys. In math and science, the gap widens in most countries, even among some of the top 20 most gender-equal countries. Altogether, our effort measures on average explain between 36 and 40 percent of the cross-country variation in test scores.

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Helen F. Ladd, Edward B. Fiske.

Because of the many special characteristics of charter schools, policy makers who aim to promote a system of charters schools that ensures fair access to, and fair treatment of, disadvantaged students will need a public accountability system oriented, at least in part, to equity concerns. Massachusetts, with its single statewide authorizer, as well as its system of periodic site visits to schools and specific performance criteria, illustrates such a system. In this paper, we first explain why an equity-oriented approach is important. We then describe and evaluate the Massachusetts approach, with particular attention to the information provided by the periodic site visits. Although Massachusetts does not fully succeed with all its charter schools, especially with respect to fair treatment, it is hard to make the case that charter schools will be beneficial for disadvantaged students in the absence of an accountability system of this type.

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Eric Brunner, Ben Hoen, Joshua Hyman.

We examine the impact of wind energy installation on school district finances and student achievement using data on the timing, location, and capacity of the universe of U.S. installations from 1995 through 2017. Wind energy installation substantially increased district revenues, causing large increases in capital outlays, but only modest increases in current spending, and little to no change in class sizes or teacher salaries. We find zero impact on student test scores. Using administrative data from Texas, the country’s top wind energy producer, we find zero impact of wind energy installation on high school completion and other longer-run student outcomes.

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Michela Carlana, Eliana La Ferrara.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the governments of most countries ordered the closure of schools, potentially exacerbating existing learning gaps. This paper evaluates the effectiveness of an intervention implemented in Italian middle schools that provides free individual tutoring online to disadvantaged students during lock-down. Tutors are university students who volunteer for 3 to 6 hours per week. They were randomly assigned to middle school students, from a list of potential beneficiaries compiled by school principals. Using original survey data collected from students, parents, teachers and tutors, we find that the program substantially increased students’ academic performance (by 0.26 SD on average) and that it significantly improved their socio-emotional skills, aspirations, and psychological well-being. Effects are stronger for children from lower socioeconomic status and, in the case of psychological well-being, for immigrant children.

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Seth Gershenson.

Teachers are among the most important school-provided determinants of student success. Effective teachers improve students’ test scores as well as their attendance, behavior, and earnings as adults. However, students do not enjoy equal access to effective teachers. This article reviews some of the key challenges associated with teacher policy confronted by school leaders and education policymakers, and how the tools of applied economics can help address those challenges. The first challenge is that identifying effective teachers is difficult. Economists use value-added models to estimate teacher effectiveness, which works well in certain circumstances, but should be just one piece of a multi-measure strategy for identifying effective teachers. We also discuss how different policies, incentives, school characteristics, and professional-development interventions can increase teacher effectiveness; this is important, as schools face the daunting challenge of hiring effective teachers, helping teachers to improve, and removing ineffective teachers from the classroom. Finally, we discuss the supply and mobility of teachers, including the consequences of teacher absenteeism, the distribution of initial teaching placements, and the characteristics and preferences of those who enter the profession.

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Diana Leyva, Christina Weiland, Anna Shapiro, Gloria Yeomans-Maldonado, Angela Febles.

Food routines play a special role in Latino families. Using a cluster randomized trial with 248 children (M age = 67 months) from 13 schools, this study investigated the impact of a four-week family program designed to capitalize on food routines in improving Latino kindergarteners’ outcomes in the U.S. There were moderate-to-large impacts on child vocabulary (especially food-related) at end-of-treatment and the five-month follow-up, and suggestive evidence of moderate impacts on approaches to learning (including approaches to learning math) and executive function at the five-month follow-up. There were no statistically significant impacts on children’s math or literacy skills. A strengths-based, culturally responsive family intervention that is integrated into Latino family life can improve critical skills needed to succeed in school.

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Appendix298.65 KB

Josh B. McGee, Jonathan Mills, Jessica Goldstein.

School district consolidation is one of the most widespread education reforms of the last century, but surprisingly little research has directly investigated its effectiveness. To examine the impact of consolidation on student achievement, this study takes advantage of a policy that requires the consolidation of all Arkansas school districts with enrollment of fewer than 350 students for two consecutive school years. Using a regression discontinuity model, we find that consolidation has either null or small positive impacts on student achievement in math and English Language Arts (ELA). We do not find evidence that consolidation in Arkansas results in positive economies of scale, either by reducing overall cost or allowing for a greater share of resources to be spent in the classroom.

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Sarah Guthery, Lauren P. Bailes.

This study investigates the influence of principal tenure on the retention rates of the teachers they hire over time. We analyzed the hiring practices and teacher retention rates of 11,717 Texas principals from 1999 to 2017 employing both individual and year fixed effects. Main findings indicate that a principal who stays in the same school for at least three years begins to hire teachers who stay to both three- and five-year benchmarks at increasingly higher rates. However, the average Texas principal leaves a school after four years and while we do find small positive gains in the initial retention rates of teachers at the next school, the majority of principal improvement in teacher retention does not appear to be portable.

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Drew H. Bailey, Greg J. Duncan, Richard J. Murnane, Natalie Au Yeung.

A survey targeting education researchers conducted in November, 2020 provides predictions of how much achievement gaps between low- and high-income students in U.S elementary schools will change as a result of COVID-related disruptions to in-class instruction and family life. Respondents were asked to suppose that the pre-COVID achievement gap was 1.00 standard deviations. The median forecast for the jump in math achievement in elementary school by spring, 2021 was very large – a change from 1.00 to 1.30 standard deviations. The predicted increase in reading achievement gaps (a change from 1.00 to 1.25 standard deviations) was nearly as large. This implies that many teachers will face classrooms of students with much more heterogeneous learning needs in the fall of the 2021-22 school year than usual. We gauged predictions for the success of efforts by teachers and other educators to make up for lost ground by asking for predictions of achievement gaps in the spring of 2022. Few of the respondents to our survey thought that achievement gaps would revert to their pre-COVID levels. In fact, median predictions of achievement gaps fell very modestly– from 1.30 to 1.25 standard deviations for math and from 1.25 to 1.20 standard deviations for reading. We discuss some implications of these predictions for school district strategies (e.g., tutoring and other skill- building programs focused on individual students) to reduce learning gaps exacerbated by the pandemic.

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