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K-12 Education

Dillon Fuchsman, Tim R. Sass, Gema Zamarro.

Teacher turnover has adverse consequences for student achievement and imposes large financial costs for schools. Some have argued that high-stakes testing may lower teachers’ satisfaction with their jobs and could be a major contributor to teacher attrition. In this paper, we exploit changes in the tested grades and subjects in Georgia to study the effects of eliminating high-stakes testing on teacher turnover and the distribution of teachers across grades and schools. To measure the effect of testing pressures on teacher mobility choices we use a "difference-in-differences" approach, comparing changes in mobility over time in grades/subjects that discontinue testing vis-à-vis grades/subjects that are always tested. Our results show that eliminating testing did not have an impact on the likelihood of leaving teaching, changing schools within a district, or moving between districts. We only uncover small negative effects on the likelihood of grade switching. However, we do find relevant positive effects on retention of beginning teachers in the profession. In particular, the average probability of exit for teachers with 0-4 years of experience fell from 14 to 13 percentage points for teachers in grades 1 and 2 and from 14 to 11 percentage points in grades 6 and 7.

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Eric A. Hanushek.

States and localities cannot avoid dealing with issues of teacher compensation. Not only is it the largest budget item for most local governments, but it is the place of largest leverage for improving the quality of schools. Fortunately, consistent research evidence directly informs ways to optimize teacher compensation.

This research provides strong motivation for improving teacher compensation. First, it shows that teachers are paid significantly less than they could earn outside of teaching. Second, teacher salaries have been stagnant, largely because personnel budgets have been more directed toward increasing the number of educators and administrators than toward supporting teachers. But simply increasing pay without consideration of teacher effectiveness will not lead to improved student outcomes.

The economic status of both students and the nation as a whole could be dramatically improved with increases in school quality. But with pressures on public budgets—due importantly to the growing costs of public pensions and health benefits—personnel dollars will have to be used more strategically if our students are to compete internationally. Moreover, the nation has a substantial equity problem: achievement gaps have been constant for a half century despite a wide variety of federal, state, and local policies designed to address them.

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Corey A. DeAngelis, Christian Barnard.

The effects of competition from public charter schools on district school budget decisions are theoretically ambiguous. Competitive pressures could increase desired budget autonomy since they give district school leaders more flexibility; however, competition could decrease desired budget autonomy if district school leaders are generally risk-averse or if they believe that central office staff are in better positions to make school-level budget decisions. Competitive pressures could also increase or decrease changes in school-level spending depending on school leaders’ beliefs about how to efficiently allocate resources.

We randomly assign surveys to district school leaders in Texas in the 2019-20 school year to determine the effects of anticipated competition from public charter schools on reported desire for budget autonomy and expectations about future school-level spending decisions. We find the first experimental evidence to suggest that anticipated charter school competition has large negative effects on school leaders’ reported spending on certain categories of support staff, and reduces, or has no effect on, the reported desire for more school-level budget autonomy. The negative effects on spending for support staff tend to be larger for school leaders with more experience.

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Beth Schueler, Daniel Rodriguez-Segura.

Access to quality secondary schooling can be life-changing for students in developing contexts. In Kenya, entrance to such schools has historically been determined by performance on a high-stakes exam. Understandably then, preparation for this exam is a high priority for Kenyan families and educators. To increase the share of students gaining entry to these schools, some educational providers offer targeted instruction for students they believe have a chance of securing a spot. We experimentally evaluate the impact of these “symposia” programs—week-long, sleep-away camps where eighth grade students receive a burst of academic instruction from teachers selected based on merit. While similar models have been tested in the U.S., less is known about this intervention in developing settings. Our results suggest these programs are not particularly effective for the average nominated student relative to a typical week of school. However, we find large, positive effects among students attending schools from which few students are nominated for symposia. We provide suggestive evidence that this was because students from low- representation schools had less pre-camp practice test resources outside of school. The results have implications for program design and contribute to the growing literature on the effectiveness of appropriately targeted individualized instruction.

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Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, Zachary Peskowitz.

America's decentralized system of public school governance is premised on the assumption that the interests of voters who elect school boards will be aligned with the educational needs of students. We explore the plausibility of this assumption by comparing the demographic characteristics of voters and students across four states. Using official voter turnout records and rich microtargeting data, we document considerable demographic differences between voters who participate in school board elections and the students attending the schools that boards oversee, suggesting that the assumption is unlikely to describe reality in many settings. For example, we show that most majority-nonwhite districts in our sample have a majority-white electorate and that these electoral disparities are associated with racial achievement gaps. Our novel analysis provides important political context for considering the electoral incentives facing school boards and how these incentives shape the quality of public education.

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Carolyn Abott, Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, Zachary Peskowitz.

We use close tax elections to estimate the impact of school district funding increases on operational spending and student outcomes across seven states. Districts with passing levies directed new revenue toward support services and instructor salaries but did not increase teacher staffing levels. These districts eventually realized gains in student achievement and attainment. Our preferred estimates imply that increasing operational spending by $1,000 per pupil increased test scores by approximately 0.15 of a standard deviation and graduation rates by approximately 9 percentage points. There is some evidence of diminishing returns, as these effects are driven by districts below the median in spending per pupil. Based on research linking academic outcomes to earnings, we conclude that these spending increases were likely cost-effective.

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Helen F. Ladd, Mavzuna Turaeva.

We use information on the charter school choices made by North Carolina families, separately by race, who switched their child from a traditional public school (TPS) to a charter school in 2015-16 to explore how such choices affect racial segregation between schools and racial isolation within charter schools. We find that the movement of white switchers, but not minority switchers to charter schools increases racial segregation between schools. In addition, using a conditional logit model to estimate revealed preferences, we find that the value parents place on the racial composition of individual charter schools differs by the race and income of the switchers. As a result, even after we control for other valued aspects of charter schools -- such as distance from the previous traditional public school and the charter school’s mission, academic performance and services offered -- the differential preferences of the switchers leads to substantial racial isolation within charter schools.

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Megan Kuhfeld, James Soland.

A huge portion of what we know about how humans develop, learn, behave, and interact is based on survey data. Researchers use longitudinal growth modeling to understand the development of students on psychological and social-emotional learning constructs across elementary and middle school. In these designs, students are typically administered a consistent set of self-report survey items across multiple school years, and growth is measured either based on sum scores or scale scores produced based on item response theory (IRT) methods. While there is great deal of guidance on scaling and linking IRT-based large-scale educational assessment to facilitate the estimation of examinee growth, little of this expertise is brought to bear in the scaling of psychological and social-emotional constructs.  Through a series of simulation and empirical studies, we produce scores in a single-cohort repeated measure design using sum scores as well as multiple IRT approaches and compare the recovery of growth estimates from longitudinal growth models using each set of scores. Results indicate that using scores from multidimensional IRT approaches that account for latent variable covariances over time in growth models leads to better recovery of growth parameters relative to models using sum scores and other IRT approaches.

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James Soland, Megan Kuhfeld.

Survey respondents use different response styles when they use the categories of the Likert scale differently despite having the same true score on the construct of interest.  For example, respondents may be more likely to use the extremes of the response scale independent of their true score.  Research already shows that differing response styles can create a construct-irrelevant source of bias that distorts fundamental inferences made based on survey data.  While some initial studies examine the effect of response styles on survey scores in longitudinal analyses, the issue of how response styles affect estimates of growth is underexamined.  In this study, we conducted empirical and simulation analyses in which we scored surveys using item response theory (IRT) models that do and do not account for response styles, and then used those different scores in growth models and compared results.  Generally, we found that response styles can affect estimates of growth parameters including the slope, but that the effects vary by psychological construct, response style, and model used.

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Min Sun, Alec Kennedy, Susanna Loeb.

School Improvement Grants (SIG) represent one type of governments’ capacity-building investment to spur sustainable changes in America’s persistently under-performing public schools. This study examines both short- and long-run effects of the first two cohorts of SIG schools from two states and two urban districts across the country. Using dynamic event analyses, we observe that SIG showed larger effects in the second and third years of the intervention than the first year on 3-8th grade student test scores—a pattern of gradually increase over the course the intervention. These positive effects are largely sustained three or four years after the funding ended. In high schools, the SIG effects on 4-year graduation rates were steadily increasing throughout the period of six or seven years after the initial start of the intervention. These patterns of SIG effects mostly apply to each of the four locations, but the magnitude of effects varies across locations, suggesting differential implementations. Moreover, SIG effects on students of color or low-socioeconomic students are similar to, and sometimes a bit larger than, the overall SIG effects. We also conduct a variety of sensitivity and robustness checks.  Lastly, we discuss the policy implications of our findings on states’ continuing efforts of transforming public organizations and building their long-term capacity for better performance.

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