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K-12 Education

Henning Finseraas, Ole Henning Nyhus, Kari Vea Salvanes, Astrid Marie Jorde Sandsør.

Recent research suggests that using additional teachers to provide small-group instruction or tutoring substantially improves student learning. However, treatment effects on test scores can fade over time, and less is known about the lasting effects of such interventions. We leverage data from a Norwegian large-scale field experiment to examine the effects of small-group instruction in mathematics for students aged 7-9. This intervention shares many features with other high-impact tutoring programs, with some notable exceptions: instruction time was kept fixed, it had a lower dosage, and it targeted students of all ability levels. The latter allows us to assess fadeout across the ability distribution. Previous research on this intervention finds positive short-run effects. This paper shows that about 60% of the effect persists 3.5 years later. The effect size and degree of fadeout are surprisingly similar across the ability distribution. The study demonstrates that small-group instruction in mathematics successfully targets student performance and that effects can be sustained over time.

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S. Michael Gaddis, Charles Crabtree, John B. Holbein, Steven Pfaff.

Correspondence audits document causal evidence of racial/ethnic discrimination in many contexts. However, few studies have examined whether local political party voting context influences individuals to engage in “stakeholder-centric” discrimination on behalf of or in response to expectations of others. We examine heterogeneity in racial/ethnic discrimination by the county-level Republican vote share with a correspondence audit of 52,792 K-12 public-school principals across 33 states. We email principals posing as parents considering a move to the school district and requesting a meeting. We find evidence that the county-level Republican vote share strongly moderates racial/ethnic discrimination against Black and Chinese American families. While all groups are less likely to receive a response from principals as the Republican vote share increases, the declines for Black and Chinese American families are largest. Thus, discrimination against Black and Chinese American families is sizable in counties with the highest Republican vote share. These findings shed light on how partisanship can shape the experiences of historically marginalized groups. Furthermore, there may be benefits to targeting limited resources to geographies where discrimination is more likely to occur.

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Seth B. Hunter, Katherine M. Bowser.

We extend teacher evaluation research by estimating a reformed evaluation system's plausibly causal average effects on rural student achievement, identifying the settings where evaluation works, and incorporating evaluation expenditures. That the literature omits these contributions is concerning as research implies it hinders evidence-based teacher evaluation policymaking for rural districts, which outnumber urban districts. We apply a difference-in-differences framework to Missouri administrative data. Missouri districts could design and maintain reformed systems or outsource these tasks for a small fee to organizations like the Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE), an evaluation system created for rural users. NEE does not affect student achievement on average but it improves math, and possibly reading, achievement in rural schools where the average student's prior-year achievement score is below the state average or the average teacher's years of experience are below the state average.

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Jeremy Singer.

Educational policymakers, leaders, and researchers are paying increasing attention to student attendance and chronic absenteeism, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though researchers have documented the consequences and causes of absenteeism, there is limited empirical evidence about what schools and districts are actually doing to improve attendance. This study presents evidence about the types of attendance practices that forty-seven high-absenteeism districts in Michigan are planning and implementing. I draw on a combination of quantitative and qualitative data from principal surveys, case studies, observations, and school improvement plans. In the 2022-23 school year, principals reported using communication practices, incentives, and to an extent providing resources to address barriers to attendance. In improvement plans, districts planned to create new organizational infrastructure and hire new personnel, with less emphasis on specific practices. These findings highlight a reliance on communication-based strategies and limited existing organizational infrastructure for addressing attendance. Though these districts have planned to develop new attendance systems and practices, it is unclear whether they will substantially reduce absenteeism, since they do not substantially address social and economic inequalities at the root of high absenteeism rates. I conclude with recommendations for monitoring new attendance practices, addressing root causes, and avoiding counterproductive practices.

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Umut Özek.

Public policies targeting individuals based on need often impose disproportionate burden on communities that lack the resources to implement these policies effectively. In an elementary school setting, I examine whether community-level interventions focusing on similar needs and providing resources to build capacity in these communities could improve outcomes by improving the effectiveness of individual-level interventions. I find that the extended school day policy that targets lowest-performing schools in reading in Florida significantly improved the effectiveness of the third-grade retention policy in these schools. These complementarities were large enough to close the gap in retention effects between targeted and higher-performing schools.

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David Blazar.

Black teachers are critical resources for our children and schools. Pairing experimental data with rich measures of teacher mindsets and practices and varied student outcomes, I document that: (1) Black teachers in upper-elementary grades have large effects on the self-efficacy and classroom engagement of their Black students (0.7 and 0.8 SD) but not for non-Black students, potentially driven by role modeling; (2) race-matching effects on Black students’ social-emotional learning explain a moderate to large share of effects on more distal outcomes, including absences and test scores; (3) Black teachers also benefit the test scores (0.2 SD) and absences (over 20% decrease) of all students—no matter their race/ethnicity—that often persist many years later into high school; and (4) in addition to potential role-modeling channels, Black teachers bring unique mindsets and practices to their work (e.g., preparation for and differentiated instruction, growth mindset beliefs, well-organized classrooms) that mediate a moderate to large share of their effects on student outcomes. These findings help bridge the quantitative “teacher like me” literature with theoretical discussion and qualitative exploration on why Black teachers matter.

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Paul T. von Hippel.

Educational researchers often report effect sizes in standard deviation units (SD), but SD effects are hard to interpret. Effects are easier to interpret in percentile points, but converting SDs to percentile points involves a calculation that is not transparent to educational stakeholders. We show that if the outcome variable is normally distributed, we can approximate the percentile-point effect simply by multiplying the SD effect by 37 (or, equivalently, dividing the SD effect by 0.027). For students in the middle three-fifths of a normal distribution, this rule of thumb is always accurate to within 1.6 percentile points for effect sizes of up to 0.8 SD. Two examples show that the rule can be just as accurate for empirical effects from real studies. Applying the rule to empirical benchmarks, we find that the least effective third of educational interventions raise scores by 0 to 2 percentile points; the middle third raise scores by 2 to 7 percentile points; and the most effective third raise scores by more than 7 percentile points.

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Rebecca J. Shmoys, Sierra G. McCormick, Douglas D. Ready.

Many school districts consider family preferences in allocating students to schools. In theory, this approach provides traditionally disadvantaged families greater access to high-quality schools by weakening the link between residential location and school assignment. We leverage data on the school choices made by over 233,000 New York City families to examine the extent to which the city’s school choice system fulfills this promise. We find that over-subscribed and high-quality schools enroll smaller proportions of students from traditionally disadvantaged families. We explore three mechanisms to explain this inequitable distribution: application timing, neighborhood stratification, and the architecture of the choice process itself. We find that all three mechanisms have a disequalizing influence and propose several policy shifts to address this inequality.

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Alvin Makori, Patricia Burch, Susanna Loeb.

High-impact tutoring has emerged as a primary school district investment for addressing learning loss that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. While existing research shows that high-impact tutoring is effective for accelerating student learning, this study examined the school-level facilitators and barriers to scaling high-impact tutoring. Situated in an urban traditional school district and an urban charter management organization, we collected survey and interview data from teachers and administrators to identify scaling challenges. Major barriers to scaling included time and space constraints, tutor supply and quality, updated data systems, and school level costs, while a key facilitator was teacher buy-in. We end the paper with recommendations for how districts can strategically grow their high-impact tutoring efforts.

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David M. Houston, Alyssa Barone.

What happens to public opinion when prominent partisan officials intervene in education policy debates? We analyzed the results of 18 survey experiments conducted between 2009 and 2021 with nationally representative samples of U.S. adults. Each experiment explored the effect of an endorsement of a specific education policy by a high-profile partisan official on the public’s attitudes toward that policy. Our results indicated that the engagement of such officials in education policy issues typically did little to move public opinion in the direction of the cue-giver’s preferred policies. Instead, the chief consequence was increased polarization among the public along partisan lines. A key exception applied to endorsements of policies that diverged from the traditional position of the cue-giver’s own party, which tended to shift aggregate public opinion modestly in favor of those policies. Such cross-party cues also had minor de-polarizing consequences.

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