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K-12 Education

Sidrah Baloch, Thomas J. Kane, Ethan Scherer, Douglas O. Staiger.

Educators must balance the needs of students who start the school year behind grade level with their obligation to teach grade-appropriate content to all students. Educational software could help educators strike this balance by targeting content to students’ differing levels of mastery. Using a regression discontinuity design and detailed software log and administrative data, we compare two versions of an online mathematics program used by students in three education agencies. We find that although students assigned the modified curriculum did progress through content objectives more quickly than students assigned the default curriculum, they did not perform better on pre- and post-objective quizzes embedded in the software, and most never progressed far enough to reach the grade-level content. Furthermore, there was no statistically significant effect of the modified curriculum on formative test scores. These findings suggest policymakers and practitioners should exercise caution when assigning exclusively remedial content to students who start the school year behind grade level, even though this is a common feature of many math educational software programs.

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Ethan Scherer, Christopher Cleveland.

A growing body of research shows that students benefit when they are demographically similar to their teachers. However, less is known about how matching affects social-emotional development. We investigate the effect of teacher-student race and gender matching for middle school students in six charter management organizations. Using a student fixed effects strategy exploiting changes over time in the proportion of demographic matching in a school-grade, we estimate matching’s effect on self-reports of interpersonal and intrapersonal social-emotional skills, test scores, and behavioral outcomes. We find improvements for Black and female students in interpersonal self-management and grit when they are matched to demographically similar teachers. We also find demographic matching leads to reductions in absences for Black students and improved math test scores for females. Our findings add to the emerging teacher diversity literature by showing its benefits for Black and female students during a critical stage of social-emotional development in their lives.

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Brendan Bartanen, Andrew Kwok.

Strengthening teacher supply is a key policy objective for K12 public education, but understanding of the early teacher pipeline remains limited. We leverage the universe of applications to a large public university in Texas from 20092020 to examine the pipeline into teacher education and employment as a K12 public school teacher. A unique feature of Texas's centralized higher education application is it solicits potential interest in teacher certification. We document sharply declining interest in teaching over the period. Further, we show that nonwhite, male, and high-achieving students are substantially underrepresented in teacher education. Particularly for race/ethnicity, these disparities are only partially explained by differences in interest at application.

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Zid Mancenido.

Many teacher education researchers have expressed concerns with the lack of rigorous impact evaluations of teacher preparation practices. I summarize these various concerns as they relate to issues of internal validity, external validity, and measurement. I then assess the prevalence of these issues by reviewing 166 impact evaluations of teacher preparation practices published in peer-reviewed journals between 2002-2019. Although I find that very few studies address issues of internal validity, external validity and measurement, I highlight some innovative approaches and present a checklist of considerations to assist future researchers in designing more rigorous impact evaluations.

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Francisca M. Antman, Kalena E. Cortes.

We present the first quantitative analysis of the impact of ending de jure segregation of Mexican-American school children in the United States by examining the effects of the 1947 Mendez v. Westminster court decision on long-run educational attainment for Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites in California. Our identification strategy relies on comparing individuals across California counties that vary in their likelihood of segregating and across birth cohorts that vary in their exposure to the Mendez court ruling based on school start age. Results point to a significant increase in educational attainment for Hispanics who were fully exposed to school desegregation.

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Jeanne Lafortune, Todd Pugatch, José Tessada, Diego Ubfal.

We study the short-run effects of a gamified online entrepreneurship training offered to high school students in Rwanda during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using a randomized controlled trial, we estimate sizeable effects of the 6-week training on entrepreneurial activity. One month after the training, participants in schools offered the training were much more likely to own a business than participants in control schools. The training induced students to participate more actively in their school's business club, to undertake more business-oriented actions, to improve their business practices, and to interact more with other youth and family members about their business ideas. We hypothesize that the training might have motivated treated students to sustain their business activities during the COVID-19 crisis.

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Jane Arnold Lincove, Catherine Mata, Kalena E. Cortes.

High school exit exams are meant to standardize the quality of public high schools and to ensure that students graduate with a set of basic skills and knowledge. Evidence suggests that a common perverse effect of exit exams is an increase in dropout for students who have difficulty passing tests, with a larger effect on minority students. To mitigate this, some states offer alternative, non-tested pathways to graduation for students who have failed their exit exams. This study investigates the post-secondary effects of an alternative high school graduation program. Among students who initially fail an exit exam, those who eventually graduate through an alternative project-based pathway have lower college enrollment, but similar employment outcomes to students who graduate by retaking and passing their exit exams. Compared to similar students who fail to complete high school, those students who take the alternative pathway have better post-secondary outcomes in both education and employment.

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S. Michael Gaddis, Joseph Murphy.

Scholarly debate focuses on whether cultural capital reproduces existing inequalities or provides a path to upward mobility. Most research, however, focuses only on cross-sectional associations and is unclear about how disadvantaged adolescents can increase their amounts of cultural capital. Traditionally, most adolescents’ interactions with adults occur across two axes of socialization: families and schools. Families provide opportunities to increase cultural capital
while schools value and reward cultural capital. Thus, if adolescents do not obtain cultural capital through their families, they may be at a significant disadvantage when navigating the education system. We hypothesize that adolescents may be able to increase cultural capital through valuable social capital access and exposure – their ties to and meeting frequency with other important adults with knowledge of the education system. We investigate this topic using
experimental longitudinal data on mentoring relationships. We find that high levels of social capital access and exposure positively affect cultural capital, but only for adolescents with highly educated parents. Our findings suggest that cultural capital may not be an engine of social mobility if adolescents from low-SES households cannot acquire or increase their cultural capital.

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Sarah Ausmus Smith, Ron Zimmer.

Over the past fifty years, school districts have consolidated in an effort to achieve economies of scale. While the determinants and effects of district mergers on operations have been studied (Gordon and Knight 2006; Duncombe and Yinger 2007; Jones et al 2008), the impact on communities has not. In small towns, schools not only educate, but also provide stable employment and are a cornerstone for community engagement and local identity. In this article, we examine whether district mergers have adverse effects on the community at large. We evaluate the effects of rural school district consolidations on town population size, number of schools, and property values using a propensity score matched difference-in-differences design, leveraging a 2003 Arkansas state law requiring reorganization using an enrollment cutoff. We estimate that the reform led to reductions in population, community schools, and property value assessments.

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Virginia S. Lovison, Cecilia H. Mo.

While investing in the teacher workforce is central to improving schools, school resources are notoriously limited, forcing school leaders to make difficult decisions on how to prioritize funds. This paper examines a critical input to resource allocation decisions: teacher preferences. Using an original, online discrete choice survey experiment with a national sample of 1,030 U.S. teachers, we estimate how much teachers value different features of a hypothetical teaching job. The findings show that (a) teachers value access to special education specialists, counselors, and nurses more than a 10% salary increase or 3-student reduction in class size, (b) investments in school counselors and nurses are strikingly cost-effective, as the value teachers alone place on each of these support roles far exceeds the per teacher cost of funding these positions, and (c) teachers who are also parents treat a 10% salary increase and a child care subsidy of similar value as near perfect substitutes. These novel estimates of teachers’ willingness to pay for student-based support professionals challenge the idea that inadequate compensation lies at the root of teacher workforce challenges and illustrate that reforms that exclusively focus on salary as a lever for influencing teacher mobility (e.g. transfer incentives) may be poorly aligned to teachers’ preferences.

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