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K-12 Education

Jessica Lasky-Fink, Carly D. Robinson, Hedy Chang, Todd Rogers.

Many states mandate districts or schools notify parents when students have missed multiple unexcused days of school. We report a  randomized experiment (N = 131,312) evaluating the impact of sending parents truancy notifications modified to target behavioral barriers that can hinder effective parental engagement. Modified truancy notifications that used simplified language, emphasized parental efficacy, and highlighted the negative incremental effects of missing school reduced absences by 0.07 days compared to the standard, legalistic, and punitively-worded notification—an estimated 40% improvement over the standard truancy notification. This work illustrates how behavioral insights and randomized experiments can be used to improve administrative communications in education.

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Laura Bellows.

During the past fifteen years, immigration enforcement increased dramatically in the U.S. interior. There is a growing recognition that immigration enforcement in the U.S. interior has spillover effects onto U.S. citizens. I examine the impacts of a type of partnership between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement, 287(g) programs, on school engagement within North Carolina. In North Carolina, nine counties were approved to establish 287(g) programs, and another fifteen applied but were not approved to participate. I use a triple difference strategy in which I compare educational outcomes for different groups of students in these two sets of counties before and after activation of 287(g) programs. I find that 287(g) programs decrease school engagement by decreasing attendance. This effect appears to be driven by increases in chronic absenteeism (missing 15 or more days per year). In contrast, I observe no effect of 287(g) programs on achievement.

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Mark J. Chin, Lena Shi.
Given states’ balanced budget requirements, investment decisions often involve trade-offs between policymakers’ budget priorities. How does political party control affect investment decisions and outcomes? Using a regression discontinuity design based on close state elections between 1984-2013, we find that marginally Democratic legislatures spend more on higher education in states with higher unemployment and poverty rates. However, Democrats spend less on K-12 education, particularly in more liberal states. Democrats do not appear to decrease K-12 spending to increase higher education, but rather, to fund welfare. Gains in local revenue offset party differences in K-12 spending such that current expenditures in K-12 increase and student-teacher ratios decrease under Democrats, though not enough to change attendance rates. Increased welfare spending under Democrats appear consistent with their redistributive goals that also benefit their constituents, as health insurance coverage for non-White children also expand. Altogether our results indicate that policymakers make spending decisions while considering constituents’ needs and the availability of external budget sources.

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Dylan Lukes, Christopher Cleveland.

Between 1935-1940 the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) assigned A (minimal risk) to D (hazardous) grades to neighborhoods that reflected their "mortgage security" and visualized these grades on color-coded maps used by banks and other mortgage lenders to provide or deny home loans within residential neighborhoods. In this study, we leverage a spatial analysis of 144 HOLC-graded core-based statistical areas (CBSAs) to understand how historic HOLC maps relate to current patterns of school funding, racial diversity, and performance. We find districts and schools located today in historically redlined neighborhoods have less district-level per-pupil revenues, larger shares of Black and non-White student bodies, less diverse student populations, and worse average test scores relative to those located in A, B, and C neighborhoods. These nationwide results are consistent by region and when controlling for CBSA. Finally, we document a persistence in these patterns across time, with overall positive time trends regardless of HOLC grade but widening gaps between D vs. A, B, and C outcomes. These findings suggest that education policymakers need to consider the historical implications of redlining and past neighborhood inequality on neighborhoods today when designing modern interventions focused on improving life outcomes of students of color.

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Briana Ballis, Katelyn Heath.

Black students are about 1.5 times more likely to be receiving special education (SpEd) services relative to white students. While there is concern that this implies some black students are inappropriately placed in SpEd, the impacts of the disproportionate representation of minority students in SpEd remains unclear. Using administrative data from Texas, we find that capping black disproportionality led to small gains in high school completion and college attainment for black students in special and general education. Overall, our results suggest that reductions in SpEd misclassification among black students may serve to reduce gaps in later-life success across race.

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Rajeev Darolia, Andrew Sullivan.

There is no national consensus on how school districts calculate high school achievement disparities between students who experience homelessness and those who do not. Using administrative student-level data from a mid-sized public school district in the Southern United States, we show that commonly used ways of defining which students are considered homeless can yield markedly different estimates of the homelessness-housed student high school graduation gap. The key distinctions among homelessness definitions relate to how to classify homeless students who become housed and how to consider students who transfer out of the district or drop out of school. Eliminating housing insecurity-related achievement disparities necessitates understanding the link between homelessness and educational achievement; how districts quantify homelessness affects measured gaps.

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Bradley D. Marianno, Stefani R. Relles.

This case study offers an organizational perspective on the ways in which a collective bargaining agreement shaped the administrative functioning of schools within an urban district. The data demonstrate how rational choice assumptions failed to account for the everyday site interactions between principals and teachers. Using complexity theory as an analytic tool, the authors consider the interference of external pressures on a system defined by internal interdependence. Reforms that address the complexity of workplace conditions in K-12 contexts are offered.

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Melissa Arnold Lyon.

Although the Janus v. AFCSME (2018) decision fundamentally changed the institutional context for U.S. teachers’ unions by placing all public school teachers in a “Right to Work” (RTW) framework, little research exists to conceptualize the effects of such policies that hinder unionization. To fill this gap, I exploit the different timing across states in the passage of RTW policies in a differences-in-differences framework to identify how exposure to a RTW policy affects students, teachers, and education policymaking. I find that RTW policies lead to declines in teachers’ union power, but contrary to what many union critics have argued, I find that efforts to weaken unions did not result in political opportunities for education reforms nor did they improve student achievement outcomes.

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C. Kirabo Jackson, Claire Mackevicius.

We use estimates across all known "credibly causal" studies to examine the distributions of the causal effects of public K12 school spending on test scores and educational attainment in the United States. Under reasonable assumptions, for each of the 31 included studies, we compute the same parameter estimate. Method of moments estimates indicate that, on average, a $1000 increase in per-pupil public school spending (for four years) increases test scores by 0.044 standard deviations, high-school graduation by 2.1 percentage points, and college-going by 3.9 percentage points. The pooled averages are significant at the 0.0001 level. When benchmarked against other interventions, test score impacts are much smaller than those on educational attainment -- suggesting that test-score impacts understate the value of school spending. The benefits to capital spending increases take about five-to-six years to materialize, but after this, one cannot reject that the average marginal effects differ across capital and non-capital spending types. The marginal spending impacts are much less pronounced for economically advantaged populations. Consistent with a cumulative effect, the educational attainment impacts are larger with more years of exposure to the spending increase. Average impacts are similar across a wide range of baseline spending levels -- providing little evidence of diminishing marginal returns at current spending levels.

To speak to generalizability, we estimate the variability across studies attributable to effect heterogeneity (as opposed to sampling variability). This heterogeneity explains about 40 and 70 percent of the variation across studies for educational attainment and test scores, respectively, which allows us to provide a range of likely policy impacts. A policy that increases per-pupil spending for four years will improve test scores 92 percent of the time, and educational attainment even more often.  We find suggestive evidence consistent with small possible publication bias, but demonstrate that any effects on our estimates are minimal.

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Michael Gilraine, Odhrain McCarthy.

We show that fade out biases value-added estimates at the teacher-level. To do so, we use administrative data from North Carolina and show that teachers' value-added depend on the quality of the teacher that preceded them. Value-added estimators that control for fade out feature no such teacher-level bias. Under a benchmark policy that releases teachers in the bottom five percent of the value-added distribution, fifteen percent of teachers released using traditional techniques are not released once fade out is accounted for. Our results highlight the importance of incorporating dynamic features of education production into the estimation of teacher quality.  

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