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K-12 Education

Heather C. Hill, Virginia S. Lovison.

In recent decades, U.S. education leaders have advocated for more intellectually ambitious mathematics instruction in classrooms. Evidence about whether more ambitious mathematics instruction has filtered into contemporary classrooms, however, is largely anecdotal. To address this issue, we analyzed 93 lessons recorded by a national random sample of middle school mathematics teachers. We find that lesson quality varies, with the typical lesson containing some elements of mathematical reasoning and sense-making, but also teacher-directed instruction with limited student input. Lesson quality correlates with teachers’ use of a textbook and with teachers’ mathematical background. We consider these findings in light of efforts to transform U.S. mathematics instruction.

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Joshua B. Gilbert, James S. Kim, Luke W. Miratrix.

Analyses that reveal how treatment effects vary allow researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to better understand the efficacy of educational interventions. In practice, however, standard statistical methods for addressing Heterogeneous Treatment Effects (HTE) fail to address the HTE that may exist within outcome measures. In this study, we present a novel application of the Explanatory Item Response Model (EIRM) for assessing what we term “item-level” HTE (IL-HTE), in which a unique treatment effect is estimated for each item in an assessment. Results from data simulation reveal that when IL-HTE are present but ignored in the model, standard errors can be underestimated and false positive rates can increase. We then apply the EIRM to assess the impact of a literacy intervention focused on promoting transfer in reading comprehension on a digital formative assessment delivered online to approximately 8,000 third-grade students. We demonstrate that allowing for IL-HTE can reveal treatment effects at the item-level masked by a null average treatment effect, and the EIRM can thus provide fine-grained information for researchers and policymakers on the potentially heterogeneous causal effects of educational interventions.

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Jeremy Singer.

After near-universal school closures in the United States at the start of the pandemic, lawmakers and educational leaders made plans for when and how to reopen schools for the 2020-21 school year. Educational researchers quickly assessed how a range of public health, political, and demographic factors were associated with school reopening decisions and parent preferences for in-person and remote learning. I review this body of literature, to highlight what we can learn from its findings, limitations, and influence on public discourse. Studies consistently highlighted the influence of partisanship, teachers’ unions, and demographics, with mixed findings on COVID-19 rates. The literature offers useful insight and requires more evidence, and it highlights benefits and limitations to rapid research with large-scale quantitative data.

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Jing Liu, Emily Penner, Wenjing Gao.

Teachers' sense-making of student behavior determines whether students get in trouble and are formally disciplined. Status categories, such as race, can influence perceptions of student culpability, but the degree to which this contributes to racial disproportionality in discipline receipt is unknown. This study provides the  first systematic documentation of teachers' use office discipline referrals (ODRs) in a large, diverse urban school district in California that specifies the identity of both the referred and referring individuals in all ODRs. We identify teachers exhibiting extensive referral behavior, or the top 5% referrers based on the number of ODRs they make in a given year and evaluate their contributions to disciplinary disparities. We find that "top referrers" effectively double the racial gaps in ODRs for both Black-White and Hispanic-White comparisons. These gaps are mainly driven by higher numbers of ODRs issued for Black and Hispanic students due to interpersonal offences and defiance, and also partially convert to racial gaps in suspensions. Both the level and racial compositions of the school sites where "top referrers" serve and their personal traits seem to explain some of their frequent referring behavior. Targeting supports and interventions to "top referrers" might afford an important opportunity to reduce racial disciplinary gaps.

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Brendan Bartanen, Aliza N. Husain, David D. Liebowitz.

School principals are viewed as critical mechanisms by which to improve student outcomes, but there remain important methodological questions about how to measure principals' effects. We propose a framework for measuring principals' contributions to student outcomes and apply it empirically using data from Tennessee, New York City, and Oregon. We find that using contemporaneous student outcomes to assess principal performance is flawed. Value-added models misattribute to principals changes in student performance caused by factors that principals minimally control. Further, little to none of the variation in average student test scores or attendance is explained by persistent effectiveness differences between principals.

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Michael Dinerstein, Isaac M. Opper.

What happens when employers would like to screen their employees but only observe a subset of output? We specify a model in which heterogeneous employees respond by producing more of the observed output at the expense of the unobserved output. Though this substitution distorts output in the short-term, we derive three sufficient conditions under which the heterogenous response improves screening efficiency: 1) all employees place similar value on staying in their current role; 2) the employees' utility functions satisfy a variation of the traditional single-crossing condition; 3) employer and worker preferences over output are similar. We then assess these predictions empirically by studying a change to teacher tenure policy in New York City, which increased the role that a single measure -- test score value-added -- played in tenure decisions. We show that in response to the policy teachers increased test score value-added and decreased output that did not enter the tenure decision. The increase in test score value-added was largest for the teachers with more ability to improve students' untargeted outcomes, increasing their likelihood of getting tenure. We find that the endogenous response to the policy announcement reduced the screening efficiency gap -- defined as the reduction of screening efficiency stemming from the partial observability of output -- by 28%, effectively shifting some of the cost of partial observability from the post-tenure period to the pre-tenure period.

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Dan Goldhaber, Zeyu Jin, Richard Startz.

We present new estimates of the importance of teachers in early grades for later grade outcomes, but unlike the existing literature that examines teacher “fade-out,” we directly compare the contribution of early-grade teachers to later year outcomes against the contributions of later year teachers to the same later year outcomes. Where the prior literature finds that much of the contribution of early teachers fades away, we find that the contributions of early-year teachers remain important in later grades. The difference in contributions to eighth-grade outcomes between an effective and ineffective fourth-grade teacher is about half the difference among eighth-grade teachers. The effect on eighth-grade outcomes of replacing a fourth-grade teacher who is below the 5th percentile with a median teacher is about half the underrepresented minority (URM)/non-URM achievement gap. Our results reinforce earlier conclusions in the literature that teachers in all grades are important for student achievement.

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Stephen B. Holt, Katie Vinopal, Heasun Choi, Lucy C. Sorensen.
While a growing body of literature has documented the negative impacts of exclusionary punishments, such as suspensions, on academic outcomes, less is known about how teachers vary in disciplinary behaviors and the attendant impacts on students. We use administrative data from North Carolina elementary schools to examine the extent to which teachers vary in their use of referrals and investigate the impact of more punitive teachers on student attendance and achievement. We also estimate the effect of teachers' racial bias in the use of referrals on student outcomes. We find more punitive teachers increase student absenteeism and reduce student achievement. Moreover, more punitive teachers negatively affect the achievement of students who do not receive disciplinary sanctions from the teacher. Similarly, while teachers with racial bias in the use of referrals do not negatively affect academic outcomes for White students, they significantly increase absenteeism and reduce achievement for Black students. We find the negative effects of both more punitive and more biased teachers persist into middle school and beyond. The results suggest punitive disciplinary measures do not aid teachers in productively managing classrooms; rather, teachers taking more punitive stances may undermine student engagement and learning in both the short- and long- run. Furthermore, bias in teachers' referral usage contributes to inequities in student outcomes.

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Dan Goldhaber, John Krieg, Stephanie Liddle, Roddy Theobald.

Prior work on teacher candidates in Washington State has shown that about two thirds of individuals who trained to become teachers between 2005 and 2015 and received a teaching credential did not enter the state’s public teaching workforce immediately after graduation, while about one third never entered a public teaching job in the state at all. In this analysis, we link data on these teacher candidates to unemployment insurance data in the state to provide a descriptive portrait of the future earnings and wages of these individuals inside and outside of public schools. Candidates who initially became public school teachers earned considerably more, on average, than candidates who were initially employed either in other education positions or in other sectors of the state’s workforce. These differences persisted at least 10 years into the average career and across transitions into and out of teaching. There is therefore little evidence that teacher candidates who did not become teachers were lured into other professions by higher compensation. Instead, the patterns are consistent with demand-side constraints on teacher hiring during this time period that resulted in individuals who wanted to become teachers taking positions that offered lower wages but could lead to future teaching positions.

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Zeyu Xu, Ben Backes.

In this descriptive study, we use longitudinal student-level administrative records from 4 cohorts of high school graduates in Kentucky to examine the extent to which students persist and attain post-secondary credentials in the CTE fields of concentration they choose in high school. To our knowledge, this is the first paper to use student-level administrative data to examine how different fields of concentration in high school CTE are related to future postsecondary outcomes. We find that concentrating in a particular CTE field in high school is associated with both continuing on with that same field in college and obtaining a postsecondary credential in that field; this relationship is especially strong in health fields and especially for women in health. The secondary-postsecondary connection is the weakest among students concentrating in occupational fields in high school, who are also the most disadvantaged socioeconomically and academically before high school. Despite the existence of secondary-postsecondary pipelines of career interests, most students enroll and obtain credentials in fields that are different from the field of concentration in high school. In addition, relative to students with similar pre-high-school achievement as measured by grades and test scores, we find that CTE concentration in high school is strongly associated with being more likely to enroll in a two-year college and less likely to enroll in a four-year college.

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