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K-12 Education

Sade Bonilla, Alexander Thim.

In this study, we examine an at-scale effort to encourage the formation of career pathways in California, with the goal of estimating the initiative’s causal effects on community college enrollment. We leverage a discontinuous assignment rule used to award grant funds to obtain credibly causal estimates of an ambitious $500 million effort to expand and establish career and technical education pathways between K-12 and community colleges. The competitive grant application process used a standardized rubric, and those receiving a score above a predetermined threshold were awarded funding (i.e., treatment group) while those just below received no funding (i.e., control group), allowing for a regression discontinuity (RD) design. We found that successful grantees did not experience overall enrollment increases in postsecondary partnerships; however, there were enrollment increases of 13.5 percent to 14.8 percent in CTE health sector courses, the program targeted the most for expansion. Manufacturing, and information communication technology, the other programs with the most expanded offerings, experienced no increases in postsecondary enrollment. The enrollment increases for the health sector were concentrated amongst female students in line with earlier findings by Bonilla (2020) documenting reductions in high school dropout rates for female students. These findings suggest that partnerships between K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions may be a viable avenue for increasing alignment between enrollment and high- growth sectors.

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Christopher Redding, Kelley A. Taksier.

Stagnating teacher salaries and the widening gap between public school teachers and similar workers have led to growing concerns that teachers will seek out additional employment—possibly impacting their instructional practice in the process. Using data from the Schools and Staffing Survey and the National Teacher and Principal Survey from 1994–2021, we show that teacher multiple jobholding has been remarkably stable over time. When examining the predictors of multiple jobholding, we find a high degree of variation across the timing, focus, and setting of teachers’ additional work. Using regression analysis, we show that teachers who work an additional job have lower turnover rates, with the exception of teachers who work outside of school, who leave teaching at higher rates.

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Emily Morton, Paul Thompson, Megan Kuhfeld.

Four-day school weeks are becoming increasingly common in the United States, but their effect on students’ achievement is not well-understood. The small body of existing research suggests the four-day schedule has relatively small, negative average effects (~-0.02 to -0.09 SD) on annual, standardized state test scores in math and reading, but these studies include only a single state or are limited by using district-level data. We conduct the first multi-state, student-level analysis that estimates the effect of four-day school weeks on student achievement and a more proximal measure of within-year growth using NWEA MAP Growth assessment data. We conduct difference-in-differences analyses to estimate the effect of attending a four-day week school relative to attending a five-day week school. We estimate significant negative effects of the schedule on spring reading achievement (-0.07 SD) and fall-to-spring achievement gains in math and reading (-0.06 SD in both). The negative effects of the schedule are disproportionately larger in non-rural schools than rural schools and for female students, and they may grow over time. Policymakers and practitioners will need to weigh the policy’s demonstrated negative average effects on achievement in their decisions regarding how and if to implement a four-day week.

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Clemence Darriet, Lucrecia Santibanez.

Purpose. Bilingual programs in the United States, particularly two-way dual language immersion (TWDL) programs, have been implemented since the 1960s to support the education of English Learner-classified (EL-classified) and language minoritized students. Over the past decade, TWDL programs have grown significantly across the United States. This study examines TWDL program growth in Los Angeles Unified School District, exploring the relationships between program expansion and neighborhood change, enrollment declines, and school choice. These factors have been linked to decreased access to these programs for language minoritized students. Research Methods/Approach. We descriptively examine the neighborhood characteristics of TWDL schools over a 22-year period using publicly available school, census, and housing data, and investigate the relationship between these factors and TWDL emergence. Findings. We find that of the three factors we explored, enrollment change (specifically declining enrollment) and the existence of nearby charter schools are two factors most likely to be associated with TWDL program emergence. We find little evidence that TWDL are primarily emerging in gentrifying contexts. Implications. This study helps us understand general, decade-long trends of TWDL program expansion and dispersion in a district undergoing many of the phenomena described in the literature on this topic.

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C. Kirabo Jackson.

This paper presents new evidence on the benefits of decentralization in public education, focusing on a Chicago policy that granted school principals more control over budgeting and operations. Meta-analysis of similar policies shows a small average effect with significant variation across settings. To explain this heterogeneity, I adopt theories from public finance, contract theory and psychology that suggest that the impact of autonomy depends on motivation effects, principal objectives, and the alignment between district and school choices. In event-study models, on average, increased school-level control improved math and English passing rates by about four percentage points (0.1σ), comparable to interventions costing over $1,000 per pupil but achieved at nearly zero cost. Affected schools also see reduced principal turnover and improved school climate, indicating increased stability and effort. Deconvolution-based analysis of the distribution of true effects reveals a range from zero at the 20th percentile to a ten percentage-point increase at the 80th percentile (approximately 0.2σ). I provide design-based evidence supporting the theoretical literature: (a) High-quality principals with a track record of strong test score growth experience more positive autonomy effects – underscoring the role of local capacity and well-aligned incentives. (b) Schools with atypical student populations benefit more from autonomy and allocate resources to services tailored to their student’s specific needs – indicating that heterogeneity plays a key role.

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Jesse Bruhn, Christopher Campos, Eric Chyn.

We study the distributional effects of remote learning. Our approach combines newly collected data on parental preferences with administrative data from Los Angeles. The preference data allow us to account for selection into remote learning while also studying selection patterns and treatment effect heterogeneity. We find a negative average effect of remote learning on reading (–0.14σ) and math (–0.17σ). Notably, we find evidence of positive learning effects for children whose parents have the strongest demand for remote learning. Our results suggest an important subset of students who currently sort into post-pandemic remote learning benefit from expanded choice.

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Jane Friesen, Brian Krauth, Brett Wilmer.

We use linked individual-level data on school enrollment, physician services received, and prescription medications to measure the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated disruptions on mental health treatment received by adolescents in British Columbia. We also investigate whether these effects are mediated by socioeconomic status and schooling mode. The results suggest substantial increases for non-Indigenous English home language girls in treatment for depression/anxiety, ADHD, eating disorders and other mental health conditions. Indigenous and non-English home language girls also show increases in treatment for depression/anxiety, and Indigenous girls show increases in treatment for ADHD. In contrast, boys show no change or even reductions in treatment for most mental health conditions. These effects vary somewhat by socioeconomic status, but we find no evidence that they vary substantially by schooling mode.

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Shirin A. Hashim, Thomas Kelley-Kemple, Mary E. Laski.

We propose a new method for estimating school-level characteristics from publicly available census data. We use a school’s location to impute its catchment area by aggregating the nearest n census block groups such that the number of school-aged children in those n block groups is just over the number of students enrolled in that school. We then weight census data by the number of school-aged children in the block-group to estimate school-level measures. We conduct several robustness checks to assess the quality of our estimates and find that our method is broadly successful in replicating known school-level characteristics and producing unbiased estimates for school-level income. This method expands the available set of school-level variables to the broader and richer set of characteristics measured in the census, which can then be used to conduct descriptive and observational research across a long time horizon.

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Jian Zou.

Little is known about the impact of peer personality on human capital formation. This paper studies the peer effect of persistence, a personality trait that reflects perseverance when facing challenges and setbacks, on student achievement. Exploiting student-classroom random assignments in middle schools in China, I find having more persistent peers improves in student achievement. The effects are prominent in students with high and medium baseline persistence. I find three mechanisms: (i) students’ own persistence and self-disciplined behaviors increase; (ii) teachers become more responsible/patient and spend more time on teaching preparation; and (iii) endogenous friendship networks consisting of more academically successful peers and fewer disruptive peers develop, particularly among students who share with similar levels of persistence.

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David Figlio, Krzysztof Karbownik, Umut Özek.

Public policies often target individuals but within-family externalities of such interventions are understudied. Using a regression discontinuity design, we document how a third grade retention policy affects both the target children and their younger siblings. The policy improves test scores of both children while the spillover is up to 30% of the target child effect size. The effects are particularly pronounced in families where one of the children is disabled, for boys, and in immigrant families. Candidate mechanisms include improved classroom inputs and parental school choice.

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