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K-12 Education

Robert P. Strauss.

This paper compares and contrasts two required building level school violence measures under NCLB, arrests and incidents of well-defined school misconduct acts, across 20 years of Pennsylvania’s approximately 3,000 public school buildings. Generally, both arrests for school violence and incidents of school violence are rare events. Over 20 years, the third quartile arrest rate was zero and, the third quartile incident rate was 3.3%. Relatively few, 4.1% overall, of Pennsylvania’s school buildings were persistently dangerous as defined and reported pursuant to Pennsylvania’s state plan to the US Department of Education; however, these buildings represented about 7.8% of the student population statewide. When we measure whether or not a school building is dangerous based on reported school violence incidents, that is without an arrest requirement, fully 36.9% of Pennsylvania’school buildings were dangerous, and they represented 46.7% of the students statewide. Both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh public school buildings were disproportionately unsafe and among the top 20 districts in the state which were unsafe over the 20 year study period.

Exploratory regression analysis of mean building scale scores for math and language arts explained about 58% of the variation in such learning outcome measures. As expected, household poverty, holding all else constant, has very strong, negative effects on learning outcomes. A school building composed entirely of low income students will score about 240 scale points lower, about 1.24 standard deviations lower, than a school building without any low income students. A school building at the 90th percentile in terms of student misconduct and poverty rates, would have lower student test scores by about 1 to 1.28 standard deviations. Were a school administrator to reduce student misconduct rates from the 90th percentile to the 50th percentile, our regression coefficients predict learning gains on the order of (100-43) = 2/3 of a standard deviation in mean scale scores.

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Sarah A. Cordes, Christopher Rick, Amy Ellen Schwartz.

School buses may be a critical education policy lever, breaking the link between schools and neighborhoods and facilitating access to school choice. Yet little is known about the commute for bus riders, including the average length of the bus ride or whether long commutes harm academic outcomes. We begin to fill this gap using data from New York City to explore the morning commutes of over 120,000 bus riders. We find that long bus rides are uncommon and that those with long bus rides are disproportionately Black and more likely to attend charter or district-choice schools. We find deleterious effects of long bus rides on attendance and chronic absenteeism of district-choice students.

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Paul T. von Hippel, Ana P. Cañedo.

Half of kindergarten teachers split children into higher and lower ability groups for reading or math. In national data, we predicted kindergarten ability group placement using linear and ordinal logistic regression with classroom fixed effects. In fall, test scores were the best predictors of group placement, but there was bias favoring girls, high-SES (socioeconomic status) children, and Asian Americans, who received higher placements than their scores alone would predict. Net of SES, there was no bias against placing black children in higher groups. By spring, one third of kindergartners moved groups, and high-SES children moved up more than their score gains alone would predict. Teacher-reported behaviors (e.g., attentiveness, approaches to learning) helped explain girls’ higher placements, but did little to explain the higher placements of Asian American and high-SES children.

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Yujie Sude, Patrick J. Wolf.

Private school choice policies have been enacted and expanded across the United States since the 1990s. By January 2021, 30 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico hosted 67 distinct private school choice policies. Why have some states adopted and expanded this education reform while others have demurred? Which states are more likely to adopt specific types of private school choice initiatives in the coming years? We present the results of an exploratory empirical analysis examining which state-level political, economic, and educational factors predict past policy decisions regarding the enactment and expansion of private school choice in 49 states from 2000 to 2016. The results from our most preferred statistical model further predict which states are more and less likely to take action towards such policies in subsequent years. The political factors involving Republican control of the governorship and legislature, prevalence of minority students in the K-12 population, and share of private school enrollment in the state prove to be highly predictive factors in school choice adoption. The economic factor of a comparatively low state per-capita GDP also consistently predicts school choice policy adoption in our models.

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David Blazar.

There is broad consensus across academic disciplines that access to same-race/ethnicity teachers is a critical resource for supporting the educational experiences and outcomes of Black, Hispanic, and other students of color. While theoretical and qualitative lines of inquiry further describe a set of teacher mindsets and practices aligned to “culturally responsive teaching” as likely mechanisms for these effects, to date there is no causal evidence on this topic. In experimental data where upper-elementary teachers were randomly assigned to classes, I find large effects upwards of 0.45 standard deviations of teachers of color on the short- and longer-term social-emotional, academic, and behavioral outcomes of their students. These average effects are explained in part by teachers’ growth mindset beliefs that student intelligence is malleable rather than fixed, interpersonal relationships with students and families, time spent planning for and differentiating instruction for individual students’ needs, and the extent to which teachers lead well-organized classrooms in which student (mis)behavior is addressed productively without creating a negative classroom climate.

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M. Danish Shakeel, Paul E. Peterson.

Principals (policymakers) disagree as to whether U. S. student performance has changed over the past half century. To inform conversations, agents administered seven million psychometrically linked tests in math (m) and reading (rd) in 160 survey waves to national probability samples of cohorts born between 1954 and 2007. Estimated change in standard deviations (sd) per decade varies by agent (m: -0.10sd to 0.27sd, rd: -0.02sd to 0.12sd). Consistent with Flynn effects, median trends show larger gains in m (0.19sd) than rd (0.04sd), though rates of progress for cohorts born since 1990 have increased in rd but slowed in m. Greater progress is shown by students tested at younger ages (m: 0.31sd, rd: 0.08sd) than when tested in middle years of schooling (m: 0.17sd, rd: 0.03sd) or toward end of schooling (m: 0.06sd, rd: 0.02sd). Young white students progress more slowly (m: 0.28sd, rd: 0.09sd) than Asian (m: 46sd, rd: 0.28sd), black (m: 0.36sd, rd: 0.19sd) and Hispanic (m: 0.29sd, rd: 0.13sd) students. These ethnic differences generally attenuate as students age. Young students in the bottom quartile of the SES distribution show greater progress than those in the top quartile (difference in m: 0.08sd, in rd: 0.15sd), but the reverse is true for older students. Moderators likely include not only changes in families and schools but also improvements in nutrition, health care, and protection from contagious diseases and environmental risks. International data suggest that subject and age differentials may be due to moderators more general than just the United States.

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Joshua Bleiberg, Eric Brunner, Erica Harbatkin, Matthew A. Kraft, Matthew Springer.

Starting in 2009, the U.S. public education system undertook a massive effort to institute new high-stakes teacher evaluation systems. We examine the effects of these reforms on student achievement and attainment at a national scale by exploiting the staggered timing of implementation across states. We find precisely estimated null effects, on average, that rule out impacts as small as 1.5 percent of a standard deviation for achievement and 1 percentage point for high school graduation and college enrollment. We also find little evidence of heterogeneous effects across an index measuring system design rigor, specific design features, and district characteristics.

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J. Cameron Anglum, Kenneth A. Shores, Matthew P. Steinberg.

In 2009, the federal government passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to combat the effects of the Great Recession and state revenue shortfalls, directing over $97 billion to school districts. In this chapter, we draw lessons from this distribution of fiscal stimulus funding to inform future federal intervention in school finance during periods of economic downturn. We find that district spending declined by $945 per pupil per year following the Great Recession, particularly after a stimulus funding cliff when ARRA funding declined. Spending declines varied more within than across states, while stimulus funding was directed to districts through pre-Recession state funding formulae which varied in their relative progressivity. Spending losses were greater in districts serving fewer shares of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch or special education services, in districts with higher-achieving students, and in districts with greater levels of spending prior to the Great Recession; declines were unassociated with district’s racial/ethnic composition, the share of English language learners, or a district’s reliance on state aid. We conclude by identifying different stimulus policy targets and with recommendations regarding the magnitude and distribution of future federal fiscal stimulus funding, lessons relevant to the COVID-19-induced recession and beyond.

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Camila Morales.

Policy debate on refugee resettlement focuses on perceived adverse effects on local communities, with sparse credible evidence to ascertain its impact. This paper examines whether attending school with refugees affects the academic outcomes of non-refugee students. Leveraging variation in the share of refugees within schools and across grades, I find that increasing the share of grade-level refugees by 1 pp results in a 0.01 sd increase in average math scores. While I find no effect on average English Language Arts scores, using nonlinear-in-means specifications I estimate negative spillovers in ELA performance among low-achieving students and positive spillovers among high-achieving students.

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Walter G. Ecton, Shaun M. Dougherty.

High school Career and Technical Education (CTE) has received an increase in attention from both policymakers and researchers in recent years. This study fills a needed gap in the growing research base by examining heterogeneity within the wide range of programs falling under the broader CTE umbrella, and highlights the need for greater nuance in research and policy conversations that often consider CTE as monolithic. Examining multiple possible outcomes, including earnings, postsecondary education, and poverty avoidance, we find substantial differences in outcomes for students in fields as diverse as healthcare, IT, and construction. We also highlight heterogeneity for student populations historically overrepresented in CTE, and find large differences in outcomes for CTE students, particularly by gender.

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