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K-12 Education

Jing Liu, Monica Lee, Seth Gershenson.

We provide novel evidence on the causal impact of student absences in middle and high school on state test scores, course grades, and educational attainment using a rich administrative dataset that includes the date and class period of each absence. Our identification strategy addresses potential endogeneity due to time-varying student-level shocks by exploiting the fact that in a given year, there exists within-student, between-class variation in absences. We also leverage information on the timing of absences to show that absences that occur after the annual window for state standardized testing do not appear to affect test scores, which provides a further check of our identification strategy. We find that absences in middle and high school harm contemporaneous student achievement and longer-term educational attainment: On average, missing 10 math classes reduces math test scores by 7% of a standard deviation, math course grades by 19% of a standard deviation, the probability of on-time graduation by 8%, and the probability of immediate college enrollment by 7%. Similar results hold for absences in English Language Arts classes. These results suggest that absences in middle school and high school are just as harmful, if not more so, than absences in elementary school. Moreover, the timing of absences during the school year matters, as both the occurrence and the impact of absences are dynamic phenomena.

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Jason A. Grissom, Jennifer D. Timmer, Jennifer L. Nelson, Richard S.L. Blissett.

We investigate the male–female gap in principal compensation in state and national data: detailed longitudinal personnel records from the state of Missouri and repeated cross-sections from the nationally representative Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). In both data sets, we estimate substantively important compensation gaps for school leaders. In Missouri, female principals make approximately $1,400 less annually than their male colleagues with similar characteristics leading the same school in different years. SASS analyses show that women make about $900 less than men nationally, on average. These gaps are only partially explained by sorting, career paths, and other labor supply-side mechanisms, suggesting that gender discrimination contributes to male–female pay differences in school leadership.

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Douglas N. Harris, Lihan Liu, Nathan Barrett, Ruoxi Li.

High school graduation rates have increased dramatically in the past two decades. Some skepticism has arisen, however, because of the confluence of the graduation rise and the starts of high-stakes accountability for graduation rates with No Child Left Behind (NCLB). In this study we provide some of the first evidence about the role of accountability versus strategic behavior, especially the degree to which the recent graduation rate rise represents increased human capital. First, using national DD analysis of within-state, cross-district variation in proximity to state graduation rate thresholds, we confirm that NCLB accountability increased graduation rates. However, we find limited evidence that this is due to strategic behavior. To test for lowering of graduation standards, we examined graduation rates in states with and without graduation exams and trends in GEDs; neither analysis suggests that the graduation rate rise is due to strategic behavior. We also examined the effects of “credit recovery” courses using Louisiana micro data; while our results suggest an increase in credit recovery, consistent with some lowering of standards, the size of the effect is not nearly enough to explain the rise in graduation rates. Finally, we examine other forms of strategic behavior by schools, though these can only explain inflation of school/district-level graduation rates, not rational rates. Overall, the evidence suggests that the rise in the national graduation rates reflects some strategic behavior, but also a substantial increase in the nation’s stock of human capital. Graduation accountability was a key contributor.

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Andrew McEachin, Thurston Domina, Andrew M. Penner.

How should schools assign students to more rigorous math courses so as best to help their academic outcomes? We identify several hundred California middle schools that used 7th grade test scores to place students into 8th grade Algebra courses, and use a regression discontinuity design to estimate average impacts and heterogeneity across schools. Enrolling in 8th grade algebra boosts students’ enrollment in advanced math in 9th grade by 30 percentage points and 11th grade by 16 percentage points. Math scores in 10th grade rise by 0.05 standard deviations. Women, students of color, and English-language learners benefit disproportionately from placement into early Algebra. Importantly, the benefits of 8th grade algebra are substantially larger in schools that set their eligibility threshold higher in the baseline achievement distribution. This suggests a potential tradeoff between increased access and rates of subsequent math success.

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Paul T. von Hippel.

Year-round school calendars take the usual 175-180 instruction days of the school year and redistribute them, replacing the usual schedule – nine months on, three months off – with a more “balanced” schedule of short instruction periods alternating with shorter breaks across all four seasons of the year. Over the past three decades, the number of schools using year-round calendars has increased ninefold, from 410 in 1985 to 3,700 in 2011-12 (Skinner, 2014). Over 2 million children now attend year-round schools – as many as attend charter schools – yet year-round schools have attracted relatively little attention from researchers and the public.

In this chapter, I review the evidence for the effects of year-round calendars on test scores. Once thought to be positive, these effects now appear to be neutral at best. Although year-round calendars do increase summer learning, they reduce learning at other times of year, so that the total amount learned over a 12-month period is no greater under a year-round calendar than under a nine-month calendar. I also review evidence that year-round calendars make it harder to recruit and retain experienced teachers, make it harder for mothers to work outside the home, and reduce property values. When students' schedules are staggered, year-round calendars do offer a way to reduce school crowding – an alternative to busing or portable classrooms, and a low-cost alternative to new school construction.

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Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson, Laura M. Talpey, Ludger Woessmann.

Rising inequality in the United States has raised concerns about potentially widening gaps in educational achievement by socio-economic status (SES). Using assessments from LTT-NAEP, Main-NAEP, TIMSS, and PISA that are psychometrically linked over time, we trace trends in achievement for U.S. student cohorts born between 1954 and 2001. Achievement gaps between the top and bottom quartiles of the SES distribution have been large and remarkably constant for a near half century. These unwavering gaps have not been offset by improved achievement levels, which have risen at age 14 but have remained unchanged at age 17 for the past quarter century.

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Corey A. DeAngelis.

Public charter schools could theoretically experience fewer school climate problems than district-run public schools because of additional competitive pressures, autonomy, and improved matches between schools and students. Using publicly available data from the New York State Education Department, I analyze differences in 13 school climate problems between public charter school and district-run public school sectors. After controlling for observable differences in students and schools between sectors, I find that public charter schools tend to report fewer school climate problems than district-run public schools in New York state in the 2017-18 school year. Specifically, public charter schools report fewer assaults with physical injuries, assaults with serious physical injuries, forcible sex offenses, other sex offenses, weapons possessions resulting from routine security checks, other weapons possessions, and false alarms than district-run public schools; however, public charter schools tend to report more cyberbullying than district-run public schools. The charter school climate advantages tend to be more pronounced in New York City than the rest of the state.

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Mark J. Chin, David M. Quinn, Tasminda K. Dhaliwal, Virginia S. Lovison.

Theory suggests that teachers’ implicit racial attitudes affect their students, but we lack large-scale evidence on US teachers’ implicit biases and their correlates. Using nationwide data from Project Implicit, we find that teachers’ implicit White/Black biases (as measured by the implicit association test) vary by teacher gender and race. Teachers’ adjusted bias levels are lower in counties with larger shares of Black students. In the aggregate, counties in which teachers hold higher levels of implicit and explicit racial bias have larger adjusted White/Black test score inequalities and White/Black suspension disparities.

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Carolyn J. Heinrich, Jennifer Darling-Aduana.

Recent increases in high school graduation rates have been linked anecdotally to online course-taking for credit recovery. Online course-taking that supports high school completion could open opportunities for postsecondary education pursuits. Alternatively, poorer quality online instruction could diminish student learning and discourage persistence toward graduation and further education. Using quasi-experimental methods in an eight-year longitudinal study of high school online course-taking, we find positive associations between online course-taking, credits earned and high school graduation, and for those with limited online course-taking, small increases in college enrollment. However, we find significantly lower four-year college enrollments and lower-quality college enrollments for all online course-takers, leaving open the question of whether online course-taking will lead to longer-term postsecondary education and labor market success.

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Angela Johnson, Megan Kuhfeld.

The belief that additional time allows children to become more ready for school has affected public policy and individual practices. Prior studies estimated either associations between school entry age and academic growth or causal effects on achievement measured at one or two points. This paper contributes novel causal evidence for the impacts of kindergarten entry age on academic growth in the first three years of school. We embed regression discontinuity into a piecewise multilevel growth model and apply it to rich assessment data from three states. Being a year older leads to higher initial achievement and higher kindergarten growth rates but lower growth rates during 1st and 2nd grades. Effects do not differ by gender or race.

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