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Multiple outcomes of education

Emily Morton.

Four-day school weeks have proliferated across the United States in recent years, reaching over 650 public school districts in 24 states as of 2019, but little is known about the effects of the four-day school week on high school students. This study uses district-level panel data from Oklahoma and a difference-in-differences research design to provide the first estimates of the causal effect of the four-day school week on high school students’ ACT scores, attendance, and disciplinary incidents during school. Results indicate that four-day school weeks decrease per-pupil bullying incidents by approximately 31% and per-pupil fighting incidents by approximately 27%, but have no detectable effect on other incident types, ACT scores, or attendance.

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Ishtiaque Fazlul, Cory Koedel, Eric Parsons.

Free and reduced-price meal (FRM) eligibility is commonly used in education research and policy applications as an indicator of student poverty. However, using multiple data sources external to the school system, we show that FRM status is a poor proxy for poverty, with eligibility rates far exceeding what would be expected based on stated income thresholds for program participation. This is true even without accounting for community eligibility for free meals, although community eligibility has exacerbated the problem in recent years. Over the course of showing the limitations of using FRM data to measure poverty, we provide promising validity evidence for a new, publicly-available measure of school poverty based on local-area family incomes.

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Lindsey Rose Bullinger, Maithreyi Gopalan, Caitlin Lombardi.

Empirical evidence demonstrates that publicly funded adult health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has had positive effects on low-income adults. We examine whether the ACA’s Medicaid expansions influenced child development and family functioning in low-income households. We use a difference-in-differences framework that exploits cross-state policy variation, and focus on children in low-income families from a nationally representative, longitudinal sample followed from kindergarten to fifth grade. The ACA Medicaid expansions improved children’s reading test scores by approximately 2 percent (0.04 SD). Potential mechanisms for these effects within families are more time spent reading at home, less parental help with homework, and eating dinner together. We find no effects for children’s math test scores or socioemotional skills.

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Jeffrey T. Denning, Eric R. Eide, Kevin J. Mumford, Daniel Sabey.

After increasing in the 1970s and 1980s, time to bachelor’s degree has declined since the 1990s. We document this fact using data from three nationally representative surveys. We show that this pattern is occurring across school types and for all student types. Using administrative student records from 11 large universities, we confirm the finding and show that it is robust to alternative sample definitions. We discuss what might explain the decline in time to bachelor’s degree by considering trends in student preparation, state funding, student enrollment, study time, and student employment during college.

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Gregory Gilpin, Ezra Karger, Peter Nencka.

Local governments spend over 12 billion dollars annually funding the operation of 15,000 public libraries in the United States. This funding supports widespread library use: more than 50% of Americans visit public libraries each year. But despite extensive public investment in libraries, surprisingly little research quantifies the effects of public libraries on communities and children. We use data on the near-universe of U.S. public libraries to study the effects of capital spending shocks on library resources, patron usage, student achievement, and local housing prices. We use a dynamic difference-in-difference approach to show that library capital investment increases children’s attendance at library events by 18%, children’s checkouts of items by 21%, and total library visits by 21%. Increases in library use translate into improved children’s test scores in nearby school districts: a $1,000 or greater per-student capital investment in local public libraries increases reading test scores by 0.02 standard deviations and has no effects on math test scores. Housing prices do not change after a sharp increase in public library capital investment, suggesting that residents internalize the increased cost and improved quality of their public libraries.

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Jeffrey T. Denning, Richard Murphy, Felix Weinhardt.

This paper considers an unavoidable feature of the school environment, class rank. What are the long-run effects of a student’s ordinal rank in elementary school? Using administrative data on all public-school students in Texas, we show that students with a higher third-grade academic rank, conditional on achievement and classroom fixed effects, have higher subsequent test scores, are more likely to take AP classes, graduate from high school, enroll in and graduate from college, and ultimately have higher earnings 19 years later. We also discuss the necessary assumptions for the identification of rank effects and propose new solutions to identification challenges. The paper concludes by exploring the tradeoff between higher quality schools and higher rank in the presence of these rank-based peer effects.

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Ann Owens, Thalia Tom.

Past research extensively documents inequalities in educational opportunity and achievement by students’ race/ethnicity or socioeconomic status (SES). Less scholarship focuses on how race/ethnicity and SES interact and jointly contribute to educational inequalities. We advance this burgeoning line of scholarship by charting math achievement trajectories and school socioeconomic composition by both student race/ethnicity and SES in California from 2014-15 through 2017-18. Linked administrative data allow us to operationalize student SES more richly than point-in-time free meal eligibility, a measure commonly used in education research. We find evidence of considerable racial/ethnic disparities in math achievement and school socioeconomic composition among same-SES students. White and Asian students score substantially higher on math achievement tests and attend higher-SES schools than same-SES Hispanic and Black students. Achievement and contextual inequalities are related: differential exposure to school SES by student race/ethnicity is associated with within-SES racial/ethnic achievement disparities. Our findings show that SES does not translate into the same contextual or achievement advantages for students of all racial/ethnic groups, demonstrating the importance of jointly considering student race/ethnicity and SES in future research and policy development.

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Jing Liu, Julie Cohen.

Valid and reliable measurements of teaching quality facilitate school-level decision-making and policies pertaining to teachers. Using nearly 1,000 word-to-word transcriptions of 4th- and 5th-grade English language arts classes, we apply novel text-as-data methods to develop automated measures of teaching to complement classroom observations traditionally done by human raters. This approach is free of rater bias and enables the detection of three instructional factors that are well aligned with commonly used observation protocols: classroom management, interactive instruction, and teacher-centered instruction. The teacher-centered instruction factor is a consistent negative predictor of value-added scores, even after controlling for teachers’ average classroom observation scores. The interactive instruction factor predicts positive value-added scores. Our results suggest that the text-as-data approach has the potential to enhance existing classroom observation systems through collecting far more data on teaching with a lower cost, higher speed, and the detection of multifaceted classroom practices.

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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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Jessica Goldstein, Josh B. McGee.

Jackson, Wigger, and Xiong (2020a, JWX) provide evidence that education spending reductions following the Great Recession had widespread negative impacts on student achievement and attainment. This paper describes our process of duplicating JWX and highlights a variety of tests we employ to investigate the nature and robustness of the relationship between school spending reductions and student outcomes. Though per-pupil expenditures undoubtedly shifted downward due to the Great Recession, contrary to JWX, our findings indicate there is not a clear and compelling story about the impact of those reductions on student achievement. Moreover, we find that the relationship between K-12 spending and college-going rates is likely confounded with contemporaneous higher education funding trends. While we believe that K-12 spending reductions may have negative impacts on student outcomes, our results suggest that estimating generalizable causal effects remains a significant challenge.

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