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Politics, governance, philanthropy, and organizations

Sarah Ruth Morris, Andy Parra-Martinez, Jonathan Wai, Robert Maranto.

This mixed-methods study synthesizes Standards-Based Grading (SBG) literature, analyzes 249 Arkansas administrators' survey responses using OLS regressions, and identifies themes through in-vivo coding of qualitative feedback. Results show more SBG support among liberal, elementary-level administrators in larger, economically diverse districts. Qualitative insights highlight structural barriers and mindsets against SBG, emphasizing its importance for mastery-focused assessment and grading alignment. These findings underscore the influence of principals' beliefs on SBG support and suggest researching the contextual and ideological factors influencing SBG's implementation.

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Heather McCambly, Quinn Mulroy, Andrew Stein.

A common point of contention across education policy debates is whether and how facially race-neutral metrics of quality produce or maintain racialized inequities. Medical education is a useful site for interrogating this relationship, as many scholars point to the 1910, Carnegie-funded Flexner Report—which proposed standardized quality metrics—as a main driver of the closure of five of the seven Black medical schools. Our research demonstrates how these proposed quality metrics, and their philanthropic and political advocates, instantiated a racialized organizational order that governed the distribution of resources, the development of state certification processes, and the regulation of medical schools. This analysis provides traction for uncovering how taken-for-granted standards of quality come to maintain racialized access to opportunity in education.

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Brian Jacob.

Media reports suggest that parent frustration with COVID school policies and the growing politicization of education have increased community engagement with local public schools. However, there is no evidence to date on whether these factors have translated into greater engagement at the ballot box. This paper uses a novel data set to explore how school board elections changed following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. I find that school board elections post-COVID were more likely to be contested, and that voter turnout in contested elections increased. These changes were large in magnitude and varied with several district characteristics.

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S. Michael Gaddis, Charles Crabtree, John B. Holbein, Steven Pfaff.

Although numerous studies document different forms of discrimination in the U.S. public education system, very few provide plausibly causal estimates. Thus, it is unclear to what extent public school principals discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities. Moreover, no studies test for heterogeneity in racial/ethnic discrimination by individual-level resource needs and school-level resource strain – potentially important moderators in the education context. Using a correspondence audit, we examine bias against Black, Hispanic, and Chinese American families in interactions with 52,792 public K-12 principals in 33 states. Our research provides causal evidence that Hispanic and Chinese American families face significant discrimination in initial interactions with principals, regardless of individual-level resource needs. Black families, however, only face discrimination when they have high resource needs. Additionally, principals in schools with greater resource strain discriminate more against Chinese American families. This research uncovers complexities of racial/ethnic discrimination in the K-12 context because we examine multiple racial/ethnic groups and test for heterogeneity across individual- and school-level variables. These findings highlight the need for researchers conducting future correspondence audits to expand the scope of their research to provide a more comprehensive analysis of racial/ethnic discrimination in the U.S.

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David Menefee-Libey, Carolyn Herrington, Kyoung-Jun Choi, Julie Marsh, Katrina Bulkley.

COVID-19 upended schooling across the United States, but with what consequences for the state-level institutions that drive most education policy? This paper reports findings on two related research questions. First, what were the most important ways state government education policymakers changed schools and schooling from the moment they began to reckon with the seriousness of COVID-19 through the first full academic year of the pandemic? Second, how deep did those changes go – are there indications the pandemic triggered efforts to make lasting changes in states’ education policymaking institutions? Using multiple-methods research focused on Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, and Oregon, we documented policies enacted during the period from March 2020 through June 2021 across states and across sectors (traditional and choice) in three COVID-19-related education policy domains: school closings and reopenings, budgeting and resource allocation, and assessment and accountability systems. We found that states quickly enacted radical changes to policies that had taken generations to develop. They mandated sweeping school closures in Spring 2020, and then a diverse array of school reopening policies in the 2020/2021 school year. States temporarily modified their attendance-based funding systems and allocated massive federal COVID-19 relief funds. Finally, states suspended annual student testing, modified the wide array of accountability policies and programs linked to the results of those tests, and adapted to new assessment methods. These crisis-driven policy changes deeply disrupted long-established patterns and practices in education. Despite this, we found that state education governance systems remained resilient, and that at least during the first 16 months of the pandemic, stakeholders showed little interest in using the crisis to trigger more lasting institutional change. We hope these findings enable state policymakers to better prepare for future crises.

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Beth Schueler, Liz Nigro, John Wang.

The improvement of low-performing school systems is one potential strategy for mitigating educational inequality. Some evidence suggests districtwide reform may be more effective than school-level change, but limited research examines district-level turnaround. There is also little scholarship examining the effects of turnaround reforms on outcomes beyond the first few years of implementation, on outcomes beyond test scores, or on the effectiveness of efforts to replicate district improvement successes beyond an initial reform context. We study these topics in Massachusetts, home to the Lawrence district representing a rare case of demonstrated improvements in the early years of state takeover and turnaround and where state leaders have since intervened in three other contexts as a result. We use statewide student-level administrative data (2006-07 to 2018-19) and event study methods to estimate medium-term reform impacts on test and non-test outcomes across four Massachusetts-based contexts: Lawrence, Holyoke, Springfield, and Southbridge. We find substantial district improvement was possible although sustaining the rate of gains was more complicated. Replicating gains in new contexts was also possible but not guaranteed. 

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Lisa Barrow, Sarah Komisarow, Lauren Sartain.

School districts across the U.S. have adopted funding policies designed to distribute resources more equitably across schools. However, schools are also increasing external fundraising efforts to supplement district budget allocations. We document the interaction between funding policies and fundraising efforts in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). We find that adoption of a weighted-student funding policy successfully reallocated more dollars to schools with high shares of students eligible for free/reduced-price (FRL) lunch, creating a policy-induced per-pupil expenditure gap. Further, almost all schools raised external funds over the study period with most dollars raised concentrated in schools serving relatively affluent populations. We estimate that external fundraising offset the policy-induced per- pupil expenditure gap between schools enrolling the lowest and highest shares of FRL-eligible students by 26-39 percent. Other districts have attempted to reallocate fundraised dollars to all schools; such a policy in CPS would have little impact on most schools’ budgets.

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Michael T. Hartney, Vladimir Kogan.

School board candidates supported by local teachers' unions overwhelmingly win and we examine the causes and consequences of the "teachers' union premium" in these elections. First, we show that union endorsement information increases voter support. Although the magnitude of this effect varies across ideological and partisan subgroups, an endorsement never hurts a candidate's prospects among any major segment of the electorate. Second, we benchmark the size of the endorsement premium to other well-known determinants of vote-choice in local elections. Perhaps surprisingly, we show the endorsement effect can be as large as the impact of shared partisanship, and substantially larger than the boost from endorsements provided by other stakeholders. Finally, examining real-world endorsement decisions, we find that union support for incumbents hinges on self-interested pecuniary considerations and is unaffected by performance in improving student academic outcomes. The divergence between what endorsements mean and how voters interpret them have troubling normative democratic implications.

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Brian T. Hamel.
Locally-elected school boards have wide discretion over allocating money among the schools in their district, yet we know relatively little about how they decide “which schools get what.” I argue that electoral incentives are one factor that can influence the distribution of resources: board members will direct spending toward schools located in neighborhoods of their district where spending will be most electorally beneficial in the next election. I test this argument using data from a discretionary school modernization program in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and find that board members distribute resources primarily to schools in competitive and moderately supportive neighborhoods, especially when running in an on-cycle election where parents make-up a larger share of the electorate and where student performance affects election outcomes. By comparison, schools in overwhelmingly opposed and supportive areas are excluded. These results suggest that local democratic control of school boards can hinder educational equality.

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Beth E. Schueler, Luke C. Miller, Amy Reynolds.

Partisanship influenced learning modality after the pandemic’s onset, but it is unknown whether partisanship predicted other aspects of educational operations. We study the role of partisanship, race, markets, and public health in predicting a range of operations—from modality to family engagement to social-emotional support to teacher PD—throughout 2020-21 in the context of Virginia. Districts’ partisan makeup and racial composition were similarly predictive of in-person offerings throughout 2020-21 but partisanship was less predictive over time. District characteristics explained limited variation in other aspects of operations, though districts with larger private school sectors provided more supports. Results emphasize the role of partisanship, race, and markets in reopening but also suggest school operational decisions were less politicized than choice of modality. 

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