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Politics, governance, philanthropy, and organizations

Ying Shi, John D. Singleton.

In this paper, we study the roles of expertise and independence on governing boards in the context of education. In particular, we examine the causal influence of professional educators elected to local school boards on education production. Educators may bring valuable human capital to school district leadership, thereby improving student learning. Alternatively, the independence of educators may be distorted by interest groups. The key empirical challenge is that school board composition is endogenously determined through the electoral process. To overcome this, we develop and implement a novel research design that exploits California's randomized assignment of the order that candidates appear on election ballots. The insight of our empirical strategy is that ballot order effects generate quasi-random variation in the elected school board's composition. This approach is made possible by a unique dataset that combines election information about California school board candidates with district-level data on education inputs and outcomes. The results reveal that educators on the school board causally increase teacher salaries and reduce district enrollment in charter schools relative to other board members. We do not find accompanying effects on student test scores. We interpret these findings as consistent with educators on school boards shifting bargaining in favor of teachers' unions.

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Morgan Polikoff, Shauna E. Campbell, Cory Koedel, Quynh Tien Le, Tenice Hardaway, Hovanes Gasparian.

Textbooks are a widely used educational intervention that can affect student achievement, and the marginal cost of choosing a more effective textbook is typically small. However, we know little about how textbooks get from the publisher to the classroom. We use a lens of institutional theory and interviews with district leaders in a stratified random sample of 34 California school districts to investigate the ways mathematics textbook adoption practices vary and predict adoption decisions. We find isomorphic, highly formalized adoption processes in most districts. However, we observe some differences along dimensions of district size, technological interest/infrastructure, and English learner concentration. We recommend states produce and update lists of high quality materials early and often, and that they use a highly rigorous evaluation process. We also recommend states experiment with encouraging similar districts to partner on textbook evaluation and adoption to respond to district demands for information and capacity building around curricula.

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Travis J. Bristol.

This phenomenological study draws on semi-structured interviews with 27 Black male teachers across 14 schools in an urban school district—seven schools with three or more Black male teachers and seven schools with one Black male teacher. Consistent with theories about teacher turnover, findings indicate a relationship between organizational characteristics, reasons participants cited for leaving, and participants’ actual decisions to stay or leave.

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Jason B. Cook, Vladimir Kogan, Stéphane Lavertu, Zachary Peskowitz.

Governments around the world have privatized public services in the name of efficiency and citizen empowerment, but some argue that privatization could also affect citizen participation in democratic governance. We explore this possibility by estimating the impact of charter schools (which are publicly funded but privately operated) on school district elections. The analysis indicates that the enrollment of district students in charter schools reduced the number of votes cast in district school board contests and, correspondingly, reduced turnout in the odd-year elections in which those contests are held. This impact is concentrated in districts that serve low-achieving, impoverished, and minority students, leading to a modest decline in the share of voters in those districts who are black and who have children. There is little evidence that charter school expansion affected the outcomes of school board elections or turnout in other elections

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Sarah R. Cohodes, Elizabeth Setren, Christopher R. Walters.

Can schools that boost student outcomes reproduce their success at new campuses? We study a policy reform that allowed effective charter schools in Boston, Massachusetts to replicate their school models at new locations. Estimates based on randomized admission lotteries show that replication charter schools generate large achievement gains on par with those produced by their parent campuses. The average effectiveness of Boston’s charter middle school sector increased after the reform despite a doubling of charter market share. An exploration of mechanisms shows that Boston charter schools reduce the returns to teacher experience and compress the distribution of teacher effectiveness, suggesting the highly standardized practices in place at charter schools may facilitate replicability.

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Eric Brunner, Joshua Hyman, Andrew Ju.

School finance reforms caused some of the most dramatic increases in intergovernmental aid from states to local governments in U.S. history. We examine whether teachers’ unions affected the fraction of reform-induced state aid that passed through to local spending and the allocation of these funds. Districts with strong teachers’ unions increased spending nearly dollar-for-dollar with state aid, and spent the funds primarily on teacher compensation. Districts with weak unions used aid primarily for property tax relief, and spent remaining funds on hiring new teachers. The greater expenditure increases in strong union districts led to larger increases in student achievement.

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