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Politics, governance, philanthropy, and organizations
Education is one of the most important public goods provided by modern governments. Yet governments worldwide seldom perform well in the sector. This raises the question: why do governments preside over poor education quality? This article answers this question with evidence from Tanzania. Using data from surveys, administrative reports, and policy documents, it analyzes changing goals of education policy and associated impacts on access and learning over time. The main finding is that learn- ing has not always been the goal of schooling in Tanzania. Furthermore, for decades the government rationed access to both primary and secondary schooling for ideological reasons. These past policy choices partially explain contemporary poor outcomes in education. This article increase our understanding of the politics of education in low-income states. It also provides a corrective against the common assumption that governments always seek to maximize the provision of public goods and services for political gain.
Youth voter turnout remains stubbornly low and unresponsive to civic education. Rigorous evaluations of the adoption of civic tests for high school graduation by some states on youth voter turnout remain limited. We estimate the impact of a recent, state-mandated civics test policy—the Civics Education Initiative (CEI)—on youth voter turnout by exploiting spatial and temporal variation in the adoption of CEI across states. Using nationally-representative data from the 1996-2020 Current Population Survey and a Difference-in-Differences analysis, we find that CEI does not significantly affect youth voter turnout. Our null results, largely insensitive to a variety of alternative specifications and robustness checks, provide evidence regarding the lack of efficacy of civic test policies when it comes to youth voter participation.
The COVID-19 pandemic drew new attention to the role of school boards in the U.S. In this paper, we examine school districts' choices of learning modality -- whether and when to offer in-person, virtual, or hybrid instruction -- over the course of the 2020-21 pandemic school year. The analysis takes advantage of granular weekly data on learning mode and COVID-19 cases for Ohio school districts. We show that districts respond on the margin to health risks: all else equal, a marginal increase in new cases reduces the probability that a district offers in-person instruction the next week. Moreover, this negative response is magnified when the district was in-person the prior week and attenuates in magnitude over the school year. These findings are consistent with districts learning from experience about the effect of in-person learning on disease transmission in schools. We also find evidence that districts are influenced by the decisions of their peers.
Given the simultaneous rise in time-to-graduation and college GPA, it may be that students reduce their course load to improve their performance. Yet, evidence to date only shows increased course loads increase GPA. We provide a mathematical model showing many unobservable factors -- beyond student ability -- can generate a positive relationship between course load and GPA unless researchers control student schedules. West Point regularly implements the ideal experiment by randomly modifying student schedules with additional training courses. Using 19 years of administrative data, we provide the first causal evidence that taking more courses reduces GPA and increases course failure rates, sometimes substantially.
Nearly all states with public prekindergarten programs use mixed-delivery systems, with classrooms in both public schools and community-based settings. However, experts have long raised concerns about systematic inequities by setting within these public systems. We used data from five large-scale such systems that have taken steps to improve equity by setting (Boston, New York City, Seattle, New Jersey, and West Virginia) to conduct the most comprehensive descriptive study of prekindergarten setting differences to date. Our public school sample included 2,395 children in 383 classrooms in 152 schools, while our community-based sample is comprised of 1,541 children in 201 classrooms in 103 community-based organizations (CBOs). We examined how child and teacher demographic characteristics, structural and process quality features, and child gains differed by setting within each of these systems. We found evidence of sorting of children and teachers by setting within each locality, including of children with higher baseline skills and more educated teachers into public schools. Where there were differences in quality and children’s gains, these tended to favor public schools. The localities with fewer policy differences by setting – NJ and Seattle – showed fewer differences in quality and child gains. Our findings suggest that inequities by setting are common, appear consequential, and deserve more research and policy attention.
The George Floyd Protests of the Summer of 2020 initiated public conversations around the need for antiracist teaching. Yet, over time the discussion evolved into policy debates around the use of Critical Race Theory in civics courses. The rapid transition masked the fact that we know little about Americans' policy preferences. Do Americans support antiracist teaching? What factors best explain support/opposition? How does critical race theory factor in? Using a series of original survey experiments, this study shows that Americans maintain strong support for antiracist teaching, but that support is drastically weakened when curriculum features the term "critical race theory."
This paper contributes to our understanding of American education politics by exploring when and why states redistribute K-12 education dollars to poorer schools. It does so by examining three explanations for intra-state changes in progressivity: court-ordered finance reforms, political trends, and demographic changes. Using state-level data from 1995-2016, we find mixed evidence that progressivity increased following a court-ordered school finance overhaul. Rather, we show that changes in progressivity were most consistently tied to changes in student demography: as students became poorer, or more racially diverse, lawmakers created less progressive finance systems. The paper concludes by discussing what these findings mean for advocates seeking to protect and advance gains in education spending progressivity.
For decades, pundits, politicians, college administrators, and academics have lamented the dismal rates of civic engagement among students who enroll in courses and eventually major in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (i.e., STEM) fields. However, the research supporting this conclusion has faced distinct challenges in terms of data quality. Does STEM actually decrease the odds that young people will be actively involved in democracy? This paper assesses the relationship between studying STEM and voting. To do so, we create a dataset of over 23 million students in the U.S. matched to national validated voting records. The novel dataset is the largest known individual-level dataset in the U.S. connecting high school and college students to voting outcomes. It also contains a rich set of demographic and academic variables, to account for many of the common issues related to students' selection into STEM coursework. We consider two measures of STEM participation ---Advanced Placement (AP) Exam taking in high school and college major. Using both measures, we find that, unconditionally, STEM students are slightly more likely to vote than their non-STEM peers. After including the rich set of controls, the sign reverses and STEM students are slightly less likely to vote than their non-STEM peers. However, these estimated relationships between STEM and voting are small in magnitude---about the same effect size as a single get-out-the-vote mailer---and we can rule out even very modest causal effects of marginally more STEM coursework on voting for the typical STEM student. We cannot rule out modest effects for a few subfields. Our analyses demonstrate that, on average, marginally more STEM coursework in high school and college does not contribute to the dismally low participation rates among young people in the U.S.
After near-universal school closures in the United States at the start of the pandemic, lawmakers and educational leaders made plans for when and how to reopen schools for the 2020-21 school year. Educational researchers quickly assessed how a range of public health, political, and demographic factors were associated with school reopening decisions and parent preferences for in-person and remote learning. I review this body of literature, to highlight what we can learn from its findings, limitations, and influence on public discourse. Studies consistently highlighted the influence of partisanship, teachers’ unions, and demographics, with mixed findings on COVID-19 rates. The literature offers useful insight and requires more evidence, and it highlights benefits and limitations to rapid research with large-scale quantitative data.
Knowing how policy-induced salary schedule changes affect teacher recruitment and retention will significantly advance our understanding of how resources matter for K-12 student learning. This study sheds light on this issue by estimating how legislative funding changes in Washington state in 2018-19—induced by the McCleary court-ordered reform—affected teacher salaries and labor market outcomes. By embedding a simulated instrumental variables approach in a mixed methods design, we observed that local collective bargaining negotiations directed new state-level funding allocations toward certificated base salaries, particularly among more senior teachers. Variability in political power, priorities, and interests of both districts and unions led to greater heterogeneity in teacher salary schedules. Teacher mobility rate was reduced in the first year of the reform, and subsequently new hiring rate was reduced in the second year. Suggestive evidence indicates that a $1,000 salary increase would have larger effects on junior teachers’ hiring and their transfers between districts to a greater extent than late-career teachers.