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Program and policy effects

Jack Mountjoy.

This paper studies the causal impacts of public universities on the outcomes of their marginally admitted students. I use administrative admission records spanning all 35 public universities in Texas, which collectively enroll 10 percent of American public university students, to systematically identify and employ decentralized cutoffs in SAT/ACT scores that generate discontinuities in admission and enrollment. The typical marginally admitted student completes an additional year of education in the four-year sector, is 12 percentage points more likely to earn a bachelor's degree, and eventually earns 5-10 percent more than their marginally rejected but otherwise identical counterpart. Marginally admitted students pay no additional tuition costs thanks to offsetting grant aid; cost-benefit calculations show internal rates of return of 19-23 percent for the marginal students themselves, 10-12 percent for society (which must pay for the additional education), and 3-4 percent for the government budget. Finally, I develop a method to disentangle separate effects for students on the extensive margin of the four-year sector versus those who would fall back to another four-year school if rejected. Substantially larger extensive margin effects drive the results.

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Douglas D. Ready, Sierra G. McCormick, Rebecca J. Shmoys.

This paper describes a 12-week cluster randomized controlled trial that examined the efficacy of BookNook, a virtual tutoring platform focused on reading. Cohorts of first- through fourth-grade students attending six Rocketship public charter schools in Northern California were randomly assigned within grades to receive BookNook. Intent-to-Treat models indicate that students in cohorts assigned to BookNook outperformed their control-group peers by roughly 0.05 SDs. Given the substantial variability in usage rates among students enrolled in BookNook cohorts, we also leveraged Treatment-on-the-Treated approaches. These models suggest that students who completed 10 or more BookNook sessions experienced a reading advantage of 0.08 SDs, while those who completed 20 or more sessions—the recommended dosage—experienced a 0.26 SD developmental advantage.

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NaYoung Hwang.

This study examines the impact of special education on academic and behavioral outcomes for students with learning disabilities (LD) by using statewide Indiana data covering kindergarten through eighth grade. The results from student fixed effects models show that special education services improve achievement in math and English Language Arts, but they also increase suspensions and absences for students with LD. These effects vary across student subgroups, including gender, race/ethnicity, eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch, and English language learner status. The findings reveal both the significant benefits and unintended consequences of special education services for students with LD, highlighting the complex dynamics and varying effects of special education.

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Jesper Eriksen, Shaun M. Dougherty.

Vocational Education and Training (VET) programs are prevalent in a European context, but often struggle with drop-out rates that exceed those of general upper-secondary education. Using Danish administrative data, we study the effects of reform-induced reductions in shares of VET students who did not pass their lower secondary final exams on passing GPA VET students. We find that passing students have a higher probability of remaining enrolled in VET after the first year of studies when entering a VET school with a higher share of below-passing peers. Studying outside options, we find that students become less likely to drop out of education entirely. The results are consistent with models of peer effects in which particularly unmotivated students become points of comparison for their peers, increasing their motivation and likelihood of remaining enrolled.

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Arielle Boguslav.

Despite the common title of “coach,” definitions of high-quality coaching vary tremendously across models and programs. Yet, few studies make comparisons across different models to understand what is most helpful, for whom, and under what circumstances. As a result, practitioners are left with many options and little evidence-based direction. This is exacerbated by the literature’s focus on more abstract features of coaching practice (e.g. building trust), leaving practitioners to figure out what concrete discourse strategies support these goals. This paper begins to address these challenges by introducing a taxonomy of coaching “moves,” parsing the concrete details of coach discourse. While the taxonomy is informed by the literature, it highlights conceptual possibilities rather than providing a list of empirically-grounded or “evidence-based” strategies. In doing so, this taxonomy may serve as a common language to guide future work exploring how coach discourse shapes teacher development, synthesizing across studies, and supporting coach practice.

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Yusuf Canbolat, Rebeca Arndt.

A concerning number of middle and high school students lack fundamental reading skills in the United States. One common way schools address this issue is by supporting those students with computer-assisted instruction. This study evaluates the causal effect of one such computer-assisted instruction intervention on English Language Arts achievement for middle and high school students in a large urban Southeast school district. The district uses a computer-based online learning platform as part of its multi-tiered system of support. The study benefits the usage data in the learning platform from about ten thousand students by exploiting difference in differences and event study estimations. Particularly, it offers a novel method by utilizing the time of initial platform usage and dates of within-year tests for each student. Our results indicate that, on average, the intervention increases test scores by 0.14 SD—a modest but important magnitude given the scale of the intervention. The magnitude of the effect is relatively larger for students who use the platform consistently and among English Language learners. Results are robust against several sensitivity tests including inverse probability weighting, and type of aggregated treatment effect parameter. These results suggest that effective computer-assisted instruction can help schools narrow the achievement gap among students, particularly for English Language learners.

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Anthony Yim.

Using a natural experiment which randomized class times to students, this study reveals that enrolling in early morning classes lowers students' course grades and the likelihood of future STEM course enrollment. There is a 79% reduction in pursuing the corresponding major and a 26% rise in choosing a lower-earning major, predominantly influenced by early morning STEM classes. To understand the mechanism, I conducted a survey of undergraduate students enrolled in an introductory course, some of whom were assigned to a 7:30 AM section. I find evidence of a decrease in human capital accumulation and learning quality for early morning sections.

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Henning Finseraas, Ole Henning Nyhus, Kari Vea Salvanes, Astrid Marie Jorde Sandsør.

Recent research suggests that using additional teachers to provide small-group instruction or tutoring substantially improves student learning. However, treatment effects on test scores can fade over time, and less is known about the lasting effects of such interventions. We leverage data from a Norwegian large-scale field experiment to examine the effects of small-group instruction in mathematics for students aged 7-9. This intervention shares many features with other high-impact tutoring programs, with some notable exceptions: instruction time was kept fixed, it had a lower dosage, and it targeted students of all ability levels. The latter allows us to assess fadeout across the ability distribution. Previous research on this intervention finds positive short-run effects. This paper shows that about 60% of the effect persists 3.5 years later. The effect size and degree of fadeout are surprisingly similar across the ability distribution. The study demonstrates that small-group instruction in mathematics successfully targets student performance and that effects can be sustained over time.

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Jordan S. Berne, Brian A. Jacob, Tareena Musaddiq, Anna Shapiro, Christina Weiland.

Transitional Kindergarten (TK) is a relatively recent entrant into the U.S. early education landscape, combining features of public pre-K and regular kindergarten. We provide the first estimates of the impact of Michigan’s TK program on 3rd grade test scores. Using an augmented regression discontinuity design, we find that TK improves 3rd grade math scores by 0.29 standard deviations relative to a counterfactual that includes other formal and informal learning options. This impact is notably large relative to the prior pre-K literature. Estimates for English Language Arts (ELA) are imprecise but suggestive of a positive effect as well.

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Kelli A. Bird, Benjamin L. Castleman.

Recent work highlights the challenge of scaling evidence-based educational programs. We report on a randomized controlled trial of a financial incentive program designed to increase the efficacy of a national remote college advising initiative for high-achieving students. We find substantial positive effects of the program on student engagement with college advisors; applications to well-matched colleges and universities; and review of financial aid awards. Yet treated students were no more likely to enroll at higher-quality institutions. Student survey responses suggest that institutional admissions and affordability barriers, alongside student preferences to attend institutions closer to home, explain the lack of enrollment effects.

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