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Program and policy effects

Rachel Baker, Elizabeth Friedmann, Michal Kurlaender.

The transfer between two-year and four-year colleges is a critical path to baccalaureate attainment. Yet, students face a number of barriers in transfer pathways, including a lack of coherent coordination and articulation between their community colleges and four-year institutions, resulting in excess units and increased time to degree. In this paper we evaluate the impact of California’s Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act, which aimed to create a more seamless pathway between the Community Colleges and the California State University. We investigate whether the reform effort met its intended goal of improving baccalaureate receipt, and greater efficiency in earning these degrees, among community college transfer students. We tease out plausibly causal effects of the policy by leveraging the exogenous variation in the timing of the implementation of the reform in different campuses and fields of study. We find that this reform effort has led to significant reductions in time to baccalaureate receipt among community college transfers and reduced total unit accumulation. These positive effects were shared across all student subgroups.

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Melissa Arnold Lyon.

Although the Janus v. AFCSME (2018) decision fundamentally changed the institutional context for U.S. teachers’ unions by placing all public school teachers in a “Right to Work” (RTW) framework, little research exists to conceptualize the effects of such policies that hinder unionization. To fill this gap, I exploit the different timing across states in the passage of RTW policies in a differences-in-differences framework to identify how exposure to a RTW policy affects students, teachers, and education policymaking. I find that RTW policies lead to declines in teachers’ union power, but contrary to what many union critics have argued, I find that efforts to weaken unions did not result in political opportunities for education reforms nor did they improve student achievement outcomes.

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Lucy C. Sorensen, Shawn D. Bushway, Elizabeth J. Gifford.
Nationwide, school principals are given wide discretion to use disciplinary tools like suspension and expulsion to create a safe learning environment. There is legitimate concern that this power can have negative consequences, particularly for the students who are excluded. This study uses linked disciplinary, education, and criminal justice records from 2008 to 2016 in North Carolina to examine the impact of principal driven disciplinary decisions on middle school student outcomes. We find that principals who are more likely to remove students lead to reductions in reported rates of minor student misconduct. However, this deterrence comes at a high cost – these harsher principals generate more juvenile justice complaints and reduce high school graduation rates for all students in their schools. Students who committed minor disciplinary infractions in a school with a harsh principal suffer additional declines in attendance and test scores. Finally, principals exhibiting racial bias in their disciplinary decisions also widen educational gaps between White and Black students.

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Gary T. Henry, Shelby M. McNeill, Erica Harbatkin.

Test-based accountability pressures have been shown to result in transferring less effective teachers into untested early grades and more effective teachers to tested grades. In this paper, we evaluate whether a state initiative to turnaround its lowest performing schools reproduced a similar pattern of assigning teachers and unintended, negative effects on the outcomes of younger students in untested grades. Using a sharp regression discontinuity design, we find consistent evidence of increased chronic absenteeism and grade retention in the first year. Also, the findings suggest negative effects on early literacy and reading comprehension in the first year of the reform that rebounded somewhat in the second year. Schools labeled low performing reassigned low effectiveness teachers from tested grades into untested early grades, though these assignment practices were no more prevalent in reform than control schools. Our results suggest that accountability-driven school reform can yield negative consequences for younger students that may undermine the success and sustainability of school turnaround efforts.

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Helen F. Ladd, Edward B. Fiske.

Because of the many special characteristics of charter schools, policy makers who aim to promote a system of charters schools that ensures fair access to, and fair treatment of, disadvantaged students will need a public accountability system oriented, at least in part, to equity concerns. Massachusetts, with its single statewide authorizer, as well as its system of periodic site visits to schools and specific performance criteria, illustrates such a system. In this paper, we first explain why an equity-oriented approach is important. We then describe and evaluate the Massachusetts approach, with particular attention to the information provided by the periodic site visits. Although Massachusetts does not fully succeed with all its charter schools, especially with respect to fair treatment, it is hard to make the case that charter schools will be beneficial for disadvantaged students in the absence of an accountability system of this type.

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Michela Carlana, Eliana La Ferrara.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the governments of most countries ordered the closure of schools, potentially exacerbating existing learning gaps. This paper evaluates the effectiveness of an intervention implemented in Italian middle schools that provides free individual tutoring online to disadvantaged students during lock-down. Tutors are university students who volunteer for 3 to 6 hours per week. They were randomly assigned to middle school students, from a list of potential beneficiaries compiled by school principals. Using original survey data collected from students, parents, teachers and tutors, we find that the program substantially increased students’ academic performance (by 0.26 SD on average) and that it significantly improved their socio-emotional skills, aspirations, and psychological well-being. Effects are stronger for children from lower socioeconomic status and, in the case of psychological well-being, for immigrant children.

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Diana Leyva, Christina Weiland, Anna Shapiro, Gloria Yeomans-Maldonado, Angela Febles.

Food routines play a special role in Latino families. Using a cluster randomized trial with 248 children (M age = 67 months) from 13 schools, this study investigated the impact of a four-week family program designed to capitalize on food routines in improving Latino kindergarteners’ outcomes in the U.S. There were moderate-to-large impacts on child vocabulary (especially food-related) at end-of-treatment and the five-month follow-up, and suggestive evidence of moderate impacts on approaches to learning (including approaches to learning math) and executive function at the five-month follow-up. There were no statistically significant impacts on children’s math or literacy skills. A strengths-based, culturally responsive family intervention that is integrated into Latino family life can improve critical skills needed to succeed in school.

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Appendix298.65 KB

Josh B. McGee, Jonathan Mills, Jessica Goldstein.

School district consolidation is one of the most widespread education reforms of the last century, but surprisingly little research has directly investigated its effectiveness. To examine the impact of consolidation on student achievement, this study takes advantage of a policy that requires the consolidation of all Arkansas school districts with enrollment of fewer than 350 students for two consecutive school years. Using a regression discontinuity model, we find that consolidation has either null or small positive impacts on student achievement in math and English Language Arts (ELA). We do not find evidence that consolidation in Arkansas results in positive economies of scale, either by reducing overall cost or allowing for a greater share of resources to be spent in the classroom.

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Sarah Guthery, Lauren P. Bailes.

This study investigates the influence of principal tenure on the retention rates of the teachers they hire over time. We analyzed the hiring practices and teacher retention rates of 11,717 Texas principals from 1999 to 2017 employing both individual and year fixed effects. Main findings indicate that a principal who stays in the same school for at least three years begins to hire teachers who stay to both three- and five-year benchmarks at increasingly higher rates. However, the average Texas principal leaves a school after four years and while we do find small positive gains in the initial retention rates of teachers at the next school, the majority of principal improvement in teacher retention does not appear to be portable.

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Matthew A. Kraft, Grace Falken.

In this thought experiment, we explore how tutoring could be scaled nationally to address COVID-19 learning loss and become a permanent feature of the U.S. public education system. We outline a blueprint centered on ten core principles and a federal architecture to support adoption, while providing for local ownership over key implementation features. High school students would tutor in elementary schools via an elective class, college students in middle schools via federal work-study, and full time 2- and 4-year college graduates in high schools via AmeriCorps. We envision an incremental, demand-driven expansion process with priority given to high-needs schools. Our blueprint highlights a range of design tradeoffs and implementation challenges as well as estimates of program costs. Our estimates suggest that targeted approaches to scaling school-wide tutoring nationally, such as focusing on K-8 Title I schools, would cost between $5 and $15 billion annually.

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