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Program and policy effects

Michael Gilraine, Valentina Duque.

We examine the effect of air pollution from power production on students' cognitive outcomes by leveraging year-to-year production variation, wind patterns, and plant closures. We find that every one million megawatt hours of coal-fired power production decreases student performance in schools within ten kilometers by 0.02 standard deviations. Gas-fired plants exhibit no such relationship. Extrapolating our results nationwide indicates that the decline in coal use over the last decade raises test scores by 0.008 standard deviations and reduces the black-white test score gap by 0.006 standard deviations. The nationwide effect obscures substantial spatial variation: The respective numbers for the Midwest are 0.016 and 0.023.

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Beth E. Schueler, Catherine Armstrong Asher, Katherine E. Larned, Sarah Mehrotra, Cynthia Pollard.

The public narrative surrounding efforts to improve low-performing K-12 schools in the U.S. has been notably gloomy. Observers argue that either nothing works or we don’t know what works. At the same time, the federal government is asking localities to implement evidence-based interventions. But what is known empirically about whether school improvement works, how long it takes, which policies are most effective, and which contexts respond best to intervention? We meta-analyze 141 estimates from 67 studies of turnaround policies implemented post-NCLB. On average, these policies have had a moderate positive effect on math but no effect on ELA achievement as measured by high-stakes exams. We find evidence of positive impacts on low-stakes exams in STEM and humanities subjects and no evidence of harm on non-test outcomes. Some elements of reform, namely extended learning time and teacher replacements, predict greater effects. Contexts serving majority-Latinx populations have seen the largest improvements.

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Sandra E. Black, Jeffrey T. Denning, Lisa J. Dettling, Sarena Goodman, Lesley J. Turner.

Growing reliance on student loans and repayment difficulties have raised concerns of a student debt crisis in the United States. However, little is known about the effects of student borrowing on human capital and long-run financial well-being. We use variation induced by recent expansions in federal loan limits, together with administrative schooling, earnings, and credit records, to identify the effects of increased student borrowing on credit-constrained students’ educational attainment, earnings, debt, and loan repayment. Increased student loan availability raises student debt and improves degree completion, later-life earnings, and student loan repayment while having no effect on homeownership or other types of debt.

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Cassandra M. D. Hart, Brian Jacob, Susanna Loeb.

A common rationale for offering online courses in K-12 schools is that they allow students to take courses not offered at their schools; however, there has been little research on how online courses are used to expand curricular options when operating at scale. We assess the extent to which students and schools use online courses for this purpose by analyzing statewide, student-course level data from high school students in Florida, which has the largest virtual sector in the nation. We introduce a “novel course” framework to address this question. We define a virtual course as “novel” if it is only available to a student virtually, not face-to-face through their own home high school. We find that 7% of high school students in 2013-14 enroll in novel online courses. Novel courses were more commonly used by higher-achieving students, in rural schools, and in schools with relatively few Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate offerings.

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Monnica Chan, Zachary Mabel, Preeya Pandya Mbekeani.

Performance-based funding models for higher education, which tie state support for institutions to performance on student outcomes, have proliferated in recent decades. Some states have designed these policies to also address educational attainment gaps by including bonus payments for traditionally low-performing groups. Using a Synthetic Control Method research design, we examine the impact of these funding regimes on race-based completion gaps in Tennessee and Ohio. We find no evidence that performance-based funding narrowed race-based completion gaps. In fact, contrary to their intended purpose, we find that performance-based funding widened existing gaps in certificate completion in Tennessee. Across both states, the estimated impacts on associate degree outcomes are also directionally consistent with performance-based funding exacerbating racial inequities in associate degree attainment.

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Thomas S. Dee, Graciela Perez-Nunez.

A growing body of evidence suggests that vocationally focused programs of study substantially improve high-school completion and longer-run economic success. However, the corresponding recommendations to expand vocational programs may have unintended, negative consequences for low-income, academically successful students (i.e., the “missing one offs”) who have the capacity and motivation to attend highly selective universities. This study contributes to our understanding of these issues by examining an innovative, college-preparatory program targeted to academically successful Chilean students attending vocational high schools serving lower-income communities. This program (Escuela Desarrollo de Talentos or EDT) provides academic and social-emotional supports aligned with admission to selective universities. We examine the educational effects of EDT participation using a fuzzy regression-discontinuity design based on its eligibility rules. We find that the EDT program did not increase the probability of graduating from high school but did increase performance in math courses. We also find corresponding evidence suggesting that EDT participation increased math performance on college entrance exams and shifted students away from further postsecondary vocational training and towards matriculation at elite universities.

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Andre Joshua Nickow, Philip Oreopoulos, Vincent Quan.

Tutoring—defined here as one-on-one or small-group instructional programming by teachers, paraprofessionals, volunteers, or parents—is one of the most versatile and potentially transformative educational tools in use today. Within the past decade, dozens of preK-12 tutoring experiments have been conducted, varying widely in their approach, context, and cost. Our study represents the first systematic review and meta-analysis of these and earlier studies. We develop a framework for considering different types of programs to not only examine overall effects, but also explore how these effects vary by program characteristics and intervention context. We find that tutoring programs yield consistent and substantial positive impacts on learning outcomes, with an overall pooled effect size estimate of 0.37 SD. Effects are stronger, on average, for teacher and paraprofessional tutoring programs than for nonprofessional and parent tutoring. Effects also tend to be strongest among the earlier grades. While overall effects for reading and math interventions are similar, reading tutoring tends to yield higher effect sizes in earlier grades, while math tutoring tends to yield higher effect sizes in later grades. Tutoring programs conducted during school tend to have larger impacts than those conducted after school.

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Oded Gurantz, Michael Hurwitz, Jonathan Smith.

Younger siblings take more advanced high school course end of year exams when their older siblings perform better in those same exams. Using a regression discontinuity and data from millions of siblings who take Advanced Placement (AP) exams, we show that younger siblings with older siblings who marginally “pass” an AP exam are more likely to take at least one AP exam, increase the total number of AP exams, and are more likely to take the same exam as their sibling. The largest impacts are found among sisters, but we do not see differential effects in coursework where females are underrepresented.

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Oded Gurantz, Christopher Wielga.

COVID has led colleges to brace for potential enrollment declines in the Fall, which would devastate budgets and potentially decrease the likelihood a student ever earns a degree. We take an early look at California’s FAFSA applications up through mid-June, to anticipate how students may be responding to this crisis. We find that COVID did not affect most of California’s “traditional” high school graduates due to an early deadline for financial aid, which exists in a number of states. From early March to mid-June, FAFSA applications among freshmen declined 18%, relative to prior years. Although there were initial declines in applications among more experienced students, these quickly rebounded and are now 9% higher relative to prior years. The largest FAFSA increases occurred in counties that saw the most dramatic increases in Unemployment Insurance claims.

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Lucy C. Sorensen, Stephen B. Holt.

Since their introduction in the 1990s, charter schools have grown from a small-scale experiment to a ubiquitous feature of the public education landscape. The current study uses the legislative removal of a cap on the maximum number of charters, and the weakening of regulations on these new schools, in North Carolina as a natural experiment to assess the intensive impacts of charter school growth on teacher quality and student composition in traditional public schools (TPS) at different levels of local market penetration. Using an instrumental variable difference-in-differences approach to account for endogenous charter demand, we find that intensive local charter entry reduces the inflow of new teachers at nearby TPS, leading to a more experienced and credentialed teaching workforce on average. However, we find that the entry of charters serving predominantly White students leads to reductions in average teacher experience, effectiveness, and credentials at nearby TPS. Overall these findings suggest that the composition of the teacher workforce in TPS will continue to change as charter schools further expand, and that the spillover effects of future charter expansion will vary by the types of students served by charters.

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