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Program and policy effects

John Papay, Matthew A. Kraft, Jessalynn James.

Numerous high-profile efforts have sought to “turn around” low-performing schools. Evidence on the effectiveness of school turnarounds, however, is mixed, and research offers little guidance on which models are more likely to succeed. We present a mixed-methods case study of turnaround efforts led by the Blueprint Schools Network in three schools in Boston. Using a difference-in-differences framework, we find that Blueprint raised student achievement in ELA by at least a quarter of a standard deviation, with suggestive evidence of comparably large effects in math. We document qualitatively how differential impacts across the three Blueprint schools relate to contextual and implementation factors. In particular, Blueprint’s role as a turnaround partner (in two schools) versus school operator (in one school) shaped its ability to implement its model. As a partner, Blueprint provided expertise and guidance but had limited ability to fully implement its model. In its role as an operator, Blueprint had full authority to implement its turnaround model, but was also responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the school, a role for which it had limited prior experience.

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Lindsey Rose Bullinger, Maithreyi Gopalan, Caitlin Lombardi.

Empirical evidence demonstrates that publicly funded adult health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has had positive effects on low-income adults. We examine whether the ACA’s Medicaid expansions influenced child development and family functioning in low-income households. We use a difference-in-differences framework that exploits cross-state policy variation, and focus on children in low-income families from a nationally representative, longitudinal sample followed from kindergarten to fifth grade. The ACA Medicaid expansions improved children’s reading test scores by approximately 2 percent (0.04 SD). Potential mechanisms for these effects within families are more time spent reading at home, less parental help with homework, and eating dinner together. We find no effects for children’s math test scores or socioemotional skills.

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Scott J. Peters, James S. Carter III.

A wide research base has documented the unequal access to and enrollment in K-12 gifted and talented services and other forms of advanced learning opportunities. This study extends that knowledge base by integrating multiple population-level datasets to better understand correlates of access to and enrollment in gifted and talented services, seventh-grade Algebra 1, and eighth-grade Geometry. Results show that states vary widely with some serving 20% of their students as gifted while others serve 0%. Similarly, within-district income segregation, income-related achievement gaps, and the percent of parents with a college degree are the dominant predictors of a school offering these opportunities and the size of the school population served.

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Taylor Mattia.

Brown v. Board (1954) catalyzed a nationwide effort by the federal judiciary to desegregate public schools by court order, representing a major achievement for the U.S. civil rights movement. Four decades later, courts began dismissing schools from desegregation decrees in a staggered fashion, causing their racial homogeneity to rise. I leverage this exogenous source of variation in the racial mix of schools released from court orders between 1990 and 2014 to explore two key aspects of how whites react to attending schools with students of color. First, contemporaneous survey data indicate that as schools re-segregated, white students in these schools expressed more favorable attitudes towards black and Latino students. Second, present-day voter records from six Southern states of white students in schools that re-segregated show that they are significantly more likely to identify with the more racially liberal party -- the Democrats -- today. The findings are consistent with white students experiencing resegregation as a reduction in social threat, and indicate that school desegregation efforts may have caused life-long shifts among white students toward racial and political conservatism.

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Ethan Scherer, Christopher Cleveland, Rebecca Ivester.

A growing body of research shows that students benefit when they are demographically similar to their teachers. However, less is known about how matching affects social-emotional development. We investigate the effect of teacher-student race and gender matching for middle school students in six charter management organizations. Using a student fixed effects strategy exploiting changes over time in the proportion of demographic matching in a school-grade, we estimate matching’s effect on self-reports of interpersonal and intrapersonal social-emotional skills, test scores, and behavioral outcomes. We find improvements for Black and female students in interpersonal self-management and grit when they are matched to demographically similar teachers. We also find demographic matching leads to reductions in absences for Black students and improved math test scores for females. Our findings add to the emerging teacher diversity literature by showing its benefits for Black and female students during a critical stage of social-emotional development in their lives.

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Carly D. Robinson, Susanna Loeb.

Research consistently demonstrates that tutoring interventions have substantial positive effects on student learning. As a result, tutoring has emerged as a promising strategy for addressing COVID-related learning loss and affording greater educational opportunities for students living in poverty. The effectiveness of tutoring programs, however, varies greatly, and these variations may drive differential gains in student learning. Therefore, determining the program characteristics that do and do not drive positive student outcomes will be key to providing guidance for policymakers and practitioners who want to implement high-impact tutoring at scale. Our goal is to highlight the programs, characteristics, and conditions that evidence suggests make for effective tutoring and to create an evidence-based framework for delivering and evaluating tutoring interventions. In addition, we identify promising questions for future research.

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Stephanie Riegg Cellini.

In this paper, I review the economics literature on for-profit college education in the United States, assessing what we know about institutional behavior and student outcomes after two decades of research. The many studies reviewed here reveal some consistent patterns. It is clear that for-profits compete with institutions in other sectors, yet they behave differently than their public and nonprofit counterparts. The literature is mixed on the responsiveness of the sector to labor market demands, but any responsiveness does not appear to translate to better student outcomes. The vast majority of studies on employment and earnings gains for students in for-profits find worse outcomes for for-profit students relative to similar students in other sectors. These disappointing results suggest that additional accountability measures may be warranted to protect students and taxpayers.

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Jing Liu, Monica Lee, Seth Gershenson.

We provide novel evidence on the causal impacts of student absences in middle and high school on state test scores, course grades, and educational attainment using a rich administrative dataset that tracks the date and class period of each absence. We use two similar but distinct identification strategies that address potential endogeneity due to time-varying student-level shocks by exploiting within-student, between-subject variation in class-specific absences. We also leverage information on the timing of absences to show that absences that occur after the annual window for state standardized testing do not affect test scores, providing a further check of our identification strategy. Both approaches yield similar results. We nd that absences in middle and high school harm contemporaneous student achievement and longer-term educational attainment: On average, missing 10 classes reduces math or English Language Arts test scores by 3-4% of a standard deviation and course grades by 17-18% of a standard deviation. 10 total absences across all subjects in 9th grade reduce both the probability of on-time graduation and ever enrolling in college by 2%. Learning loss due to school absences can have profound economic and social consequences.

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Yanqing Ding, Wei Li, Xin Li, Yinduo Wu, Jin Yang, Xiaoyang Ye.

Despite the growing evidence of informational interventions on college and major choices, we know little about how such light-touch interventions affect the gender gap in STEM majors. Linking survey data to administrative records of Chinese college applicants, we conducted a large-scale randomized experiment to examine the STEM gender gap in the major preference beliefs, application behaviors, and admissions outcomes. We find that female students are less likely to prefer, apply to, and enroll in STEM majors, particularly Engineering majors. In a school-level cluster randomized controlled trial, we provided treated students with major-specific wage information. Students’ major preferences are easily malleable that 39% of treated students updated their preferences after receiving the wage informational intervention. The wage informational intervention has no statistically significant impacts on female students’ STEM-related major applications and admissions. In contrast, those male students in rural areas who likely lack such information are largely shifted into STEM majors as a result of the intervention. We provide supporting evidence of heterogeneous major preferences for extrinsic incentives: even among those students who are most likely to be affected by the wage information (prefer high paying majors and lack the wage information), female students are less responsive to the informational intervention.

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Douglas N. Harris, Jonathan Mills.

We provide theory and evidence about how the design of college financial aid programs affects a variety of high school, college, and life outcomes. The evidence comes from an eight-year randomized trial where 2,587 high school ninth graders received a $12,000 merit-based grant offer. During high school, the program increased their college expectations and non-merit effort but had no effect on merit-related effort (e.g., GPA). After high school, the program increased graduation from two-year colleges only, apparently because of the free college design/framing in only that sector. But we see no effects on incarceration or teen pregnancy. Overall, the results suggest that free college affects student outcomes in ways similar to what advocates of free college suggest and making aid commitments early, well before college starts, increases some forms of high school effort. But we see no evidence that merit requirements are effective. Both the standard human capital model and behavioral economics are required to explain these results.

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