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Program and policy effects

Kathleen Lynch, Monica Lee, Susanna Loeb.
The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on preschool children’s school readiness skills remains understudied. This research investigates Head Start preschool children’s early numeracy, literacy, and executive function outcomes during a pandemic-affected school year, using a novel virtual assessment methodology. Study children (N = 336; mean age = 51 months; 46% Hispanic; 36% Black Non-Hispanic; 52% female) in a network of Head Start centers in four states (Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) experienced low in-person preschool exposure compared to national pre-pandemic norms. However, study children experienced fall to spring score gains during the pandemic-affected year of 0.05 SD in executive function, 0.27 SD in print knowledge, and 0.45-0.71 SD in early numeracy skills, growth not outside the general range of that observed in pre-pandemic research studies. For two of the three early numeracy domains measured, spring test score outcomes were stronger among children who attended more in-person preschool. We discuss implications for future research and policy.

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Sarah Gust, Eric A. Hanushek, Ludger Woessmann.

How far is the world away from ensuring that every child obtains the basic skills needed to be internationally competitive? And what would accomplishing this mean for world development? Based on the micro data of international and regional achievement tests, we map achievement onto a common (PISA) scale. We then estimate the share of children not achieving basic skills for 159 countries that cover 98.1% of world population and 99.4% of world GDP. We find that at least two-thirds of the world’s youth do not reach basic skill levels, ranging from 24% in North America to 89% in South Asia and 94% in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our economic analysis suggests that the present value of lost world economic output due to missing the goal of global universal basic skills amounts to over $700 trillion over the remaining century, or 11% of discounted GDP.

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Michael S. Hayes, Jing Liu, Seth Gershenson.

Teachers affect a wide range of students’ educational and social outcomes, but how they contribute to students’ involvement in school discipline is less understood. We estimate the impact of teacher demographics and other observed qualifications on students’ likelihood of receiving a disciplinary referral. Using data that track all disciplinary referrals and the identity of both the referred and referring individuals from a large and diverse urban school district in California, we find students are about 0.2 to 0.5 percentage points (7% to 18%) less likely to receive a disciplinary referral from teachers of the same race or gender than from teachers of different demographic backgrounds. Students are also less likely to be referred by more experienced teachers and by teachers who hold either an English language learners or special education credential. These results are mostly driven by referrals for defiance and violence infractions, Black and Hispanic male students, and middle school students. While it is unclear whether these findings are due to variation in teachers’ effects on actual student behavior, variation in teachers’ proclivities to make disciplinary referrals, or a combination of the two, these results nonetheless suggest that teachers play a central role in the prevalence of, and inequities in, office referrals and subsequent student discipline.

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Lang (Kate) Yang.

School districts in the United States often borrow on the municipal bond market to pay for capital projects. Districts serving economically disadvantaged communities tend to receive lower credit ratings and pay higher interest rates. To remedy this problem, 24 states have established credit enhancement programs that promise to repay district debt when a district cannot do so, thereby enhancing the district’s credit rating. I rely on cross- and within-district variations to estimate the effect of receiving state credit enhancement on district bond interest rate, per-pupil capital spending, and student performance. State enhancement reduces district bond interest rates by 6% and increases per-student capital spending by 6% to 7%. It also reduces the disparity in interest rate and capital spending across districts serving lower and higher income families, with no discernible effect on test scores. I find no evidence that the amount of enhanced school debt is associated with significant changes in interest rates paid by state governments. Districts in states without such programs could have achieved cost savings in the range of $383 million to $1 billion from 2009 to 2019 had the states adopted similar programs.

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Federick Ngo, Tatiana Melguizo.

AB705 is a landmark higher education policy that has changed approaches to developmental/remedial education in the California Community College system. We study one district that implemented reforms by placing most students in transfer-level math/English courses and encouraging enrollment in support courses based on multiple measures of academic preparation (e.g., GPA). We use regression discontinuity designs to examine the impact of these new placement procedures, finding benefits to English support course recommendations for low GPA students, but no evidence of benefits or penalties for math. We use inverse probability weighted regression adjustment to explore the relationship between support course enrollment and subsequent outcomes. While enrollment in concurrent support courses appeared beneficial, enrollment in developmental courses was associated with poorer outcomes.

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Lindsay C. Page, Katharine Meyer, Jeonghyun Lee, Hunter Gehlbach.

College success requires students to engage with their institution both academically and administratively. Missteps with required processes can threaten students’ ability to persist. We experimentally assessed the effectiveness of an artificially intelligent text-based chatbot to provide proactive outreach and support to college students to navigate administrative processes and use campus resources. In both the two-year and four-year college context, outreach was most effective when focused on administrative processes which were acute, time-sensitive, and for which outreach could be targeted to those for whom it was relevant. We draw lessons regarding the effective use of nudge-type efforts to support college success.

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Mark Murphy, Angela Johnson.
This study examines the effects of English Learner (EL) status on subsequent Special Education (SPED) placement. Through a research-practice partnership, we link student demographic data and initial English proficiency assessment data across seven cohorts of test takers and observe EL and SPED programmatic participation for these students over seven years. Our regression discontinuity (RD) estimates at the English proficiency margin consistently differ substantively from positive associations generated through regression analyses. RD evidence indicates that EL status had no effect on SPED placement at the English proficiency threshold. Grade-by-grade and subgroup RD analyses at this margin suggest that ELs were modestly under-identified for SPED during grade 5 and that ELs whose primary language was Spanish were under-identified for SPED.

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Jessalynn James, James H. Wyckoff.

The distribution of teaching effectiveness across schools is fundamental to understanding how schools can address disparities in educational outcomes. Research and policy have recognized the importance of teaching effectiveness for decades. Five stylized facts predict that teachers should be differentially allocated across schools such that poor, Black and Hispanic students are taught by less qualified and less effective teachers. Yet, research is unclear whether these predictions have empirical support. Our purpose is to better understand whether there are meaningful differences in teacher effectiveness among schools. We find that poor, Black and Hispanic students are more likely to be taught by novice teachers when they live in more segregated MSAs. Moreover, the geographic nature of segregation varies across MSAs. Differentiating segregation within urban districts and segregation between urban districts and outlying districts in the same MSAs is essential to understanding poor students’ exposure to novice teachers and policies that address these disparities. We find that poor, Black and Hispanic students are 50 percent more likely to be exposed to at least one novice teacher during elementary school compared to their more affluent white peers. These results raise questions regarding the enforcement of ESSA’s requirements on the distribution of teacher qualifications and quality.

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Jing Liu, Monica Lee.

Student absenteeism is often conceptualized and quantified in a static, uniform manner, providing an incomplete understanding of this important phenomenon. Applying growth curve models to detailed class-attendance data, we document that secondary school students' unexcused absences grow steadily throughout a school year and over grades, while the growth of excused absences remain essentially unchanged. Importantly, students starting the school year with a high number of unexcused absences, Black and Hispanic students, and low-income students accumulate unexcused absences at a significantly faster rate than their counterparts. Lastly, students with higher growth rates in unexcused absences consistently report lower perceptions of all aspects of school culture than their peers. Interventions targeting unexcused absences and/or improving school culture can be crucial to mitigating disengagement.

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Jing Liu, Megan Kuhfeld, Monica Lee, Danett Song.

Noncognitive constructs such as self-efficacy, social awareness, and academic engagement are widely acknowledged as critical components of human capital, but systematic data collection on such skills in school systems is complicated by conceptual ambiguities, measurement challenges and resource constraints. This study addresses this issue by comparing the predictive validity of two most widely used metrics on noncogntive outcomes|observable academic behaviors (e.g., absenteeism, suspensions) and student self-reported social and emotional learning (SEL) skills|for the likelihood of high school graduation and postsecondary attainment. Our findings suggest that conditional on student demographics and achievement, academic behaviors are several-fold more predictive than SEL skills for all long-run outcomes, and adding SEL skills to a model with academic behaviors improves the model's predictive power minimally. In addition, academic behaviors are particularly strong predictors for low-achieving students' long-run outcomes. Part-day absenteeism (as a result of class skipping) is the largest driver behind the strong predictive power of academic behaviors. Developing more nuanced behavioral measures in existing administrative data systems might be a fruitful strategy for schools whose intended goal centers on predicting students' educational attainment.

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