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Program and policy effects

John Papay, Ann Mantil, Richard J. Murnane.

Many states use high-school exit examinations to assess students’ career and college readiness in core subjects. We find meaningful consequences of barely passing the mathematics examination in Massachusetts, as opposed to just failing it. However, these impacts operate at different educational attainment margins for low-income and higher-income students. As in previous work, we find that barely passing increases the probability of graduating from high school for low-income (particularly urban low-income) students, but not for higher-income students. However, this pattern is reversed for 4-year college graduation. For higher-income students only, just passing the examination increases the probability of completing a 4-year college degree by 2.1 percentage points, a sizable effect given that only 13% of these students near the cutoff graduate.

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Jordan S. Berne.

Nearly all studies of preschool’s long-run effects examine means-tested programs; little is known about the long-run effects of universal programs. A number of key differences—including population served, scale, and counterfactual options—may cause universal programs to have different effects than previously studied means-tested programs. Using a difference-in-differences framework, I estimate the effects of Georgia’s first-in-the-nation statewide universal pre-K program on adult educational attainment and employment. The program made children 4.5 percent more likely to graduate from high school and 13.7 percent more likely to obtain a bachelor’s degree (although the latter effect is imprecise). I find similar results in a supplemental analysis that uses the synthetic control method. I find no effects on associate degree attainment or employment.

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Hernando Grueso.

In this paper, I study the causal relationship between violence and human capital accumulation. Due to a power vacuum left in conflict zones of Colombia after the 2016 peace agreement, large spikes in violence were reported in the municipalities of the country dominated by the rebel group FARC. I compare student test scores in municipalities that experienced the increase in violence to the ones that did not, before and after the national peace agreement. I find that a 10 percent increase in the homicide rate reduces average high school test scores by approximately 0.03 standard deviations. However, this impact is greater in the case of poor students who suffered a reduction of about 0.1 standard deviations per subject area, equivalent to 3.3 percentage points out of the final score. I also consider heterogeneity by gender finding a slightly larger negative impact on female students. This disparate effect on women and on the poorest students adds new evidence to the literature on the effects of armed conflict on learning outcomes.

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Lucy C. Sorensen, Montserrat Avila Acosta, John Engberg, Shawn D. Bushway.
U.S. public school students increasingly attend schools with sworn law enforcement officers present. Yet, little is known about how these school resource officers (SROs) affect school environments or student outcomes. Our study uses a fuzzy regression discontinuity (RD) design with national school-level data from 2014 to 2018 to estimate the impacts of SRO placement. We construct this discontinuity based on the application scores for federal school based policing grants of linked police agencies. We find that SROs effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools, but do not prevent gun-related incidents. We also find that SROs intensify the use of suspension, expulsion, police referral, and arrest of students. These increases in disciplinary and police actions are consistently largest for Black students, male students, and students with disabilities.

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Jing Liu, Emily Penner, Wenjing Gao.

Teachers' sense-making of student behavior determines whether students get in trouble and are formally disciplined. Status categories, such as race, can influence perceptions of student culpability, but the degree to which this contributes to racial disproportionality in discipline receipt is unknown. This study provides the  first systematic documentation of teachers' use office discipline referrals (ODRs) in a large, diverse urban school district in California that specifies the identity of both the referred and referring individuals in all ODRs. We identify teachers exhibiting extensive referral behavior, or the top 5% referrers based on the number of ODRs they make in a given year and evaluate their contributions to disciplinary disparities. We find that "top referrers" effectively double the racial gaps in ODRs for both Black-White and Hispanic-White comparisons. These gaps are mainly driven by higher numbers of ODRs issued for Black and Hispanic students due to interpersonal offences and defiance, and also partially convert to racial gaps in suspensions. Both the level and racial compositions of the school sites where "top referrers" serve and their personal traits seem to explain some of their frequent referring behavior. Targeting supports and interventions to "top referrers" might afford an important opportunity to reduce racial disciplinary gaps.

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Serena Canaan, Stefanie Fischer, Pierre Mouganie, Geoffrey C. Schnorr.

To boost college graduation rates, policymakers often advocate for academic supports such as coaching or mentoring. Proactive and intensive coaching interventions are effective, but are costly and difficult to scale. We evaluate a relatively lower-cost group coaching program targeted at first-year college students placed on academic probation. Participants attend a workshop where coaches aim to normalize failure and improve self-confidence. Coaches also facilitate a process whereby participants reflect on their academic difficulties, devise solutions to address their challenges, and create an action plan. Participants then hold a one-time follow-up meeting with their coach or visit a campus resource. Using a difference-in-discontinuity design, we show that the program raises students’ first-year GPA by 14.6% of a standard deviation, and decreases the probability of first-year dropout by 8.5 percentage points. Effects are concentrated among lower-income students who also experience a significant increase in the probability of graduating. Finally, using administrative data we provide the first evidence that coaching/mentoring may have substantial long-run effects as we document significant gains in lower-income students’ earnings 7–9 years following entry to the university. Our findings indicate that targeted, group coaching can be an effective way to improve marginal students’ academic and early career outcomes.

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Michael Dinerstein, Isaac M. Opper.

What happens when employers would like to screen their employees but only observe a subset of output? We specify a model in which heterogeneous employees respond by producing more of the observed output at the expense of the unobserved output. Though this substitution distorts output in the short-term, we derive three sufficient conditions under which the heterogenous response improves screening efficiency: 1) all employees place similar value on staying in their current role; 2) the employees' utility functions satisfy a variation of the traditional single-crossing condition; 3) employer and worker preferences over output are similar. We then assess these predictions empirically by studying a change to teacher tenure policy in New York City, which increased the role that a single measure -- test score value-added -- played in tenure decisions. We show that in response to the policy teachers increased test score value-added and decreased output that did not enter the tenure decision. The increase in test score value-added was largest for the teachers with more ability to improve students' untargeted outcomes, increasing their likelihood of getting tenure. We find that the endogenous response to the policy announcement reduced the screening efficiency gap -- defined as the reduction of screening efficiency stemming from the partial observability of output -- by 28%, effectively shifting some of the cost of partial observability from the post-tenure period to the pre-tenure period.

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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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Kevin J. Mumford.

Financing college expenses through an income share agreement (ISA) is an arrangement where the student agrees to pay a fixed percentage of future earned income for a designated period of time in exchange for college funding. Using administrative and survey data for all eligible applicants to a university ISA program, I estimate the adverse selection into the ISA and provide preliminary estimates of the moral hazard for ISA participants. Identification of adverse selection comes from being able to observe the full set of eligible students who apply to the program. There is evidence of selection on the offered income share rate (which is determined by the student’s major) as well as on parent characteristics, though not parent income. Surprisingly, there is no evidence of adverse selection on student ability as measured by SAT score and college grades. I find no differential selection on other student characteristics including demographics and measures of debt aversion, risk aversion, and time preference. Controlling for observable factors, ISA participation increases the likelihood of college graduation by 3 percentage points and decreases starting salary by $5,000 on average.

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Mark J. Chin.

In this paper I study how school desegregation by race following Brown v. Board of Education affected White individuals’ racial attitudes and politics in adulthood. I use geocoded nationwide data from the General Social Survey and differences-in-differences to identify causal impacts. Integration significantly reduced White individuals’ political conservatism as adults in the U.S. South but not elsewhere. I observe similar geographic impact heterogeneity for individuals’ attitudes towards Blacks and policies promoting racial equity, but positive effects emerge less consistently across specifications. Results suggest that this heterogeneity may depend on the effectiveness of integration policies. In the south, Black-White exposure was greater following desegregation, and White disenrollment was lower. My study provides the first causal evidence on how different theories concerning intergroup contact and racial attitudes (i.e., the contact and racial threat hypotheses) may have applied to school contexts following historic court mandates to desegregate.

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