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Program and policy effects
The sustaining environments hypothesis refers to the popular idea, stemming from theories in developmental, cognitive, and educational psychology, that the long-term success of early educational interventions is contingent on the quality of the subsequent learning environment. Several studies have investigated whether specific kindergarten classroom and other elementary school factors account for patterns of persistence and fadeout of early educational interventions. These analyses focus on the statistical interaction between an early educational intervention – usually whether the child attended preschool – and several measures of the quality of the subsequent educational environment. The key prediction of the sustaining environments hypothesis is a positive interaction between these two variables. To quantify the strength of the evidence for such effects, we meta-analyze existing studies that have attempted to estimate interactions between preschool and later educational quality in the United States. We then attempt to establish the consistency of the direction and a plausible range of estimates of the interaction between preschool attendance and subsequent educational quality by using a specification curve analysis in a large, nationally representative dataset that has been used in several recent studies of the sustaining environments hypothesis. The meta-analysis yields small positive interaction estimates ranging from approximately .00 to .04, depending on the specification. The specification curve analyses yield interaction estimates of approximately 0. Results suggest that the current mix of methods used to test the sustaining environments hypothesis cannot reliably detect realistically sized effects. Our recommendations are to combine large sample sizes with strong causal identification strategies, and to study combinations of interventions that have a strong probability of showing large main effects.
Recent attempts to measure schools’ influence on students' SEL show differences across schools, but whether these differences measure the true effect of schools is unclear. We examine the stability of school-by-grade effects on students' SEL across two years using a large-scale survey. Correlations among effects in the same grades across different years are positive but lower than those for math and English. Schools in the top or bottom of the effect distribution have more persistent impacts across years than those in the middle. Overall, the results suggest that these school effects measure real contributions to students' SEL. However, their low stability draws into question whether including school value-added measures of self-reported SEL in school performance systems would be beneficial.
We examine whether virtual advising – college counseling using technology to communicate remotely – increases postsecondary enrollment in selective colleges. We test this approach using a sample of approximately 16,000 high-achieving, low- and middle-income students identified by the College Board and randomly assigned to receive virtual advising from the College Advising Corps. The offer of virtual advising had no impact on overall college enrollment, but increased enrollment in high graduation rate colleges by 2.7 percentage points (5%), with instrumental variable impacts on treated students of 6.1 percentage points. We also find that non-white students who were randomly assigned to a nonwhite adviser exhibited stronger treatment effects.
We provide novel evidence on the causal impact of student absences in middle and high school on state test scores, course grades, and educational attainment using a rich administrative dataset that includes the date and class period of each absence. Our identification strategy addresses potential endogeneity due to time-varying student-level shocks by exploiting the fact that in a given year, there exists within-student, between-class variation in 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 appear to affect test scores, which provides a further check of our identification strategy. We find that absences in middle and high school harm contemporaneous student achievement and longer-term educational attainment: On average, missing 10 math classes reduces math test scores by 7% of a standard deviation, math course grades by 19% of a standard deviation, the probability of on-time graduation by 8%, and the probability of immediate college enrollment by 7%. Similar results hold for absences in English Language Arts classes. These results suggest that absences in middle school and high school are just as harmful, if not more so, than absences in elementary school. Moreover, the timing of absences during the school year matters, as both the occurrence and the impact of absences are dynamic phenomena.
In recognition of the complexity of the college and financial aid application process, and in response to insufficient access to family or school-based counseling among economically-disadvantaged populations, investments at the local, state, and federal level have expanded students’ access to college and financial aid advising. Experimental and quasi-experimental studies of these programs demonstrate that they can generate substantial improvements in the rate at which low-income students enroll and persist in college. While these programs are successful at the level of individual communities, the individualized, in-person college advising model faces numerous barriers to scale. In this paper, we report early results from an RCT of CollegePoint, an innovative, national college advising initiative that pursues a technology-enabled approach to provide students with sustained, intensive advising. Students assigned to CollegePoint are modestly more likely (1.5 percentage points, or 7.5 percent relative to the control) to enroll at the most selective colleges and universities (Barron’s 1 institutions), though we find no difference in enrollment patterns on other measures of college quality. We find suggestive evidence of variation in the impact of CollegePoint based on when students enrolled in the program. Students who enrolled in the spring of their junior year were 5.6 percentage points (22 percent relative to the control) more likely to enroll at one of the most selective colleges and universities in the country than students in the control group who also signed up in the spring of junior year but who were not assigned to the program.
Holzer and Baum’s recent book, ‘Making College Work: Pathways to Success for Disadvantaged Students,’ provides an excellent up-to-date review of higher education. My review first summarizes its key themes: 1) who gains from college and why? 2) mismatch and the need for more structure; 3) problems with remediation; 4) financial barriers and 5) the promise of comprehensive support. I then critique the book’s proposed solutions using some of my own qualitative and quantitative data. Some recommendations are worth considering, while others are too expensive or unlikely to make a meaningful difference without addressing the underlying lack of preparedness and motivation of college students. I argue that making mandatory some existing services, such as application assistance and advice, proactive tutoring and advising, and greater career transition support, has the most immediate potential.
Child care subsidies play an important role in stabilizing parental employment and helping low- income families access care. With limited federal requirements under CCDBG, states developed divergent subsidy program policies. Our study examines how variations in six state policy levers that capture CCDF administrative burdens and generosity relate to stability in children’s care in the CCDF program, known as subsidy “spells.”: (1) length of eligibility redetermination; (2) reporting requirements for income changes; (3) grace period for care before termination; (4) provider reimbursement rates; (5) parent copay amounts; and (6) difference between initial and continuing eligibility income thresholds. We exploit states’ changes in these policies during a 10- year period (2004-2013) using state fixed effects analyses to identify their impact on spell length. We find that administrative burdens robustly affect child care spell length; increasing states’ redetermination period length by one month increased state median subsidy spell length by 1.4 weeks, but requiring all changes in family income to be reported while enrolled in CCDF decreased spell length by 2.3 weeks. Switching to a 12-month redetermination period increased median spell length by 30%. CCDF policy generosity was not related to spell length. Results are discussed in the context of the 2014 CCDBG reauthorization.
This paper describes and evaluates a web-based coaching program designed to support teachers in implementing Common Core-aligned math instruction. Web-based coaching programs can be operated at relatively lower costs, are scalable, and make it more feasible to pair teachers with coaches who have expertise in their content area and grade level. Results from our randomized field trial document sizable and sustained effects on both teachers’ ability to analyze instruction and on their instructional practice, as measured the Mathematical Quality of Instruction (MQI) instrument and student surveys. However, these improvements in instruction did not result in corresponding increases in math test scores as measured by state standardized tests or interim assessments. We discuss several possible explanations for this pattern of results.
We provide causal estimates of the effects of delayed kindergarten entry on achievement outcomes by exploiting a policy change in the birthdate enrollment cutoff in North Carolina that forced children born in a six-week window to redshirt. Using multiple peer group comparisons, we identify impacts on achievement and gifted or disability identifications in third through fifth grades. Delayed entry provides small benefits to students’ math and reading achievement, and reduced identification of a disability; these impacts operate through cohort position and age advantages, and not from hold-out year experiences. Redshirting differentially benefitted low-income students, but further disadvantaged non-white students.
Researchers commonly interpret effect sizes by applying benchmarks proposed by Cohen over a half century ago. However, effects that are small by Cohen’s standards are large relative to the impacts of most field-based interventions. These benchmarks also fail to consider important differences in study features, program costs, and scalability. In this paper, I present five broad guidelines for interpreting effect sizes that are applicable across the social sciences. I then propose a more structured schema with new empirical benchmarks for interpreting a specific class of studies: causal research on education interventions with standardized achievement outcomes. Together, these tools provide a practical approach for incorporating study features, cost, and scalability into the process of interpreting the policy importance of effect sizes.