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Program and policy effects

Riley Acton, Jo Al Khafaji-King, Austin Smith.

We examine the impact of local labor market shocks and state unemployment insurance (UI) policies on student discipline in U.S. public schools. Analyzing school-level discipline data and firm-level layoffs in 23 states, we find that layoffs have little effect on discipline rates overall. However, effects differ across the UI benefit distribution. At the lowest benefit level ($265/week), a mass layoff increases out-of-school suspensions by 4.5%, with effects dissipating as UI benefits increase. Effects are consistently largest for Black students - especially in predominantly White schools - resulting in increased racial disproportionality in school discipline following layoffs in low-UI states.

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Will Davis, Daniel Kreisman, Tareena Musaddiq .

We estimate the effect of universal free school meal access through the Community Eligibility Program (CEP) on child BMI. Through the CEP, schools with high percentages of students qualified for free or reduced-priced meals can offer freebreakfast and lunchto all students. With administrative data from a large school district in Georgia, we use student-level BMI measures from the FitnessGram to compare within-student outcomes before and after CEP implementation across eligible and non-eligible schools. We find one year of CEP exposure increased expected BMI percentile by about 0.085 standard deviations, equivalent to a nearly 1.88- pound weight increase for a student of average height. We also find that the program led to a small increase in the likelihood of overweight and limited evidence of a small decrease in the likelihood of underweight. We do not find that the program increased student obesity risk. Examining the effects of CEP on child BMI by grade suggests that the overall effect is largely driven by students in middle schools, highlighting potential heterogeneity in the program’s impact across grades. The findings of this paper are relevant for researchers and policymakers concerned with the effects of universal free school meals on student health.

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Oded Gurantz, Yung-Yu Tsai.
Government programs impose eligibility requirements to balance the goals of improving welfare while minimizing waste. We study the impact of eligibility monitoring in the context of Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) submissions, where students may be subject to “verification” requirements that require them to confirm the accuracy of the data. Using a matching on observables design we do not find that students flagged for verification are less likely to enroll in college, which contrasts prior research. Verification reduces grant aid received but average changes are small, raising questions about the benefits of this administrative process.

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Taylor Odle, Jennifer Delaney.

Complexity and uncertainty in the college application process contribute to longstanding racial and socioeconomic disparities in enrollment. We leverage a large-scale experiment that combines an early guarantee of college admission with a proactive nudge, fee waiver, and structural application simplification to test the impacts of emerging “direct admissions” policies on students’ college-going behaviors. Students in the intervention were 2.7 percentage points (or 12%) more likely to submit a college application, with larger impacts for racially minoritized, first-generation, and low-income students. Students were most responsive to automatic offers from larger, higher quality institutions on the application margin, but were not more likely to subsequently enroll. In the face of growing adoption, we show this low-cost, low-touch intervention can move the needle on important college-going behaviors but is insufficient alone to increase enrollment given other barriers to access, including the ability to pay for college.

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

College success requires students to engage with their institution academically and administratively. Missteps with required administrative processes can threaten student persistence and success. Through two experimental studies, we assessed the effectiveness of an artificially intelligent text-based chatbot that provided 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 discrete administrative processes such as filing financial aid forms or registering for courses which were acute, time-sensitive, and for which outreach could be targeted to those for whom it was relevant. In the context of replicating studies to better inform policy and programmatic decision making, we draw three core lessons regarding the effective use of nudge-type efforts to promote college success.

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Christopher Rick.

Congestion is a persistent and expensive problem, costing the nation collectively over $300 billion each year. Cities have generally attempted to address congestion using an unoriginal set of expensive strategies, like building new roads or expanding public transit, and many cities are considering implementing congestion pricing. Expanding school bus service may be a palatable solution because it provides a service instead of involving lengthy and costly construction or charging a new fee. School travel is also a sizeable portion of total daily tra c. Indeed, over 50 million children travel to and from school each day and their commutes account for about one-quarter of total daily commuter trips. School travel and school-provided transportation is generally the domain of school districts and not city governments and the school districts in most large cities are independent from city governments. This may lead to a coordination problem if school districts ignore congestion caused, or exacerbated by, school travel. To determine whether pupil transportation reduces congestion, I exploit the interaction of pupil transportation provision (variation in pupil transportation spending and school bus use within districts) and idiosyncratic, within-city and within-month variation in the percentage of weekdays that are instructional school days in a month. I build a rich, monthly, longitudinal data set for congestion, school days, and transportation policy for 51 cities from 2013 to 2019 and find congestion is significantly higher on school days and pupil transportation alleviates congestion caused by school children’s travel. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests cities should subsidize the additional spending needed by the school district to transport more students and lower congestion.

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Beth E. Schueler, Katherine E. Larned.

Few interventions reduce inequality in reading achievement, let alone higher order thinking skills, among adolescents. We study “policy debate”—an extracurricular activity focused on improving middle and high schoolers’ critical thinking, argumentation, and policy analysis skills—in Boston schools serving large concentrations of economically-disadvantaged students of color. Student fixed effects estimates show debate had positive impacts on ELA test scores of 0.13 SD, equivalent to 68% of a full year of average 9th grade learning. Gains were concentrated on analytical more than rote subskills. We find no harm to math, attendance, or disciplinary records, and evidence of positive effects on high school graduation and postsecondary enrollment. Impacts were largest among students who were lowest achieving prior to joining debate.

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Kaitlyn O'Hagan, Leanna Stiefel, Amy Ellen Schwartz.

Middle school transitions are increasingly required, despite documented negative effects on general education students (GENs). We explore if and how the move to middle school differentially affects students with disabilities (SWDs), a large and low-performing group of students. Using an instrumental variables strategy and NYC data on nine cohorts of students, we find the middle school transition causes a 0.29 standard deviation decline in SWD math performance, a 0.16 standard deviation decline in ELA performance, and a one percentage point increase in grade retention. However, after accounting for potential mediators (e.g. peer cohort stability) effects are similar for SWDs and GENs, suggesting the need to ease the middle school transition for all students.

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Sara White, Leiah Groom-Thomas, Susanna Loeb.

Tutoring has emerged as an especially promising strategy for supporting students academically. This study synthesizes 33 articles on the implementation of tutoring, defined as one-to-one or small-group instruction in which a human tutor supports students grades K-12 in an academic subject, to better understand the facilitators and barriers to program success. We find that policies influenced tutoring implementation through the allocation of federal funding and stipulation of program design. Tutoring program launch has often been facilitated by strategic relationships between schools and external tutoring providers and strengthened by transparent assessments of program quality and effectiveness. Successful implementation hinged on the support of school leaders with the power to direct school funding, space, and time. Tutoring setting and schedule, recruitment and training, and curriculum influenced whether students are able to access quality tutoring and instruction. Ultimately, evidence suggests that tutoring was most meaningful when tutors fostered positive student-tutor relationships which they drew upon to target instruction toward students’ strengths and needs.

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Erica Harbatkin, Jason Burns, Samantha Cullum.

School climate is critical to school effectiveness, but there is limited large-scale data available to examine the magnitude and nature of the relationship between school climate and school improvement. Drawing on statewide administrative data linked with unique teacher survey data in Michigan, we examine whether school climate appeared to play a role in the effects of a state-level school turnaround intervention. Using comparative interrupted time series models and descriptive mediation analysis, we find that students in schools with more positive school climate appeared to fare better than their peers in schools with less positive climate. Certain elements of climate—relational trust and school leadership—also mediated the effect of turnaround on student achievement. Our findings have implications for school improvement planning, for the design of evaluations of school turnaround initiatives, and for data collection by states aiming to improve their lowest performing schools.

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