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Program and policy effects

Carly D. Robinson, Biraj Bisht, Susanna Loeb.

Billions of dollars are invested in opt-in, educational resources to accelerate students’ learning. Although advertised to support struggling, marginalized students, there is no guarantee these students will opt in. We report results from a school system’s implementation of on-demand tutoring. The take up was low. At baseline, only 19% of students ever accessed the platform, and struggling students were far less likely to opt in than their more engaged and higher achieving peers. We conducted a randomized controlled trial (N=4,763) testing behaviorally-informed approaches to increase take-up. Communications to parents and students together increase the likelihood students access tutoring by 46%, which led to a four-percentage point decrease in course failures. Nonetheless, take-up remained low, showing concerns that opt-in resources can increase—instead of reduce—inequality are valid. Without targeted investments, opt-in educational resources are unlikely to reach many students who could benefit.

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Carycruz Bueno, Lindsay C. Page, Jonathan Smith.

We investigate whether and how Achieve Atlanta’s college scholarship and associated services impact college enrollment, persistence, and graduation among Atlanta Public School graduates experiencing low household income.  Qualifying for the scholarship of up to $5,000/year does not meaningfully change college enrollment among those near the high school GPA eligibility thresholds. However, scholarship receipt does have large and statistically significant effects on early college persistence (i.e., 14%) that continue through BA degree completion within four years (22%).  We discuss how the criteria of place-based programs that support economically disadvantaged students may influence results for different types of students.

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Juan Pablo Valenzuela, Eduardo A. Undurraga, Danilo Kuzmanic, Andrea Canales, Susana Claro, Fernanda Cortés.

The disruption of in-person schooling during the Covid-19 pandemic has affected students’ learning, development, and well-being. Students in Latin America and the Caribbean have been hit particularly hard because schools in the region have stayed closed for longer than anywhere else, with long-term expected adverse consequences. Little is known about which factors are associated with the slow in-person return to school in the region and how these factors have had differential effects based on students’ socio-economic status. Combining a longitudinal national survey of the Chilean school system and administrative datasets, we study the supply and demand factors associated with students’ resuming in-person instruction and the socio-economic gaps in school reopening in Chile in 2021. We defined socio-economic status based on parents’ education and household income. Our results show that in-person learning in 2021 was limited mainly by supply factors (i.e., sanitary, administrative, and infrastructure restrictions). However, once the supply restrictions decreased, many low-income students and their families did not resume in-person instruction. We found vast inequalities in face-to-face instruction by school’s socio-economic characteristics. On average, schools in the highest 10% of the socio-economic distribution had three times higher attendance rates than the remaining 90%. We found no significant differences between schools in the lowest 90% of the distribution. After exceptionally long school closures, most school authorities, students, and their families did not return to in-person instruction, particularly those of low socio-economic status. These inequalities in in-person instruction will expand existing disparities in students’ learning and educational opportunities.

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Benjamin T. Skinner, Taylor Burtch, Hazel Levy.

Increasing numbers of students require internet access to pursue their undergraduate degrees, yet broadband access remains inequitable across student populations. Furthermore, surveys that currently show differences in access by student demographics or location typically do so at high levels of aggregation, thereby obscuring important variation between subpopulations within larger groups. Through the dual lenses of quantitative intersectionality and critical race spatial analysis, we use Bayesian multilevel regression and census microdata to model variation in broadband access among undergraduate populations at deeper interactions of identity. We find substantive heterogeneity in student broadband access by gender, race, and place, including between typically aggregated subpopulations. Our findings speak to inequities in students’ geographies of opportunity and suggest a range of policy prescriptions at both the institutional and federal level.

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Lauren Covelli, John Engberg, Isaac M. Opper.

Community schools are an increasingly popular strategy used to improve the performance of students whose learning may be disrupted by non-academic challenges related to poverty. Community schools partner with community based organizations (CBOs) to provide integrated supports such as health and social services, family education, and extended learning opportunities. With over 300 community schools, the New York City Community Schools Initiative (NYC-CS) is the largest of these programs in the country. Using a novel method that combines multiple rating regression discontinuity design (MRRDD) with machine learning (ML) techniques, we estimate the causal effect of NYC-CS on elementary and middle school student attendance and academic achievement. We find an immediate reduction in chronic absenteeism of 5.6 percentage points, which persists over the following three years. We also find large improvements in math and ELA test scores – an increase of 0.26 and 0.16 standard deviations by the third year after implementation – although these effects took longer to manifest than the effects on attendance. Our findings suggest that improved attendance is a leading indicator of success of this model and may be followed by longer-run improvements in academic achievement, which has important implications for how community school programs should be evaluated.

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Jilli Jung, Maithreyi Gopalan.

Youth voter turnout remains stubbornly low and unresponsive to civic education. Rigorous evaluations of the adoption of civic tests for high school graduation by some states on youth voter turnout remain limited. We estimate the impact of a recent, state-mandated civics test policy—the Civics Education Initiative (CEI)—on youth voter turnout by exploiting spatial and temporal variation in the adoption of CEI across states. Using nationally-representative data from the 1996-2020 Current Population Survey and a Difference-in-Differences analysis, we find that CEI does not significantly affect youth voter turnout. Our null results, largely insensitive to a variety of alternative specifications and robustness checks, provide evidence regarding the lack of efficacy of civic test policies when it comes to youth voter participation.

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Alex Eble, Maya Escueta.

How much does family demand matter for child learning in settings of extreme poverty? In rural Gambia, families with high aspirations for their children’s future education and career, measured before children start school, go on to invest substantially more than other families in the early years of their children’s education. Despite this, essentially no children are literate or numerate three years later. When villages receive a highly-impactful, teacher-focused supply-side intervention, however, children of these families are 25 percent more likely to achieve literacy and numeracy than other children in the same village. Furthermore, improved supply enables these children to acquire other higher-level skills necessary for later learning and child development. We also document patterns of substitutability and complementarity between demand and supply in generating learning at varying levels of skill difficulty. Our analysis shows that greater demand can map onto developmentally meaningful learning differences in such settings, but only with adequate complementary inputs on the supply side.

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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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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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