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Standards, accountability, assessment, and curriculum
Challenging the conventional wisdom that the spread of democracy was a leading driver of the expansion of primary schooling, recent studies show that democratization in fact did not lead to an average increase in primary school enrollment rates. One reason for this null effect is that there was already considerable provision of primary education before democratization. Still, it is possible that the spread of democracy did impact other aspects of education systems, such as the content of education and the extent to which teaching jobs are politicized. Studying this possibility cross-nationally has been infeasible due to data limitations. To address this gap, we take advantage of an original dataset covering 160 countries from 1945 to 2021 that contains information about these aspects of education. We document that transitions to democracy tend to be preceded by a decline in the politicization of both education content and teaching jobs. However, soon after democratization occurs, this decline usually halts. Counterfactual estimates suggest that democratization roughly halves the degree to which teacher hiring and firing decisions are politicized, but has a smaller impact on the content of education. The empirical patterns that we uncover have important implications for future research.
School autonomy has been and continues to be one of the most important education reform strategies around the world despite ambiguity about its theoretical and empirical effects on students learning. We use international data from PISA to test three country-level factors that might account for inconsistent results in prior literature: (1) the selective implementation of school autonomy based on school performance; (2) differential influence on high-risk subgroups; and (3) the presence of accountability policies to prevent opportunism by autonomous schools. We find that the relationship between autonomy and student test performance varies both across countries and within countries across subgroups in both magnitude and direction. Similar results are observed if decentralization is coupled with accountability policies. All of three tested factors influence country-level associations between school decentralization and student learning, which suggests that autonomy is effective only when contextual factors and other policies are aligned.
The Advanced Placement (AP) program is nearly ubiquitous in American high schools and is often touted as a way to close racial and socioeconomic gaps in educational outcomes. Using administrative data from Michigan, I exploit variation within high schools across time in AP course offerings to identify the causal effect of AP course availability on college choice and degree attainment. I find that higher income students, White and Asian students, and higher-achieving students are more likely to take advantage of additional AP courses when they are offered, thus widening existing gaps in course-taking. I find little evidence that additional AP availability improves college outcomes for any students. Expanding access to AP courses without additional incentives or support for disadvantaged students to succeed is unlikely to address educational inequality.
Improving education and labor market outcomes for low-income students is critical for advancing socioeconomic mobility in the United States. We explore how Massachusetts public high schools affect the longer-term outcomes of low-income students, using detailed longitudinal data. We estimate school value-added impacts on four-year college graduation and earnings. Similar students who attend schools at the 80th percentile of the distribution are 6 percentage points more likely to graduate from a four-year college and earn 13% (or $3,600) more annually at age 30 compared to peers who attend schools at the 20th percentile. We consider how school effectiveness across a range of short-term measures relates to longer-run impacts. Schools that improve students’ test scores and college aspirations improve longer-run outcomes more.
At schools with low grading standards, students receive higher school-awarded grades across multiple courses than students with the same skills receive at schools with high grading standards. A new methodology shows grading standards vary substantially, certainly enough to affect post-secondary opportunities, across high schools in Alberta. Schools with low grading standards are more likely to be private, rural, offer courses for students returning to high school, have smaller course cohorts, have a smaller percentage of lone parent households and a larger percentage of well-educated parents. Variation in grading standards changes post-secondary opportunities in systematic ways.
Across an array of educational outcomes, evidence suggests that girls outperform boys on average. For example, in Chicago, ninth-grade girls earn math GPAs that are 0.29 points higher than boys on average. This paper examines explanations for this gap, such as girl-boy differences in academic preparation, behaviors and habits, and experiences in math classes. After accounting for these factors, the gender gap in math grades persists. We, then, examine the classroom-level conditions that reduce the gender gap in grades. The gap is smaller in more advanced courses like honors classes and geometry. Further, boys perform more similarly to girls in classes with male teachers. These findings highlight classroom conditions that are more conducive to the academic success of boys.
We evaluate the effects of grade retention on students’ academic, attendance, and disciplinary outcomes in Indiana. Using a regression discontinuity design, we show that third grade retention increases achievement in English Language Arts (ELA) and math immediately and substantially, and the effects persist into middle school. We find no evidence of grade retention effects on student attendance or disciplinary incidents, again into middle school. Our findings combine to show that Indiana’s third grade retention policy improves achievement for retained students without adverse impacts along (measured) non-academic dimensions.
Given the simultaneous rise in time-to-graduation and college GPA, it may be that students reduce their course load to improve their performance. Yet, evidence to date only shows increased course loads increase GPA. We provide a mathematical model showing many unobservable factors -- beyond student ability -- can generate a positive relationship between course load and GPA unless researchers control student schedules. West Point regularly implements the ideal experiment by randomly modifying student schedules with additional training courses. Using 19 years of administrative data, we provide the first causal evidence that taking more courses reduces GPA and increases course failure rates, sometimes substantially.