Douglas Harris

Institution: Tulane University

Douglas Harris is Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics, the Schlieder Foundation Chair in Public Education, Director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans (ERA-New Orleans), and Director of the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH), all at Tulane University. His research has influenced policy and practice on test-based accountability for teachers and schools, value-added measures, charter schools and market-based reforms, and college financial aid and access programs. At ERA-New Orleans, he is studying the city’s unprecedented almost-all-charter system.  The new REACH center, funded through $10 million from the USDOE Institute of Education Sciences (IES), is taking this work to a national scale and covering a broader array of school choice policies. He is a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, which recently released result from his IES-funded randomized trial of a “promise scholarship,” or free college, program in Milwaukee. Value-Added Measures in Education (Harvard Education Press, 2011), his first book, was nominated for the national Grawemeyer prize in education and praised by national leaders across the political spectrum, including Randi Weingarten and Bill Gates. He work has been published in top journals in a variety of fields, including the Journal of Public Economics, Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Economics of Education Review, American Sociological Review, and the general interest journal, Science. He advised has advised governors in six states, testified in the U.S. Senate, and advised the U.S. Department of Education and Obama White House on multiple education policies. His work is also widely cited in national media, including CNN, MSNBC, NPR, The New York Times, the Washington Post, National Journal, and The Wall Street Journal and commentators such as David Brooks and Malcolm Gladwell.


Douglas N. Harris.

Market-based policies, especially school vouchers, are expanding rapidly and shifting students out of traditional public schools. This essay broadens, deepens, and updates prior critiques of the free market logic in five ways. First, while prior articles have pointed to some of the conditions necessary for efficient market functioning, I provide a more comprehensive list. Second, with an up-to-date literature review, I show that all of these conditions fail to hold to an unusual extent in schooling, relative to other markets. Third, because of these failures, I argue that the strongest critique of the free market approach to schooling comes from the intellectual home of markets—economics. Fourth, I show that the issues leading to inefficiency are the same ones leading to inequity. Fifth, I argue that the analysis points to specific roles for government, which go well beyond those included in new universal school voucher policies, but which are also narrower than the roles of government encompassed in traditional public education. For these reasons, the current direction of policy is off-track and apparently inconsistent with the main criteria on which we evaluate education policy and even with the values that voucher advocates themselves profess.

More →

Douglas N. Harris, Feng Chen.

We study the combined effects of charter schools, and their various mechanisms, on a national level and across multiple outcomes. Using difference-in-differences and fixed effects methods, we find that charter entry (above 10 percent market share) increases high school graduation rate in geographic districts by about 2-4 percentage points and increases test scores by 0.06-0.16 standard deviations. Charter effects peak with 5-15 percent charter market share. Also, total effects are comprised not only of participant and competitive effects, but also the charter-induced closure of low-performing traditional public schools. The analysis addresses potential endogeneity of charter school location and timing.

More →

Douglas N. Harris, Lihan Liu, Daniel Oliver, Cathy Balfe, Sara Slaughter, Nicholas Mattei.

COVID-19 has forced essentially all schools in the country to close their doors to inperson activities. In this study, we provide new evidence about variation in school responses across school types. We focus on five main constructs of school activity during COVID-19: personalization and engagement in instruction, personalization and engagement in other school communication with students, progress monitoring (especially assignment grading), breadth of services (e.g., counseling and meals), and equitable access (to technology and services for students with special needs). We find that the strongest predictor of the extent of school activities was the education level of parents and other adults in schools’ neighborhoods. Internet access also predicts school responses. Race, parent/adult income, and school spending do not predict school responses. Private schools shifted to remote learning several days faster than traditional public schools, though others eventually caught up. On some measures, charter schools exceeded the responses of other schools; in other cases, traditional public schools had the highest overall measures. States in the Midwest responded more aggressively than those in other regions, especially the South, even after controlling for the full set of additional covariates. Learning management systems were reported by a large majority of schools, followed by video communication tools and tutorial/assessment programs. Several methods are proposed and implemented to address differential website use. We discuss potential implications of these findings for policy and effects on student outcomes.

More →

Douglas N. Harris, Lihan Liu, Nathan Barrett, Ruoxi Li.

High school graduation rates have increased dramatically in the past two decades. Some skepticism has arisen, however, because of the confluence of the graduation rise and the starts of high-stakes accountability for graduation rates with No Child Left Behind (NCLB). In this study we provide some of the first evidence about the role of accountability versus strategic behavior, especially the degree to which the recent graduation rate rise represents increased human capital. First, using national DD analysis of within-state, cross-district variation in proximity to state graduation rate thresholds, we confirm that NCLB accountability increased graduation rates. However, we find limited evidence that this is due to strategic behavior. To test for lowering of graduation standards, we examined graduation rates in states with and without graduation exams and trends in GEDs; neither analysis suggests that the graduation rate rise is due to strategic behavior. We also examined the effects of “credit recovery” courses using Louisiana micro data; while our results suggest an increase in credit recovery, consistent with some lowering of standards, the size of the effect is not nearly enough to explain the rise in graduation rates. Finally, we examine other forms of strategic behavior by schools, though these can only explain inflation of school/district-level graduation rates, not rational rates. Overall, the evidence suggests that the rise in the national graduation rates reflects some strategic behavior, but also a substantial increase in the nation’s stock of human capital. Graduation accountability was a key contributor.

More →