Emily Penner

Institution: University of California, Irvine

Emily K. Penner is Associate Professor in the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine. Her research focuses on K-12 education policy, and considers the ways that districts, schools, and teachers can contribute to or ameliorate educational inequality. She is currently involved in projects examining teacher recruitment and retention in constrained labor and housing markets, how school sorting processes affect student opportunities to learn, and how educator-initiated curricula that center the cultural and historical experiences of traditionally marginalized students impact student outcomes.


Emily K. Penner, Dan Ma.

We examine access to high school Ethnic Studies in California, a new graduation requirement beginning in 2029-30. Data from the California Department of Education and the University of California Office of the President indicate that roughly 50 percent of public high school students in 2020-21 attend a school that offers Ethnic Studies or a related course, but as of 2018-19, only 0.2 percent of students were enrolled in such a course. Achieving parity with economics, a current graduation requirement, requires more than doubling the number of Ethnic Studies teachers relative to 2018-19. We also examine school and community factors that predict offering Ethnic Studies and provide descriptive information about the Ethnic Studies teaching force across the state.

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Emily K. Penner, Yujia Liu, Aaron J. Ainsworth.

Non-teaching staff comprise over half of all school employees and their turnover may be consequential for school operation, culture, and student success, yet we lack evidence documenting their attrition. We use 11 years of administrative data from Oregon to examine mobility and exit among teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, and other staff. Although teachers dominate staff turnover conversations, they are consistently the most stable employee group. Some school factors, like the proportion of students being disciplined, predict higher turnover rates for all employees, but within-school turnover between staff groups is weakly correlated and some school context variables are differentially associated with the turnover of various employee groups. Results suggest that employee turnover in schools is not a homogenous phenomenon across staffing groups.

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Marianne Bitler, Sean P. Corcoran, Thurston Domina, Emily Penner.

Estimates of teacher “value-added” suggest teachers vary substantially in their ability to promote student learning. Prompted by this finding, many states and school districts have adopted value-added measures as indicators of teacher job performance. In this paper, we conduct a new test of the validity of value-added models. Using administrative student data from New York City, we apply commonly estimated value-added models to an outcome teachers cannot plausibly affect: student height. We find the standard deviation of teacher effects on height is nearly as large as that for math and reading achievement, raising obvious questions about validity. Subsequent analysis finds these “effects” are largely spurious variation (noise), rather than bias resulting from sorting on unobserved factors related to achievement. Given the difficulty of differentiating signal from noise in real-world teacher effect estimates, this paper serves as a cautionary tale for their use in practice.

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Miles Davison, Andrew M. Penner, Emily Penner.

The well-documented racial disparities in school discipline have led many school districts in the U.S. to adopt restorative justice practices. The restorative justice philosophy differs from traditional disciplinary action by placing an emphasis on restitution and improving behavior rather than punishment. While models of restorative justice are descriptively and theoretically promising, research on restorative practices in schools is limited. We use student-level administrative data and a difference-in-difference design to measure the changes in student discipline outcomes that occurred under restorative justice in Pacific City schools between the 2008-2017 school years. Results indicate that restorative justice practices led to an overall reduction in disciplinary action. However, results also show that restorative justice practices had differential effects between racial groups, with White students benefiting most from restorative justice. These findings suggest that while the overall effects of restorative justice are promising, these practices may unintentionally widen the racial disproportionality in school discipline they are instituted to mitigate.

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Elise Dizon-Ross, Susanna Loeb, Emily Penner, Jane Rochmes.

Despite growing concern over teachers’ ability to live comfortably where they work, we know little about the systematic impacts of affordability on teachers’ well-being, particularly in high-cost urban areas. We use novel survey data from San Francisco Unified School District to identify the patterns and prevalence of economic anxiety among teachers and assess how this anxiety relates to teachers’ attitudes, behaviors, and turnover. We find that San Francisco teachers have far higher levels of economic anxiety on average than a national sample of employed adults, and that younger teachers are particularly financially anxious. Furthermore, such anxiety relates to job performance and teacher retention— economically anxious teachers tend to have more negative attitudes about their jobs, have worse attendance, and are 50 percent more likely to depart the district within two years after the survey.

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