Kevin Lewis

March 20, 2023

Not in My Schoolyard: Disability Discrimination in Educational Access
Lauren Rivera & András Tilcsik
American Sociological Review, forthcoming 


Disabled people constitute the largest minority group in the United States, and disability discrimination is prohibited under federal law. Nevertheless, disability has received limited attention in the sociology of discrimination. We examine disability discrimination in an important gatekeeping interaction: access to public education. In an audit study of more than 20,000 public schools, we sent emails to principals from fictitious prospective parents asking for a school tour, varying the child’s disability status and gender and the parent’s race. Principals were significantly less likely to respond when the child had a disability, especially when the email came from a Black (rather than White) parent. A survey experiment with 578 principals revealed possible mechanisms. Principals viewed disabled students as more likely to impose a significant burden on schools, but disabled Black students faced an additional disadvantage due to stereotypes of their parents, who were perceived to be less valuable future members of the school community in terms of fundraising, volunteering, and other forms of engagement to support the school. Our results highlight that discrimination against people with disabilities begins long before the labor market and illuminate how the intersection between disability and race shapes inequalities in educational access.

Suspending Suspensions: The Education Production Consequences of School Suspension Policies
Nolan Pope & George Zuo
Economic Journal, forthcoming 


Managing student behaviour is integral to the education production process. We study the tradeoffs of school suspension policies by modelling and estimating how changes in school suspension policies causally impact student performance and teacher turnover. Our results indicate that the reduction in suspension rates in LAUSD decreased math and English test scores, decreased GPAs, and increased absences. Teacher turnover also increased, particularly for inexperienced teachers. We also document an efficiency-equity tradeoff: while achievement decreased for most students in the district, the highest-risk students experienced moderate gains in achievement.

Is the Rise in High School Graduation Rates Real? High-Stakes School Accountability and Strategic Behavior
Douglas Harris et al.
Labour Economics, forthcoming 


We show that publicly reported U.S. high school graduation rates have increased by 10-18 percentage points over the past two decades. Using national difference-in-differences analyses of state- and district-level variation in graduation rates, we also find that graduation accountability from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was likely a principal cause. Additional analysis of high school graduation exams, GEDs, credit recovery, and high school exit codes suggest that strategic behavior is not a primary explanation. This provides some of the first evidence to date that federal accountability has substantially increased the nation's stock of human capital.

Does School Choice Leave Behind Future Criminals?
Andrew Bibler, Stephen Billings & Stephen Ross
NBER Working Paper, February 2023 


School choice lotteries are an important tool for allocating access to high-quality and oversubscribed public schools. While prior evidence suggests that winning a school lottery decreases adult criminality, there is little evidence for how school choice lotteries impact non-lottery students who are left behind at their neighborhood school. We leverage variation in actual lottery winners conditional on expected lottery winners to link the displacement of middle school peers to adult criminal outcomes. We find that non-applicant boys are more likely to be arrested as adults when applicants from their neighborhood win the school choice lottery. These effects are concentrated among boys who are at low risk of being arrested based on observables. Finally, we confirm evidence in the literature that students who win the lottery decrease adult criminality but show that after accounting for the negative impact on the students who forego the lottery, lotteries increase overall arrests and days incarcerated for young men.

Looking for Flynn effects in a recent online U.S. adult sample: Examining shifts within the SAPA Project
Elizabeth Dworak, William Revelle & David Condon
Intelligence, May-June 2023 


Compared to European countries, research is limited regarding if the Flynn effect, or its reversal, is a current phenomenon in the United States. Though recent research on the United States suggests that a Flynn effect could still be present, or partially present, among child and adolescent samples, few studies have explored differences of cognitive ability scores among US adults. Thirteen years of cross-sectional data from a subsample of adults (n = 394,378) were obtained from the Synthetic Aperture Personality Assessment Project (SAPA Project) to examine if cognitive ability scores changed within the United States from 2006 to 2018. Responses to an overlapping set of 35 (collected 2006–2018) and 60 (collected 2011–2018) items from the open-source multiple choice intelligence assessment International Cognitive Ability Resource (ICAR) were used to examine the trends in standardized average composite cognitive ability scores and domain scores of matrix reasoning, letter and number series, verbal reasoning, and three-dimensional rotation. Composite ability scores from 35 items and domain scores (matrix reasoning; letter and number series) showed a pattern consistent with a reversed Flynn effect from 2006 to 2018 when stratified across age, education, or gender. Slopes for verbal reasoning scores, however, failed to meet or exceed an annual threshold of |0.02| SD. A reversed Flynn effect was also present from 2011 to 2018 for composite ability scores from 60 items across age, education, and gender. Despite declining scores across age and demographics in other domains of cognitive ability, three-dimensional rotation scores showed evidence of a Flynn effect with the largest slopes occurring across age stratified regressions.

Taking Teacher Evaluation to Scale: The Effect of State Reforms on Achievement and Attainment
Joshua Bleiberg et al.
NBER Working Paper, March 2023 


Federal incentives and requirements under the Obama administration spurred states to adopt major reforms to their teacher evaluation systems. We examine the effects of these reforms on student achievement and attainment at a national scale by exploiting the staggered timing of implementation across states. We find precisely estimated null effects, on average, that rule out impacts as small as 0.015 standard deviation for achievement and 1 percentage point for high school graduation and college enrollment. We also find little evidence that the effect of teacher evaluation reforms varied by system design rigor, specific design features or student and district characteristics. We highlight five factors that may have undercut the efficacy of teacher evaluation reforms at scale: political opposition, the decentralized structure of U.S. public education, capacity constraints, limited generalizability, and the lack of increased teacher compensation to offset the non-pecuniary costs of lower job satisfaction and security.

The spillover effects of parental verbal conflict on classmates' cognitive and noncognitive outcomes
Weina Zhou & Andrew Hill
Economic Inquiry, April 2023, Pages 342-363 


This study shows that children exposed to Interparental Verbal Conflict (IPVC) exert negative spillovers on their peers. Our first identification strategy uses within-school, across-classroom variation in peer's IPVC in schools that randomly assign students into classrooms. Our second strategy uses within-student, year-to-year changes in peer's IPVC to control for peer's pre-existing characteristics. Both results suggest that being randomly assigned to classes where more classmates experience IPVC reduces mental wellbeing, lowers social engagement, diminishes self-confidence, and increases the likelihood of problem behaviors. Effects operate by damaging relationships between classmates. There is no evidence of impacts on test scores or teacher behavior.

Narrowing the Gap: Implications of Arts Entrepreneurship Curricula on Artist Labor Market Outcomes
Christos Makridis & Jonathan Kuuskoski
Stanford Working Paper, February 2023


This paper studies the role of arts entrepreneurship training among artists. First, we present results from a new hand-collected dataset on the incidence of arts entrepreneurship across leading colleges and conservatories. We find that such entrepreneurship training is exceedingly rare and limited. Second, using data from the American Community Survey, we show that artists who also have some business background earn greater wages in the labor market and exhibit better labor market prospects. We subsequently explore the expansion of arts entrepreneurship training for artists and discuss emerging trends.

Varying Impacts of Letters of Recommendation on College Admissions
Eli Ben-Michael, Avi Feller & Jesse Rothstein
NBER Working Paper, February 2023 


In a pilot program during the 2016-17 admissions cycle, the University of California, Berkeley invited many applicants for freshman admission to submit letters of recommendation. This proved controversial within the university, with concerns that this change would further disadvantage applicants from disadvantaged groups. To inform this debate, we use this pilot as the basis for an observational study of the impact of submitting letters of recommendation on subsequent admission, with the goal of estimating how impacts vary across pre-defined subgroups. Understanding this variation is challenging in an observational setting because estimated impacts reflect both actual treatment effect variation and differences in covariate balance across groups. To address this, we develop balancing weights that directly optimize for “local balance” within subgroups while maintaining global covariate balance between treated and control units. Applying this approach to the UC Berkeley pilot study yields excellent local and global balance, unlike more traditional weighting methods, which fail to balance covariates within subgroups. We find that the impact of letters of recommendation increases with applicant strength. However, we find little average difference for applicants from disadvantaged groups, although this result is more mixed. In the end, we conclude that soliciting letters of recommendation from a broader pool of applicants would not meaningfully change the composition of admitted undergraduates.

Cyber versus Brick and Mortar: Achievement, Attainment, and Postsecondary Outcomes in Pennsylvania Charter High Schools
Sarah Cordes
Education Finance and Policy, forthcoming 


The charter school sector has expanded beyond brick-and-mortar schools to cyber schools, where enrollment grew almost tenfold between 2015 and 2020. While a large literature documents the effects of charter schools on test scores, fewer studies explore impacts on attainment or postsecondary outcomes and there is almost no work exploring the consequences of cyber charter enrollment for these outcomes. In this paper, I examine the impacts of Pennsylvania's charter high schools on student attendance, achievement, graduation, and postsecondary enrollment, distinguishing the impacts of brick-and-mortar from cyber schools. I find that brick-and-mortar charters have no or positive effects across outcomes, and that effects are concentrated in urban districts and among Black and economically disadvantaged students. By contrast, attending a cyber charter is associated with almost universally worse outcomes, with little evidence of heterogeneity. Students who enroll in a cyber charter at the beginning of 9th grade are 9.5 percentage points (pps) less likely to graduate, 16.8 pps less likely to enroll in college, and 15.2 pps less likely to persist in a postsecondary institution beyond one semester. These results suggest that additional regulation and oversight of cyber charter schools is warranted and also bring into question the efficacy of online education.

Does financial education affect retirement savings?
Melody Harvey & Carly Urban
Journal of the Economics of Ageing, February 2023 


Since individuals are increasingly required to manage their own retirement portfolios, policy levers that increase retirement planning and saving have become increasingly important. We use variation in timing and presence of state-required personal finance coursework in high schools to estimate the effect of the financial education coursework on the likelihood of holding and amount in retirement accounts in adulthood (ages 25–40). Our results show no definitive increases in account ownership, non-retirement investment accounts, or homeownership. Since prior work finds required high school financial education improves credit and debt outcomes, we recommend that states and educators prioritize content that is more immediately relevant for 18-year-olds, such as budgeting, long-term debt, and credit.


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