Distant Learning

Kevin Lewis

November 16, 2020

Projecting the Potential Impact of COVID-19 School Closures on Academic Achievement
Megan Kuhfeld et al.
Educational Researcher, November 2020, Pages 549-565


As the COVID-19 pandemic upended the 2019–2020 school year, education systems scrambled to meet the needs of students and families with little available data on how school closures may impact learning. In this study, we produced a series of projections of COVID-19-related learning loss based on (a) estimates from absenteeism literature and (b) analyses of summer learning patterns of 5 million students. Under our projections, returning students are expected to start fall 2020 with approximately 63 to 68% of the learning gains in reading and 37 to 50% of the learning gains in mathematics relative to a typical school year. However, we project that losing ground during the school closures was not universal, with the top third of students potentially making gains in reading.

Estimation of US Children’s Educational Attainment and Years of Life Lost Associated With Primary School Closures During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic
Dimitri Christakis, Wil Van Cleve & Frederick Zimmerman
JAMA Network Open, November 2020

 Objective: To estimate the potential years of life lost (YLL) associated with the COVID-19 pandemic conditioned on primary schools being closed or remaining open.

Design, Setting, and Participants: This decision analytical model estimated the association between school closures and reduced educational attainment and the association between reduced educational attainment and life expectancy using publicly available data sources, including data for 2020 from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Social Security Administration, and the US Census Bureau. Direct COVID-19 mortality and potential increases in mortality that might have resulted if school opening led to increased transmission of COVID-19 were also estimated.

Results: A total of 24.2 million children aged 5 to 11 years attended public schools that were closed during the 2020 pandemic, losing a median of 54 (interquartile range, 48-62.5) days of instruction. Missed instruction was associated with a mean loss of 0.31 (95% credible interval [CI], 0.10-0.65) years of final educational attainment for boys and 0.21 (95% CI, 0.06-0.46) years for girls. Summed across the population, an estimated 5.53 million (95% CI, 1.88-10.80) YLL may be associated with school closures. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a total of 88 241 US deaths from COVID-19 through the end of May 2020, with an estimated 1.50 million (95% CI, 1.23-1.85 million) YLL as a result. Had schools remained open, 1.47 million (95% credible interval, 0.45-2.59) additional YLL could have been expected as a result, based on results of studies associating school closure with decreased pandemic spread. Comparing the full distributions of estimated YLL under both “schools open” and “schools closed” conditions, the analysis observed a 98.1% probability that school opening would have been associated with a lower total YLL than school closure.

The Long-Run Effects of Corporal Punishment in Schools
Maria Petrova, Gautam Rao & Brian Wheaton
Harvard Working Paper, March 2020


Corporal punishment is used in schools in about 70 countries, including in 19 states in the United States. Despite its prevalence as a tool to discipline students, it remains remarkably understudied. We leverage the staggered state-level bans of school corporal punishment in the United States over the past several decades in conjunction with data on social and economic outcomes from the American Community Survey (ACS) and the General Social Survey (GSS), using a difference-in-differences design to measure the causal effects of school corporal punishment. We find that the presence of corporal punishment in schools increases educational attainment, increases later-life social trust and trust in institutions, and leads to less authoritarian attitudes toward child-rearing, and greater tolerance of free speech. Additionally, exposure to corporal punishment in school decreases later-life crime. We find no effects on mental or physical health. These results hold up to dynamic difference-in-differences specifications – which reveal non-existence of pre-trends – and a wide variety of other robustness checks. Observing that only a small share of students are exposed to corporal punishment, we speculate that the effects primarily represent spillovers.

The Impact of Neighborhood School Choice: Evidence from Los Angeles’ Zones of Choice
Christopher Campos & Caitlin Kearns
University of California Working Paper, November 2020


This paper evaluates the Zones of Choice (ZOC) program in Los Angeles, a school choice initiative that created small high school markets in some neighborhoods but left traditional attendance zone boundaries in place throughout the rest of the district. We leverage the design of the program to study the impact of neighborhood school choice on student achievement, college enrollment, and other outcomes using a matched difference-in-differences design. Our findings reveal that the ZOC program boosted test scores and college enrollment markedly, closing achievement and college enrollment gaps between ZOC neighborhoods and the rest of the district. These gains are explained by general improvements in school effectiveness rather than changes in student match quality, and school-specific gains are concentrated among the lowest-performing schools. We interpret these findings through the lens of a model of school demand in which schools exert costly effort to improve quality. The model allows us to measure the increase in competition facing each ZOC school based on household preferences and the spatial distribution of schools. We demonstrate that the effects of ZOC were larger for schools exposed to more competition, supporting the notion that competition is a key channel driving the impacts of ZOC. In addition, demand estimates suggest families place a larger weight on school quality compared to peer quality, providing schools the right competitive incentives. An analysis using randomized admission lotteries shows that the treatment effects of admission to preferred schools declined after the introduction of ZOC, a pattern that is explained by the relative improvements of less-preferred schools. Our findings demonstrate the potential for public school choice to improve student outcomes while also underscoring the importance of studying market-level impacts when evaluating school choice programs.

Horizontal Differentiation and the Policy Effect of Charter Schools
Michael Gilraine, Uros Petronijevic & John Singleton
American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, forthcoming


While school choice may enhance competition, incentives for public schools to raise productivity may be muted if public education is imperfectly substitutable with alternatives. This paper estimates the aggregate effect of charter school expansion on education quality while accounting for the horizontal differentiation of charter programs. Our research design leverages variation following the removal of North Carolina's statewide cap to compare test score changes for students who lived near entering charters to those farther away. We find learning gains that are driven by public schools responding to increased competition from non-horizontally differentiated charter schools, even before those charters actually open.

Unmet Promises: Diminishing Confidence in Education Among College‐Educated Adults from 1973 to 2018
Michael Miner
Social Science Quarterly, October 2020, Pages 2312-2331

Method: This study uses mixed effects binary logistic regression on the General Social Survey (1973–2018).

Results: Confidence in the institution of education has declined over time. Those with a college degree are less confident in education and their confidence is diminishing over time. By 2018, those with a college degree indicated the lowest levels of confidence in education since 1973. These changes are distinct from general trends in institutional confidence. In fact, higher education is typically associated with more confidence in social institutions.

Changing College Choices with Personalized Admissions Information at Scale: Evidence on Naviance
Christine Mulhern
Journal of Labor Economics, forthcoming


Choosing where to apply to college is a complex problem with long-term consequences, but many students lack the guidance necessary to make optimal choices. I show that a technology that provides low-cost personalized college admissions information to more than 40% of high schoolers significantly alters college choices. Students shift applications and attendance to colleges for which they can observe information on schoolmates’ admissions experiences. Responses are largest when such information suggests a high admissions probability. Disadvantaged students respond the most, and information on in-state colleges increases their 4-year college attendance. Data features and framing, however, deter students from selective colleges.

A National‐Level Informational Experiment to Promote Enrollment in Selective Colleges
Oded Gurantz et al.
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, forthcoming


Prior research finds that low‐income students are less likely to apply to and enroll in four‐year colleges or more selective colleges, even after controlling for academic preparation and other background characteristics. The College Board sought to reduce barriers in the college application process through a targeted campaign of brochures and e‐mails. These materials were sent to students two to three times between the end of eleventh grade and the middle of twelfth grade, and aimed to provide an impetus to start the college search process, minimize the costs of aggregating data, and encourage a broader college application portfolio. Some students were offered additional encouragements, such as text message reminders or college application fee waivers. In a randomized control trial with 785,000 low‐ and middle‐income students in the top 50 percent of the PSAT and SAT distributions, we find no changes in college enrollment patterns.

Do Differential Grading Standards Across Fields Matter for Major Choice? Evidence from a Policy Change in Florida
Veronica Minaya
Research in Higher Education, December 2020, Pages 943–965


Grading standards in college vary substantially across fields, especially among STEM fields that tend to give lower grades than non-STEM fields. Prior research has demonstrated that grades affect course and major choices, but less is known about how policies oriented to reduce differences in grading standards across fields affect persistence and completion in the major of choice. Using administrative data from the Florida Department of Education, this paper examines the effect of changing the grading scale from whole-letter grades to plus/minus grades on STEM major choice. It relies on a difference-in-difference framework that compares students’ outcomes before and after a grade policy change at two institutions to similar students at other institutions over the same time period. I find that a change in the grading scale significantly reduces grading differentials across fields and increases the likelihood of students graduating with a STEM degree. Although results should be interpreted cautiously given the limitations of the data, they represent the first direct, quasi-experimental evidence regarding the effect of a grade scale change on STEM major choice.

The Intergenerational Transmission of Teaching
Alberto Jacinto & Seth Gershenson
American Educational Research Journal, forthcoming


Parental influences, particularly parents’ occupations, may influence individuals’ entry into the teaching profession. This mechanism may contribute to the relatively static demographic composition of the teaching force over time. We assess the role of parental influences on occupational choice by testing whether the children of teachers are disproportionately likely to become teachers themselves and whether the intergenerational transmission of teaching varies by race or sex. Overall, children whose mothers are teachers are seven percentage points more likely to enter teaching than children of nonteachers. The transmission of teaching from mother to child is about the same for White children and for Black daughters; however, transmission rates for Hispanic daughters are even larger while those for Black sons are near zero.


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