Getting smarter

Kevin Lewis

October 22, 2018

Fiscal and Education Spillovers from Charter School Expansion
Matthew Ridley & Camille Terrier
NBER Working Paper, September 2018


The fiscal and educational consequences of charter expansion for non-charter students are central issues in the debate over charter schools. Do charter schools drain resources and high-achieving peers from non-charter schools? This paper answers these questions using an empirical strategy that exploits a 2011 reform that lifted caps on charter schools for underperforming districts in Massachusetts. We use complementary synthetic control instrumental variables (IV-SC) and differences-in-differences instrumental variables (IV-DiD) estimators. The results suggest greater charter attendance increases per-pupil expenditures in traditional public schools and induces them to shift expenditure from support services to instruction and salaries. At the same time, charter expansion has a small positive effect on non-charter students’ achievement.

The Effect of Graduating with Honors on Earnings
Pauline Khoo & Ben Ost
Labour Economics, December 2018, Pages 149-162


We provide the first estimate of the effect of graduating with honors on the earnings of recent college graduates. To help distinguish between the causal effect of honors and unobservables correlated with obtaining honors, we use a regression discontinuity design that exploits the fact that Latin honors such as cum laude are determined based on strict GPA cutoffs. We test for and find no evidence of students manipulating their GPA in order to obtain honors. Honors provides an earnings benefits for the first two years following graduation but this benefit disappears by the third year after graduation. This provides among the first pieces of evidence that firms respond to signals at the higher education level.

Catching the Big Fish in the Little Pond Effect: Evidence from 33 Countries and Regions
Prashant Loyalka, Andrey Zakharov & Yulia Kuzmina
Comparative Education Review, forthcoming


Researchers have long postulated the existence of a big-fish-little-pond effect (BFLPE) in which a student’s relative academic standing in class or school affects his or her academic self-concept. Few studies, however, use causal research designs to identify whether the BFLPE exists and whether it is generalizable across a wide variety of contexts. The goal of our study is to provide causal estimates of the BFLPE and examine whether the estimates differ by gender and national context. To fulfill our goal, we analyze cross-national TIMSS 2011 data using a cross-subject student-fixed effects model. Our results provide the strongest evidence to date that a sizeable BFLPE exists in STEM subjects regardless of gender and national context.

Class Rank and Long-Run Outcomes
Jeffrey Denning, Richard Murphy & Felix Weinhardt
University of Texas Working Paper, September 2018


This paper considers a fundamental question about the school environment – what are the long run effects of a student's ordinal rank in elementary school? Using administrative data from all public school students in Texas, we show that students with a higher third grade academic rank, conditional on ability and classroom effects, have higher subsequent test scores, are more likely to take AP classes, graduate high school, enroll in college, and ultimately have higher earnings 19 years later. Given these findings, the paper concludes by exploring the tradeoff between higher quality schools and higher rank.

The Role of Families in Student Sorting to Teachers
Javaeria Qureshi & Ben Ost
Journal of Human Resources, forthcoming


This study leverages sibling identifiers merged to administrative school records to analyze the assignment of elementary students to teachers. We document significant sorting of students to their older sibling’s teachers and this effect is stronger for relatively advantaged students. By analyzing the circumstances in which students are disproportionately assigned to their older sibling’s teacher, we provide indirect evidence regarding parental preferences for various teacher characteristics. We find stronger sorting to the older sibling’s teacher when that teacher is relatively experienced or has higher value-added. The sorting towards higher value-added teachers is significantly stronger for relatively advantaged students.

Is Education Consumption or Investment? Implications for the Effect of School Competition
Bentley MacLeod & Miguel Urquiola
NBER Working Paper, October 2018


Many observers have argued that giving parents freedom to choose schools would improve education (Friedman, 1955). We review the evidence, and find little indication that households systematically prefer higher value added schools. We show that this can be explained using a competitive labor market model that takes into account both student and employer choice. The setup implies that households will often rationally prefer schools with high absolute achievement rather than high value added. As a result, school choice can exacerbate inequality without improving opportunities for the most disadvantaged students.

Reforming School Discipline: School-Level Policy Implementation and the Consequences for Suspended Students and Their Peers
Matthew Steinberg & Johanna Lacoe
American Journal of Education, November 2018, Pages 29-77


States and districts are revising discipline policies to reduce out-of-school suspensions (OSSs), but the consequences of these reforms are largely unknown. We examine a reform in Philadelphia that prohibited OSS for classroom disorder infractions. Employing a difference-in-differences approach, we examine the relationship between the reform and student suspensions, achievement, and attendance. For students suspended before the reform, classroom disorder OSS decreased and attendance (but not academic achievement) improved following the reform. Postreform changes in peer outcomes varied with school-level implementation: in schools that eliminated classroom disorder OSS, peer math achievement and attendance were unaffected, whereas peer math achievement declined and attendance decreased in schools that did not fully implement the district-level reform.

Estimated Costs of Contact in College and High School Male Sports
Ray Fair & Christopher Champa
Journal of Sports Economics, forthcoming


Injury rates in 12 U.S. men’s college sports and 5 U.S. boys’ high school sports are examined in this article. The sports are categorized as “contact” or “noncontact,” and differences in injury rates between the two are examined. Injury rates in the contact sports are considerably higher than those in the noncontact sports, and they are on average more severe. Estimates are presented of the injury savings that would result if the contact sports were changed to have injury rates similar to those in the noncontact sports. The estimated college savings are 48,100 fewer injuries per year and 5,900 fewer healthy years lost-to-injury per year. The estimated high school savings are 568,600 fewer injuries per year and 92,000 fewer healthy years lost-to-injury per year. For concussions, the savings are 6,900 per year for college and 161,400 per year for high school. The estimated dollar value (in 2015 dollars) of the total injury savings is between US$433 million and US$1.5 billion per year for college and between US$5.1 billion and US$18.4 billion per year for high school.

Are students in some college majors more self-determined in their studies than others?
Shi Yu & Chantal Levesque-Bristol
Motivation and Emotion, December 2018, Pages 831–851


Self-determination theory proposes that the extent to which students’ motivation is self-determined is critical to learning outcomes. Based on occasional research evidence and our perceptions, we hypothesize that college students in certain majors have profiles that are higher in self-determined motivation than students in other majors. Specifically, our primary hypothesis is that students in the social sciences and humanities tend to be more self-determined, whereas students in business-related majors tend to be less self-determined. The results from two studies using large samples and advanced analytical methods support the primary hypotheses. Comparison results were also obtained for other majors (e.g., engineering and natural sciences), and supplemental analyses supported the critical role of self-determined motivation in learning outcomes among students in all majors. Study 2 also found support for two mechanisms for such differences, i.e., the majors’ learning climates and students’ individual differences in autonomous functioning. The current evidence suggests the importance of promoting more humanistic learning environments in certain academic disciplines.

An Examination of the Influence of Decreases in State Appropriations on Online Enrollment at Public Universities
Justin Ortagus & Lijing Yang
Research in Higher Education, November 2018, Pages 847–865


State support for public higher education has been a primary concern for decades. Online education has been identified previously as an alternative revenue source that can offer financial relief to colleges and universities. This study uses IPEDS data and a fixed effects regression approach to examine whether public universities increase their reliance on online education in response to decreases in state appropriations. Consistent with resource dependence theory, we found a negative relationship between state appropriations and online enrollment at public 4-year institutions. Our findings indicate that public universities, particularly public doctoral institutions, appear to be responding to declines in state appropriations by engaging in revenue diversification and increasing their commitment to online education.

Teacher Evaluation Reform: A Convergence of Federal and Local Forces
Joshua Bleiberg & Erica Harbatkin
Educational Policy, forthcoming


This article employs event history analysis to explore the factors that were associated with the rapid uptake of teacher evaluation reform. We investigate three hypotheses for this rapid adoption: (a) downward diffusion from the federal government through Race to the Top (RTTT), (b) upward diffusion from large school district policies, and (c) the influence of intermediary organizations. Although RTTT clearly played a role in state adoption, our analysis suggests that having a large district implement teacher evaluation reform is the most consistent predictor of state adoption. Intermediary organizations appeared to play a role in the process as well.

How Useful Are Default Rates? Borrowers with Large Balances and Student Loan Repayment
Adam Looney & Constantine Yannelis
Economics of Education Review, forthcoming


We examine the distribution of student loan balances and repayment rates in the United States using administrative student loan data. We show that increases in credit limits and expansions in credit availability resulted in rising borrowing amounts, and that the share of borrowers holding very large balances has surged. For instance, the share of borrowers leaving school with more than $50,000 of federal student debt increased from 2 percent in 1992 to 17 percent in 2014. Consequently, a small share of borrowers now owes the majority of loan dollars in the United States. Although these large-balance borrowers have historically had strong labor market outcomes and low rates of default, repayment rates have slowed significantly between 1990 and 2014 reflecting, in part, changes in the characteristics of students, the schools they attended, and the rising amounts borrowed.

What’s Taking You So Long? Examining the Effects of Social Class on Completing a Bachelor’s Degree in Four Years
David Zarifa et al.
Sociology of Education, October 2018, Pages 290-322


Despite improved access in expanded postsecondary systems, the great majority of bachelor’s degree graduates are taking considerably longer than the allotted four years to complete their four-year degrees. Taking longer to finish one’s BA has become so pervasive in the United States that it has become the norm for official statistics released by the Department of Education to report graduation rates across a six-year window. While higher education scholars have increasingly explored how social class impacts college dropout, attrition, and completion, they have yet to examine the role social class plays in completing a four-year bachelor’s degree on time. In this paper, we draw on the most recent cohort of the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Survey (2008–2009) to examine who completes their bachelor’s degrees on time. Our results indicate that despite controlling for academic performance, educational behaviors, program characteristics, and institutional characteristics, graduates from lower socioeconomic backgrounds do experience difficulties completing their degrees on time. Moreover, our results also reveal that the nature of these relationships vary for traditional and nontraditional students. Our findings highlight another important, albeit less obvious, way where inequality is maintained in expanded postsecondary systems.

Policy, Poverty, and Student Achievement: An Exploration of the Impact of State Policies
Nicola Alexander & Sung Tae Jang
Educational Policy, forthcoming


This article explores the associations between the achievement of economically disadvantaged students and the presence of state policies that include student achievement in teacher evaluations. We looked at student achievement across all 50 states from 2007 through 2013. A simple comparison of states with and without the policy suggested that economically disadvantaged students had similar or slightly lower reading and lower math achievement in those states with the policy than in states without it. Once state context was considered, we found that states that included student achievement in teacher assessment policies had slightly higher reading achievement among economically disadvantaged students than they would have had otherwise. We found no similar impact on math achievement. This policy did not reduce the gaps in achievement between economically disadvantaged students and their more affluent peers. Combined, these findings indicate that including student achievement in teacher assessment models did not eliminate poverty-induced educational disparities in the system.

Strategic Retention: Principal Effectiveness and Teacher Turnover in Multiple-Measure Teacher Evaluation Systems
Jason Grissom & Brendan Bartanen
American Educational Research Journal, forthcoming


Studies link principal effectiveness to lower average rates of teacher turnover. However, principals need not target retention efforts equally to all teachers. Instead, strong principals may seek to strategically influence the composition of their school’s teaching force by retaining high performers and not retaining lower performers. We investigate such strategic retention behaviors with longitudinal data from Tennessee. Using multiple measures of teacher and principal effectiveness, we document that indeed more effective principals see lower rates of teacher turnover, on average. Moreover, this lower turnover is concentrated among high-performing teachers. In contrast, turnover rates of the lowest-performing teachers, as measured by classroom observation scores, increase substantially under higher-rated principals. This pattern is more apparent in advantaged schools and schools with stable leadership.

Effect of early grade retention on school completion: A prospective study
Jan Hughes et al.
Journal of Educational Psychology, October 2018, Pages 974-991


This 14-year prospective study investigated the effect of retention in Grades 1–5 on high school completion (diploma, GED, or drop out). Participants were 734 (52.7% males) ethnically diverse, academically at-risk students recruited from Texas schools into the study when they were in first grade (mean age = 6.57). Propensity score weighting successfully equated the 256 retained students and the 478 students continuously promoted students on 65 covariates assessed in Grade 1. At the end of 14 years, 477 had earned a diploma, 21 had obtained a GED, 110 had dropped out, and 126 were missing school completion status. Using multinomial logistic regression with high school graduation as the reference outcome, retention led to a significant increase in the likelihood of dropping out of high school (odds ratio = 2.61), above students’ propensity to be retained and additional covariates. The contrast between graduation and GED outcomes was not significant. A significant Retention × Ethnicity × Gender interaction was obtained: The negative effect of retention was strongest for African American and Hispanic girls. Even though grade retention in the elementary grades does not harm students in terms of their academic achievement or educational motivation at the transition to high school, retention increases the odds that a student will drop out of school before obtaining a high school diploma.

The Consequences of Leaving School Early: The Effects of Within-Year and End-of-Year Teacher Turnover
Gary Henry & Christopher Redding
Education Finance and Policy, forthcoming


Using unique administrative data from North Carolina that allow us to separate classroom teacher turnover during the school year from end-of -year turnover, we find students who lose their teacher during the school year have significantly lower test score gains (on average -7.5 percent of a standard deviation unit) than those students when their teachers stay. Moreover, the turnover of other teachers during the year lowers achievement gains, while end-of-year teacher turnover appears to have little effect on achievement. The harmful effects of within-year turnover cannot be explained by other extraneous shocks or the quality of departing teachers. Teachers who depart from December through April have the most harmful effects on achievement, although these vary somewhat by level of schooling and subject.

Performance Funding and Historically Black Colleges and Universities: An Assessment of Financial Incentives and Baccalaureate Degree Production
William Casey Boland
Educational Policy, forthcoming


Pay-for-performance has become a state finance policy du jour for public postsecondary institutions. A total of 35 states currently distribute varying amounts of appropriations to colleges and universities based on outcome measures. This study uses a difference-in-differences quasi-experimental technique to assess the impact of performance-based funding on public 4-year Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). It also includes separate analyses on the older and newer models of performance funding throughout the United States. This study finds little evidence of a significant effect on improvement in baccalaureate degree attainment in public 4-year HBCUs that receive some apportionment of state appropriations through performance-based funding.


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