Higher learning

Kevin Lewis

March 04, 2019

The Effect of Charter Schools on Districts’ Student Composition, Costs, and Efficiency: The Case of New York State
Christian Buerger & Robert Bifulco
Economics of Education Review, April 2019, Pages 61-72


Charter schools can influence a school district's costs by reducing economies of scale and by changing the share of high cost students a district serves, but might also increase the district's efficiency through competition. Utilizing data for New York State school districts from 1998/99 to 2013/14, we estimate difference-in-differences models to assess the effect of charter schools on enrollment and student composition. Then, we estimate an expenditure function, using data prior to the charter school program, to measure the costs associated with reaching a given performance standard for students in various need categories and different enrollments. Next, using the entire data set, we run a second expenditure function to determine changes in efficiency associated with charter school entry. We find that charter schools increase the cost of providing education, and that these cost increases are larger than short-run efficiency gains, but are offset by efficiency gains in the long term.

Patrolling Public Schools: The Impact of Funding for School Police on Student Discipline and Long‐term Education Outcomes
Emily Weisburst
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, forthcoming


As police officers have become increasingly common in U.S. public schools, their role in school discipline has often expanded. While there is growing public debate about the consequences of police presence in schools, there is scant evidence of the impact of police on student discipline and academic outcomes. This paper provides the first quasi‐experimental estimate of funding for school police on student outcomes, leveraging variation in federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants. Exploiting detailed data on over 2.5 million students in Texas, I find that federal grants for police in schools increase middle school discipline rates by 6 percent. The rise in discipline is driven by sanctions for low‐level offenses or school code of conduct violations. Further, I find that Black students experience the largest increases in discipline. I also find that exposure to a three‐year federal grant for school police is associated with a 2.5 percent decrease in high school graduation rates and a 4 percent decrease in college enrollment rates.

The Effects of a School Policing Program on Crime, Discipline, and Disorder: A Quasi-Experimental Evaluation
Gary Zhang
American Journal of Criminal Justice, February 2019, Pages 45-62


This study analyzes the impacts of school-based law enforcement officers on school crime, disciplinary actions, and disciplinary problems in 238 middle and high schools in West Virginia using a non-equivalent groups design and three years of data. Propensity score weights are utilized to reduce selection biases resulting from non-random group assignment in observational data. Binary and multinomial logistic treatment models are used when estimating treatment effects to examine whether the extent to which police officers are present in schools impacts problem outcomes. Findings indicated that while the presence of school police officers increased drug-related crimes and out-of-school suspensions for drug crimes regardless of whether they were present in schools for a single year or multiple years, there were deterrent effects observed for violent crimes and incidents of disorder when police officers were present in schools during all school years. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.

Selection into, and academic benefits from, arts-related courses in middle school among low-income, ethnically diverse youth
Adam Winsler et al.
Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, forthcoming


It is critical for research on the effects of arts engagement to identify and carefully control for preexisting selection factors that differentiate those who do and do not get exposure to the arts. We prospectively followed a large and diverse sample of preschool children (n = 31,332; 61% Latino, 32% Black, 55% ELL, 81% free/reduced lunch) until they completed 6th, 7th, and/or 8th grade. School readiness was assessed during pre-K, and archival public-school data were collected in middle school. Overall, 40% of students took some kind of arts elective course (music, dance, drama, visual art) during middle school. Black students, males, students with disabilities, those previously retained, and those not English proficient had reduced odds of taking an arts class. Children with stronger school readiness skills at age 4 and stronger academics in 5th grade were more likely to enroll in arts-related courses. Importantly, controlling for prior variables associated with selection into the arts, including prior academic performance, students with exposure to an arts elective in middle school subsequently had significantly higher GPAs and math and reading scores, and decreased odds of school suspension, compared to students not exposed to the arts.

Timing is Everything: Evidence from College Major Decisions
Richard Patterson, Nolan Pope & Aaron Feudo
United States Military Academy Working Paper, January 2019


People rely on their experiences when making important decisions. In making these decisions, individuals may be significantly influenced by the timing of their experiences. Using administrative data, we study whether the order in which students are assigned courses affects the choice of college major. We use a natural experiment at the United States Military Academy in which students are randomly assigned to certain courses either during or after the semester in which they are required to select their college major. We find that when students are assigned to a course in the same semester as they select a major, they are over 100 percent more likely to choose a major that corresponds to that course. Despite low switching costs, approximately half of the effect persists through graduation. Our results demonstrate that the timing of when students are assigned courses has a large and persistent effect on college major choice. We explore several potential mechanisms for these results and find that students' initial major choice best fits a framework we develop that incorporates salience and availability. Furthermore, our results suggest that once students select a major, they are less likely to switch majors than the standard model of economic choice predicts. Instead, students' decision to remain in a major is more consistent with status quo bias.

An Evaluation of the Educational Impact of College Campus Visits: A Randomized Experiment
Elise Swanson et al.
University of Arkansas Working Paper, February 2019


We hypothesize that a lack of experience with college poses a non-trivial barrier to college access for historically underrepresented students. We study whether visits to a college campus during the eighth grade can reduce these psychological barriers to college access. Using an experimental design, we study whether college visits affect students’ knowledge about college, postsecondary intentions, college-going behaviors, academic engagement, and ninth grade course enrollment decisions. We recruited 885 students across 15 schools who participated in our project during the academic year 2017-2018. We randomized students within schools to either a treatment or control condition. Students in the control condition receive an information packet about college. Students in the treatment condition receive the same information and visit a flagship university three times during their 8th-grade academic year. Students assigned to participate in these campus visits demonstrate higher levels of knowledge about college, higher levels of effort while completing the survey, a higher likelihood of having conversations with school personnel about college, and a decreased desire to attend technical school. Additionally, treated students are more likely to enroll in advanced math and science/social science courses in 9th grade.

Fighting for Education: Financial Aid and Degree Attainment
Andrew Barr
Journal of Labor Economics, forthcoming


The Post-9/11 GI Bill brought about the largest expansion in veteran education benefits since the end of World War II, increasing annual benefit expenditures from $3 billion to more than $13 billion. Leveraging variation over time, geography, and type of veterans, I explore the effect of financial aid on degree attainment. I find that the aid expansion increased degree attainment by 5-6 percentage points (25%), roughly 0.4 percentage points per $1,000 of additional maximum aid. These findings indicate that financial aid can increase degree attainment, even for individuals with high levels of initial support.

The Role of Community College Attendance in Shaping Baccalaureate Recipients’ Access to Graduate and Professional Education
Xueli Wang, Yen Lee & Kelly Wickersham
Educational Researcher, forthcoming


Using data from the Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study and propensity score matching techniques, this study examined the impact of having attended a community college on baccalaureate recipients’ access to graduate and professional schools in general and how previous community college attendance influenced student enrollment in different professional and graduate programs. Our findings revealed that there was no significant negative or positive effect of community college attendance on access to graduate or professional school or on program enrollment choices. These results imply that community college attendance does not limit access to graduate and professional education and holds the promise to complement the route to graduate and professional school.

The Effects of Universal Preschool on Grade Retention
Luke Miller & Daphna Bassok
Education Finance and Policy, forthcoming


Nationwide, the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in state-supported preschool programs has more than doubled since the early 2000s as states dramatically increased their investments in early childhood education. Florida's Voluntary Pre-kindergarten Program (VPK), which began in 2005, has been a national leader with respect to preschool access. This paper provides the first evidence of the program's impacts. We measure the effect of VPK participation on the likelihood that children are retained at any point between kindergarten and third grade. Using an instrumental variables approach, we leverage local program expansion and detailed student-level data on eight cohorts of children, four of which were of preschool age in the years before VPK was implemented and four of which had access to VPK programs. The results indicate that VPK did not lead to changes in the likelihood that children complete the third grade without ever being retained. We do find, however, that VPK led to a change in the timing of retention. Specifically, the program led to a drop in the likelihood that children were retained during the kindergarten year, but this drop was counteracted by increases in retention in subsequent school years. Implications for policy are discussed.

What Words Are Worth: National Science Foundation Grant Abstracts Indicate Award Funding
David Markowitz
Journal of Language and Social Psychology, forthcoming


Can word patterns from grant abstracts predict National Science Foundation (NSF) funding? In an analysis of over 7.4 million words covering 19,569 proposals, this article presents evidence that the writing style of NSF grant abstracts corresponds to the amount of money received for the award. The data describe a clear relationship between word patterns and funding magnitude: Grant abstracts that are longer than the average abstract, contain fewer common words, and are written with more verbal certainty receive more money from the NSF (approximately $372 per one-word increase). While such language patterns correspond to award amount, they largely contradict the NSF’s call to communicate science in a plain manner, suggesting an inconsistency between the injunctive norms of the NSF and the descriptive norms of science writing. Broadly, the results support a tradition of research that uses big text data to evaluate social and psychological dynamics.

In-State College Enrollment and Later Life Location Decisions
John Winters
Journal of Human Resources, forthcoming


State and local policymakers are very interested in how attending college in one’s home state affects the likelihood of living in that state after college. This paper uses cohort-level data from the American Community Survey, decennial censuses, and other sources to examine how birth-state college enrollment affects birth-state residence several years later. Ordinary least squares and instrumental variables estimates both suggest a statistically significant positive relationship. The preferred instrumental variable estimates suggest that a one percentage point increase in birth-state enrollment rates increases later life birth-state residence by roughly 0.41 percentage points. Implications for policy are discussed.

How Much Regulation? A Fuzzy Regression Discontinuity Analysis of Student Literacy Skills in Prekindergarten vs. Transitional Kindergarten
Christopher Doss
Education Finance and Policy, forthcoming


A growing body of research provides evidence that quality early childhood experiences can affect a host of life outcomes. Equally well documented is the variation in the quality of prekindergarten (pre-K) programs offered to children. In this study, I use a fuzzy regression discontinuity approach to evaluate the efficacy of transitional kindergarten (TK) on student outcomes in the San Francisco Unified School District. TK is a highly regulated, state-funded, early education program. Importantly, universal pre-K was already established in San Francisco, making this study a comparison of pre-K opportunities. This study tests whether a more highly regulated pre-K program, situated solely in schools, can provide benefits to young five-year-olds over a modern, robust universal pre-K market. I find that students who attended TK outperform their peers on a variety of foundational literacy skills, with some evidence the gains are larger for minority children. TK, however, had little effect on the rate of absences in kindergarten and first grade.


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